Sunderland are heading into the Championship accompanied by a warning from Eddie Howe that they are entering dangerous territory.
Howe, manager of the Bournemouth side whose victory here rubber-stamped relegation for Sunderland, has recent experience of the second flight and said: “Every year it gets harder and harder.
“Those teams who drop out of the Premier League have a big advantage with the parachute payments and everything that brings. But there are other teams already there who are very ambitious and clubs who are desperate to get back up there. It’s quite a mix and makes it one of the best leagues in the world, without doubt.”
Howe sampled the Championship when Bournemouth were soaring through the leagues; David Moyes’ side return there for the first time in 10 years on a totally different flight path.
Yet he insisted: “I would bank on them coming straight back up with David in charge. They’re going through a tough time, but there is enough quality and David is the sort who can come back from this.”
Perhaps Howe was just being polite, perhaps he really believes Sunderland’s Championship stay will be temporary, because few who have regularly watched them this season would go along with his assessment.
Sunderland’s squad compares unfavourably with those of Derby County, Aston Villa and Leeds United, yet none of those will feature in the play-offs this month.
John O’Shea, the Sunderland defender, was honest in his verdict. “The commitment and attitude has been spot on in the last few games, but our quality in terms of finishing off teams, taking chances, hasn’t been there. The league table never lies and where you finish in the league table, you deserve to be.”
So what now for Sunderland? The focus falls on Ellis Short, the chairman who prefers life in the shadows but must now emerge with chief executive Martin Bain to decide whether to keep Moyes, who is still hinting he wants to stay in the job, despite fans’ protests over unimaginative tactics and unproductive signings.
The manager, whoever he is, will need substantial funds to rebuild the squad. With few young players coming through at the club, despite a lively cameo against Bournemouth from George Honeyman, a substitute who is out of contract in the summer, another relegation struggle is not out of the question unless there are significant changes. And Moyes knows it.
He said: “Whether we were in the Premier League or the Championship, there were always going to be players leaving due to loans or whatever their contractual situation may be.
“I’m going to sit down with Ellis and Martin and have a talk with them over the coming days and weeks. We now know we have to put a plan in place, and I have to look and see there’s a plan to get us bouncing back up.
“When you come in, you use the word ‘rebuilding’, and I don’t think anybody should really be changing that word. But what happens is that time doesn’t always give you an opportunity to rebuild because you are judged on results automatically. I think most people are aware that there is more to do from top to bottom.”
And then, perhaps, they can start to compete again with the likes of Bournemouth, who are thriving despite home attendances that are a quarter of those at the Stadium of Light and won this encounter through an 88th-minute goal from Joshua King.
Howe said: “There is no magic formula, and if there was, I wouldn’t tell you. It’s just been a lot of hard work on the training ground and having a good attitude. They are the hallmarks of our success.”