Fulham have been defying the odds for the last seven years by keeping Premier League football afloat down by the Thames, but the waters are rising fast around Roy Hodgson's team. This was a match that was crucial to their chances of survival, but defeat at Craven Cottage left them six points away from safety with only five games left.
Having had the better of the first 44 minutes, Fulham conceded goals either side of half-time and were well beaten by the end. A downcast Hodgson, sounding like a manager who believed that relegation was now all but inevitable, said he was "devastated" by the result.
"This was a game we had to win," he added. "I thought that coming in 1-0 down at half-time was unbelievably cruel. We really believed we could win it and I thought our first-half performance showed that we could, but the game is all about scoring goals and not conceding them. We didn't create enough chances. They defended well and we made some bad mistakes defensively."
Fulham's fortunes are in stark contrast to those of Sunderland, who all but guaranteed their Premier League future with their third successive victory. When Michael Chopra scored the winner at Aston Villa a fortnight ago it was their first goal away from the Stadium of Light for three months; by the end of the second half here they looked like scoring on almost every attack.
Roy Keane, nevertheless, felt there was little to choose between the two teams. The Sunderland manager thought his team played poorly in a first half which Fulham dominated. However, despite Jimmy Bullard's tireless running and thoughtful passing, Hodgson's team created only a handful of half-chances.
Fulham's best opportunity in the first half came after only 11 minutes, but Brian McBride headed Bullard's cross straight into the arms of Craig Gordon. Sunderland played largely on the counter-attack in the first half, but their threat was underlined when Danny Collins headed past Kasey Keller from Andy Reid's free-kick, only to see his effort ruled out for offside.
If that was a warning for Fulham it went unheeded. One minute before the break their defence failed to clear Reid's corner and left Daryl Murphy in too much space on the right. He had time to curl a cross on to the head of Collins, who found the corner of the net.
Some managers might have been expected to sit on a half-time lead away from home, but Keane's response was to replace a midfielder with a forward. Within nine minutes of Chopra's arrival, Kenwyne Jones's flicked header found his new strike partner, who calmly hooked the ball past Keller from eight yards.
David Healy's superb curling shot from 25 yards offered Fulham brief hope, but within two minutes Dean Whitehead's surging run into the penalty area and unselfish pass gave Jones the chance to drive what will surely be one of the final nails in Fulham's Premier League coffin.
Keane may be the most easy-going of managers, but in an interview in yesterday's Irish Times, the former midfielder claimed that Manchester United had told him "basic lies" about the terms of his departure three years ago and said he lost his love of the game the day he left. Clearly that old fire still burns within.