Sunderland's dismal season leaves David Moyes' future in doubt
Sunderland's 10-year stay in Premier League will formally come to an end on Saturday if they lose at home to Bournemouth and Hull City draw or win at Southampton.
Indeed, any failure to at least to match Hull's result will confirm relegation. The Wearsiders' beleaguered manager David Moyes, barracked by the away supporters in Wednesday night's drab 1-0 defeat at Middlesbrough, can expect an uncomfortable afternoon at the Stadium of Light.
Even if his side manage to do what they have done only three times at home this season and win, he knows the victory will only delay the inevitable. Sunderland will be playing Championship football next season.
Against Bournemouth, yet another dismal performance of the sort fans have had to endure on a regular basis since last August could produce a hostile, even toxic, atmosphere.
Moyes' attempts to draw positives from the Middlesbrough defeat have fallen on deaf ears. His view that the team passed and kept possession well was clearly at odds with the way visiting supporters saw the game. Even those who have defended the former Everton, Manchester United and Real Sociedad manager are now struggling to find mitigating factors.
Moyes certainly inherited a weak squad, and could have done with rather more time to prepare for the season than he was allowed by the late departure of Sam Allardyce to manage England. But his decision-making has been repeatedly at fault as a truly dreadful season has progressed.
It remains possible that owner Ellis Short will keep faith, trusting his manager to lead the team back to the Premier League at the first attempt. He was a great admirer of the Scot and tried unsuccessfully to recruit him before opting for last season's saviour Allardyce, but he cannot be impressed by what he has seen.
If Short is still intent on selling the club, he might feel managerial change is best left to his successor. But the painful reality is that Moyes' dismissal now, while far too late to have the slightest impact on the outcome of the season, would bring rare smiles to the faces of many supporters.
He is seen as dour, tactically negative and uninspiring. Even a flurry of wins to close a wretched season, finally giving the impression of a team willing and able to compete in the top flight, would be unlikely to alter that outlook.
The owner is also under critical scrutiny. Moyes was allowed limited funds to strengthen his squad and while Short can hardly be blamed for feeling he has allowed too many managers to squander money in recent seasons, Sunderland's many weaknesses have been evident for all to see.
With the exception of goalkeeper Jordan Pickford and striker Jermain Defoe -- neither of whom are likely to accompany Sunderland into the Championship -- the team have been substandard in all positions.
Even Defoe seems to have lost the sharpness that brought him 14 goals earlier in the season, though the poor service he receives would try any forward's patience. A fit Victor Anichebe might have made a difference, and Moyes has also suffered from protracted layoffs for other players, but coping with injuries is an unwritten part of every manager's job description.
The visit of Bournemouth offers an opportunity to witness the contrasting fortunes of a traditionally big club with a large fan base but a modern history of mismanagement, and a small, well-run one that punches significantly above its weight.
A win will not spread great happiness among the disconsolate home supporters and there is a strong possibility Saturday's game will be played to many empty seats, even if the official attendance is boosted by season ticket holders present or not.
As for Moyes, he said this week that he believes he is a better manager than ever and that anyone in charge of Sunderland in current circumstances would have struggled.
He must realise, however, that if he is allowed to stay, he will be under unenviable pressure to achieve what Rafa Benitez has at local rivals Newcastle United and lead Sunderland into an immediate and viable push for promotion. Given the present state of his squad, that looks a tall order.
Colin is ESPN FC's Sunderland blogger. Follow him on Twitter at @salutsunderland