"This season has again proved that there is a gulf between the divisions, with Nottingham Forest and Charlton at the bottom of the Premiership," the Bolton manager, Colin Todd, whose side were relegated last year by goal difference, said. "If we get there I'm going to have to spend money again, but just spending money doesn't guarantee staying there - you have to spend wisely."
This is the first time in four years that the two clubs have found themselves in the same division because they have seesawed so often, but Bolton were unable to change the course of a match which suggested that Sunderland are better equipped for survival than either club has been in recent years.
Although Thomas Sorensen, Peter Schmeichel's Danish deputy in goal, provides a solid backdrop, much of Sunderland's confidence must be in the exuberance of their attacking. Chris Makin and Michael Gray are adept defenders but they come alive when going forward. Gray's overlapping down the left is persistent and Makin, for the second time in consecutive home games, made a goal with precision passing.
Lee Clark is the creative fulcrum in midfield, spraying cross-field balls to the wingers. Allan Johnston caught the eye on Saturday with two goals but Nicky Summerbee down the right has been the more consistent performer, floating in crosses for Niall Quinn. The giant Irishman will be 33 when next season kicks off but has Kevin Phillips to do his leg work. In the 23rd minute Quinn's glance from a long clearance sent Phillips away to neatly score his 15th goal in a season that has been shortened by four months due to injury.
"I'm disappointed with the injury as I could have beaten the 35 goals I scored last season because we're creating so many chances," Phillips said afterwards.
"I am desperate to play in the Premiership. I have proved myself in the First Division and I want to step up again, like I did when I came here from Watford, and prove myself there. The Premiership is the pot of gold that keeps us going."
Such determination is driving Sunderland to the end of the rainbow despite already being 12 points clear and winning their 10th consecutive home game on Saturday. "In the dressing room before the game I felt they were up for it and desperate to get out. In that situation you don't need a team talk," Peter Reid, whose side was defeated in the play-off final on penalties last year, said.
It was no wonder, then, that when he was told that the result had mathematically secured them a place in this year's play-offs, a look came over his face as if he had just woken up in Hell.
Goals: Phillips 23 (1-0); Johnston, 28 (2-0); Frandsen 49 (2-1); Johnston, 55 (3-1).
Sunderland (4-4-2): Sorensen; Makin, Melville, Craddock, Gray; Summerbee, Ball, Clark (Williams, 57), Johnston; Quinn (Dichio, 72), Phillips (Bridges, 82).
Bolton Wanderers (4-4-2): Jaaskelainen; Cox, Warhurst, Fish, Elliott; Johansen (Todd, 64), Jensen, Frandsen, Sellars (Gardner, 74); Holdsworth, Taylor (Gudjohnsen, 74).
Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire). Bookings: Sunderland: Makin, Ball, Melville. Bolton: Cox, Elliott, Frandsen, Taylor.
Man of the match: Clark.
Attendance: 41,506.Reuse content