Moyes could rebuild Sunderland but must go down fighting in Prem
Sunderland will try to end a run of seven games without a win or a goal on Saturday in the dispiriting knowledge that even beating West Ham can make little difference to their relegation-haunted plight.
With just six games to go after the Hammers' visit to the Stadium of Light, mathematical calculations no longer have meaning. David Moyes' side are 10 points short of fourth-bottom Hull City's tally of 30 points, making survival a forlorn dream. Sunderland have been relegated at least once in each of the past six decades and, after 10 mostly troubled seasons back in the Premier League, it is about to happen again.
Against West Ham, they will be playing mainly for pride and in the hope of sending faithful but increasingly restless supporters home with faint smiles on their faces.
Sunderland last won at home in mid-December, when a 1-0 victory over Watford ended an encouraging run that had brought 12 points from seven games. As if to underline the Wearsiders' problems in front of goal, the winner came from full-back Patrick van Aanholt and he remains the club's joint second highest scorer despite having left for Crystal Palace in January.
Without Jermain Defoe's admirable haul of 14 goals, Sunderland would not only be going down to the Championship but, for the third time in Premier League history, setting a new record for doing so with the lowest points.
In 2003, they were relegated with 19 points -- one fewer than their total so far this season -- and three years later on 15. Derby County later established a new, unwanted record, finishing bottom with 11 points in 2008.
Having attended the last two home games, a dismal 0-0 draw against Burnley on March 18 and the 3-0 defeat to Manchester United last Sunday, owner Ellis Short can be under no illusions about the lamentable state of his club. Since he is keen to sell in any case, he may also be concerned about the impact of relegation on the club's value.
Perhaps surprisingly for a side whose season has lurched from bad to worse, consistently producing the worst football in the top flight, there are marketable assets. Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, shortlisted for the Professional Footballers' Association Young Player of the Year award, has many suitors, is certain to be sold and will fetch a high fee.
Centre-back Lamine Kone is not the player he was last season, when Everton offered £18 million for him, but he will still attract a sizeable price. Midfielder Didier Ndong, rare among Sunderland players in having improved as the season has progressed, may also attract interest. Attacking midfielder Wahbi Khazri has been inexplicably overlooked in Moyes' starting selections but has admirers.
Defoe's chances of remaining in contention for further England caps probably depend on him staying in the Premier League and he, too, seems to nearing the end of his time with Sunderland. Astonishingly, there will be no fee if persistent reports -- neither confirmed nor denied by the club -- are correct and his contract entitles him to leave on a free transfer.
If Moyes remains in charge, his attempt to win promotion will therefore begin with a much-changed team. It is a damning fact that with the exceptions of Victor Anichebe, who gives the attack necessary muscle but is unfortunate with injuries, and John O'Shea, because of his splendid service to the club, no other first-team regular would be missed if transferred.
Moyes has numerous critics among Sunderland supporters. His team choices, substitutions and tactics have all been questioned. There has been social media chatter suggesting some fans would welcome a return by Roy Keane, perhaps in partnership with O'Shea, to repeat his great achievement of taking Sunderland from second bottom of the Championship to title-winners in 2006-07.
But Keane and Short parted on poor terms and there is also an argument for breaking with the club's recent tradition of constantly changing managers. Given enough time, and the power to spend wisely after selling Pickford, Kone, Ndong and Khazri, Moyes could yet be the man to spearhead a revival and, with it, a period of stability unseen in Sunderland's modern history.
But that process needs to start immediately. Even a fighting finish to a demoralising season would be too little, too late to save Sunderland from the drop. But without it, holding faith in Moyes' ability to oversee a successful rebuild might well be a minority position.
Colin is ESPN FC's Sunderland blogger. Follow him on Twitter at @salutsunderland