Whether Sunderland did budget for relegation last summer, and despite protestations to the contrary from the chairman Bob Murray that remains a firm suspicion, they cannot claim ignorance of the price of making progress in the Premiership should they ever return. Manchester City spent £6m in January on a striker who yesterday secured a victory that rekindled their Uefa Cup ambitions. Meanwhile, the better team lost.
No description of Georgios Samaras is complete without the cautionary "raw" that Stuart Pearce, the City manager who signed the Greek centre-forward from Heerenveen, uttered again after the two goals that masked an uncharacteristically careless performance from his team.
The 21-year-old, handed his first cap by his country last week, represents the kind of ambitious gamble that teams such as City must take to advance. Sunderland's inability to follow suit explains their current predicament.
"We believe Georgios has got the raw tools to become a really good player and it is down to me and my coaching staff to improve him," Pearce said. "We need to eradicate the not-so-good things from his play but I have been impressed by his desire to improve."
Samaras benefited from Sunderland's self-implosion in the eighth minute when their goalkeeper Kelvin Davis and centre-half Danny Collins exchanged three passes from their own goal-kick before the latter attempted to beat the lurking striker on the edge of his own penalty area. Collins, easily overpowered, watched from the floor as the Greek swept a gift of a breakthrough inside Davis' near post and then doubled City's advantage with his next touch, volleying home Trevor Sinclair's cross from the right.
A week's work destroyed by three minutes of ineptitude, it was no surprise to see Mick McCarthy squirming in anger on the touchline and seeking guidance from the heavens. "We sealed our own fate," McCarthy said. "If we stop giving stupid bloody goals away we might have a chance of winning games."
Salvation of sorts arrived in an admirable response from his spirited but limited players and a City performance that effectively ground to a halt. With more composure and confidence in front of goal Sunderland would have added to Kevin Kyle's first of the season, tapped in from six inches when Gary Breen headed a free-kick across goal.
Even after Breen was dismissed five minutes from time when he collected a second booking for blocking a David James clearance with both hands, Sunderland had chances to level, but the nine points they require to avoid beating their own worst points total in Premiership history remains a formidable target.
Goals: Samaras 1-0 (8), Samaras 2-0 (10), Kyle 2-1 (25).
Manchester City (4-4-2): James; Richards, Dunne, Distin, Jordan; Sinclair, Reyna (Ireland, 81), Musampa, Riera (Jihai, 60); Samaras, Vassell (Wright-Phillips, 68). Substitutes not used: Weaver (gk), Croft.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Davis; Nosworthy, Breen, Collins, McCartney; Delap (Lawrence, 61), Leadbitter, Whitehead, Arca; Elliott (Stead, 82), Kyle (Le Tallec, 83). Substitutes not used: J Murphy (gk), Caldwell.
Referee: C Foy (Merseyside).
Booked: Manchester City Riera; Sunderland Whitehead, Delap, Breen.
Sent off: Sunderland Breen (85).
Man of the match: Samaras.