The state of things
Sunderland take on West Ham at the Stadium of Light tomorrow with the two sides facing contrasting outcomes from the game.
Eight points clear of the relegation zone, the Hammers can virtually secure their Premier League status with three points whilst defeat would smash another nail into the Black Cats lingering demise with confirmation of relegation inching closer week-by-week.
Slaven Bilic suggested in his pre-match preview that Sunderland's woes this season are of little surprise and that despite David Moyes' experience, fate has finally caught up with the limited squad at his disposal.
For his part, the Sunderland boss faced the media this afternoon and provided an update ahead of tomorrow's game which raises some interesting talking points. Here's our take on 5 things he said.
1. Moyes' rating of Seb Larsson's contribution this season is some way above our own
David Moyes says Sunderland will miss Seb Larsson during his three-game suspension due to the midfielder's reliability on the pitch.
Indeed, Sebastian Larsson has been the first name on David Moyes' teamsheet amongst his midfielders since the 31-year-old returned to the side in early December, yet most observers would struggle to identify many games in which the Swede has played particularly well.
However, Larsson possess a set of characteristics that Moyes rates which most of us probably consider have faded with the passage of time in the Swedish international's game, especially this season.
Perhaps irked by the FA's conclusion that Larsson's red card will stand despite the midfielder's appeal against it, the Sunderland boss concluded that he couldn't see how the tackle on Ander Herrera last week was a sending off, before waxing lyrically about the veteran's contribution to this campaign:
He's a big loss because he's reliable, we trust him and he puts in a good standard of performance in every game for us so we'll miss him.
2. Moyes on Pickford - like fattening a calf for market
David Moyes reckons Jordan Pickford should pick up the PFA Young Player of the Year award for which the Sunderland goalkeeper has been nominated this week. On his 22-year-old crown jewel, the Black Cats boss said:
We've seen how good he's been all season and worked with him and I think there's some really good young talent around but if you're talking about emerging talent this year and people who have really come on the scene then Jordan's the best.
Couldn't agree more. Jordan Pickford is exceptional and the pride of Wearside. It's just a tragedy the club couldn't surround his talent with a squad capable of competing to stay in the Premier League.
The young England goalkeeper will leave this summer and go someway to paying off the debt in which the Black Cats are submerged. David Moyes may claim credit for his breakthrough, but the bottom line is sadly that Pickford has increasingly become 'cash in the bank' for this troubled Sunderland regime.
3. He says he's hurting
Visibly becoming slightly irritated by the line of questioning, yet now unable to dismiss any reporter who asks him a question after the unsavoury headlines about his behaviour to certain media personnel, Moyes described his own feelings about overseeing a dreadful relegation campaign:
I'm definitely hurting and I'm certainly not enjoying the feeling of being down here [at the bottom of the league]...I don't enjoy losing every Saturday and going home to the family but we pick it up. You always get another chance in football and we've got another chance against West Ham.
For tomorrow's game, Sunderland are odds of 2/1 to win at home against West Ham, a side who are seventh bottom of the league. For anyone with even the simplest grasp of how the bookies operate, that's a damning indictment of the confidence most observers will have in a Sunderland victory tomorrow.
4. One senior left back at the club and he's injured, but the good news is...
...we've got three right backs we can use at left back or perhaps a central defender.
Bryan Oviedo is out for four weeks and may not feature again this season. The position of left back has traditionally been a problem position at Sunderland and with the Costa Rican laid off, there's no natural player to fill his vacant berth.
The Under-23s regular left back until recently, Tommy Robson, is in Ireland on loan at Limerick. His successor for the youngsters, 20-year-old Denver Hume, only has six Premier League 2 appearances to his name this season.
So the berth will most probably be filled by the right-footed Javier Manquillo who only arrived at Sunderland with a 'versatility' tag due to some emergency appearances on the left at Olympique Marseille last season.
Alternatively, Jason Denayer has been utilised as a full back in a couple of outings and with John O'Shea back at the club following his father's funeral the Belgian could shift across the back line.
5. A warning for next season but positives too
With a nod to recognition this week for Joel Asoro, Moyes suggested there is a handful of academy graduates who may be ready to make the step up to the first team next season, one of whom is the young Swedish forward:
I see Joel as one of a bunch who could easily start to knock on the door. We have another couple who are doing really well and I'm looking for more to join them as well.
But those positives come with another warning about the squad for next season.
We will need them [the academy players], our numbers were short this year but we were able to bring in Jordan Pickford, Lynden Gooch, George Honeyman and we went out and brought in Paddy McNair and Donald Love who are all boys of twenty, twenty-one-years old.
Sometimes at football clubs you don't see all the things that we've introduced quite a lot of young players this year. A couple of them have got bad injuries but we've brought in five or six young players this year.
It's not the first time Moyes has issued that line about the squad depth for the next campaign which will almost certainly be in the Championship.
For a club desperate to end the season with an ounce of positivity to take into the summer, we'll have to take refuge in hoping Sunderland's young guns can step up in the second tier. There's some good 'uns amongst the crop and reasons for optimism - if only the first team manager would stop qualifying every statement with a negative.