Final day drama is guaranteed this weekend when Sheffield Wednesday visit the Stadium of Light.

A single point will be enough for Danny Rohl’s resurgent side to complete their incredible relegation escape. Defeat will leave them at the mercy of events elsewhere but, unless Birmingham City and Plymouth Argyle both win, the Owls will still dodge the drop.

One way or another, there will be tears in the sold-out away end - either of joy or sorrow.

As for the home end, whatever the result, when the final whistle is blown the overwhelming emotion will not be joy, sorrow, frustration, or even anger, but blessed relief.

For Sunderland fans, the curtain cannot fall quickly enough.

Not merely because their side’s self-inflicted mid-season implosion turned a campaign that started full of promise into one that rapidly descended into disappointment and tedium.

But because if there were another half-a-dozen games still remaining, there is a very real chance that Sunderland could be the ones heading into the final day on relegation tenterhooks.

Sound alarmist? Not really.

If Sunderland’s form began to drop off at the turn of the year, the club has been in freefall since mid-February.

Over the last 14 games, comprising Michael Beale’s final two matches in charge and the remainder under Mike Dodds, Sunderland have collected a pitiful nine points.

Only bottom-of-the-table Rotherham United, whose relegation was confirmed almost a month ago, have picked up fewer over the same number of games.

Sunderland have picked up just two points from their last six home games, which is the worst return of any side in the second tier, and have scored only two goals in the process.

Relegation form: it’s the only way to describe it.


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Break the season down, and the pattern of decline becomes even more apparent.

Tony Mowbray was sacked at the beginning of December when Sunderland had 27 points from 19 games. That is 1.42 points-per-game which would equate to 65 points over the course of a full season - a total that would likely be enough to finish in the top ten.

Under Beale’s brief, unhappy, tenure, Sunderland collected 14 points from 11 games. That is 1.27ppg which would equate to 58 points over the course of a full season - a figure that will be near enough to the Black Cats’ actual total, and which would have brought a similar lower-midtable finish.

But under Dodds, the picture is very different. Adding together his three-game spell in temporary charge in December and the 12 games he has overseen since February (and bearing in mind he still has one more game to impact these figures one way or another), Sunderland have picked up 15 points from 15 games - one point-per-game, which would equate to 46 points over the course of a full season and which would spell relegation.

We Are Sunderland: Sunderland have averaged just one point per game under Mike Dodds' two interim spells in charge this seasonSunderland have averaged just one point per game under Mike Dodds' two interim spells in charge this season (Image: Ian Horrocks)

It would be unfair to leave the blame for the current situation entirely at Dodds’ door. He is inexperienced as a head coach at first team level, he took over in what were already difficult circumstances, and has been unable to halt the slide, never mind reverse it.

The truth is, he should never have been put in this position. A three-game stint as interim is one thing, but to then be put in charge for another 13 games - more than a quarter of the season - was a major misjudgement by the club’s decision-makers.

Thankfully, Sunderland have enough points already to their name to avoid any last-day nerves.

They will finish somewhere between 13th and 18th depending on how they get on against Wednesday and how other results pan out.

There will be a sense of apathy on the final day, but that is far preferable to the blind panic that surrounds a relegation dogfight that goes to the wire.

Nevertheless, this final day stands in stark contrast to the crackle of excitement felt 12 months ago when Mowbray’s Sunderland went to Preston and won to secure a Championship place, or the season before when Alex Neil’s side won at Morecambe to earn a top six spot in League One and then went on to win promotion at Wembley.

Whatever drama plays out on Wearside this weekend, Sunderland will have a walk-on part in someone else’s relegation battle rather be the ones taking a starring role in their own play-off push