Hull City's relegation was virtually confirmed here, where an early goal from Darren Bent was enough to secure Sunderland's first away victory since the season's opening day and leave Iain Dowie and his players staring into the abyss.
Now the immediate destination of the club has been decided, it appears likely the crippling financial problems will be exposed this week as the chairman, Adam Pearson, and the owner, Russell Bartlett, meet to discuss a plan somehow to restructure debts of £36 million and cope with what appear to be dark days ahead. Administration is not out of the question, but the club are more likely to go into a Creditor Voluntary Arrangement (CVA).
Pearson even confirmed last night that Phil Brown could return to the club as manager in the summer, if the financial situation called for it.
It was difficult not to feel pity for Hull, if not sympathy, given the manner of yet another disastrous defeat. Woeful early defending invited Sunderland to seize the initiative through Bent's 25th goal of the season, while Jimmy Bullard missed a penalty and Jozy Altidore got himself dismissed right on half-time for butting Alan Hutton, who was also sent off for his role in the unsavoury mêlée.
The harsh reality is that Dowie has made little impact since replacing Brown and that Hull have been catastrophically short of the quality required to survive at this level. One victory from the past seven games has left them six points adrift of West Ham with two games remaining, but with a far inferior goal difference.
Dowie said: "It's very disappointing, for obvious reasons. We just didn't work the keeper enough in key areas. I can't fault the effort and the commitment. But we can't right a thousand wrongs in a short period of time. I only had nine games and you can be accused of all sorts. I knew what was going on here when I came and in the end we were not good enough. It's a dark dressing-room in there."
As to his own future, he refused to be downcast. "My CV stands up to scrutiny, it's not an issue for me. I love being a coach, but it's not my decision."
Dowie had taken a drastic decision to make six changes from the side beaten at home by Aston Villa in midweek, the most notable being a first start under his management for Geovanni, while Nick Barmby, Altidore and Caleb Folan were all recalled.
There were no such problems for Steve Bruce, of course. He recalled Matt Kilgallon to replace the injured John Mensah as Sunderland looked to finish the campaign safe from the stresses and strains Hull endured.
This showed in their bright start, while Hull were so devoid of confidence that they could easily have been three goals down inside seven minutes. Both Steed Malbranque and Jordan Henderson squandered golden chances before Bent made amends, squeezing a low shot inside the far post from an acute angle after Kenwyne Jones had headed Alan Sutton's deep cross into his path.
Bent could have doubled the advantage but shot wide following a wonderful ball by Jones and Hull were in danger of being ripped to shreds.
Yet a potential lifeline was thrown their way four minutes before the interval when Michael Turner tripped Geovanni to concede a penalty. Bullard saw his strike hit the post and the afternoon went downhill from there. When Hull actually hit the bottom remains to be seen.
Referee: Lee Probert
Man of the match: Malbranque
Match rating: 6/10Reuse content