Sunderland's motivation in question heading into meeting with Hull City
Finally doomed to relegation, Sunderland travel to Hull City on Saturday for the first of four remaining chances to salvage some pride at the end of one of the worst seasons in their history.
David Moyes' players might be dispirited, hardly in the mood to do what they have routinely failed to do since August -- to register a win or even score after not managing a goal in nine of their past 10 games.
But they owe to it to their supporters, the other relegation-threatened clubs -- Swansea City and Middlesbrough -- and even themselves to muster a seriously competitive performance.
It might be beyond them to turn competitiveness into a winning scoreline against a side fighting to remain in the Premier League, one that has reasonable prospects of pulling off an impressive escape.
Sunderland do not lack fight, but they clearly lack quality and effective organisation. Man for man, they are probably inferior to Marco Silva's side with the exception of at most four players (striker Jermain Defoe, goalkeeper Jordan Pickford, midfielder Didier Ndong and -- on an alarmingly rare good day -- centre-back Lamine Kone).
Moyes complains that tight resources at a club £110m in debt have forced him to disproportionately rely on free transfers and loans.
He was nevertheless permitted to spend £27m on Ndong, Papy Djilobodji, Donald Love and Paddy McNair -- and a further £7.5m on Darron Gibson and Bryan Oviedo in the January transfer window. Of these, only Ndong and Oviedo have made even a limited impact.
Despite some speculation that he might leave the club one way or the other this week, the often well-informed local press said Moyes is unlikely to announce his intentions, or have a decision imposed on him, until the end of the season.
Sunderland's owner, Ellis Short -- whose own continued link with the club is also a subject of uncertainty -- is among Moyes' strongest admirers. He tried in vain to appoint him on several occasions before succeeding last summer when Sam Allardyce left for the England job.
But Short is also a shrewd and hard-headed businessman. If he sees that it's in his or the club's best interests to make a change, that change will happen. He also admired Martin O'Neill but had little hesitation in replacing him with Paolo Di Canio in 2013 in one of his many past managerial upheavals.
For now, Moyes must apply himself to his task. With nothing at stake against Hull for Sunderland, he has an obvious opportunity to see how well promising young players can handle first-team action. The American international, Lynden Gooch, is fit again; he and two products of the youth system, Elliot Embleton and George Honeyman, were unused substitutes in the 1-0 home defeat to Bournemouth that sent Sunderland down this past Saturday.
Yet Moyes might consider himself in a no-win position. A poor defeat would reinforce the belief of those wanting him out. A draw would seem meaningless while even a win would tempt the manager's critics to ask why he and his squad could not have made more of so many other games.
Equally, the way Sunderland play in this and the three remaining games of the season will have no bearing on what supporters insist must be an immediate promotion challenge. Few of the squad's senior players will -- or in some cases, should -- still be at the Stadium of Light come August.
Colin is ESPN FC's Sunderland blogger. Follow him on Twitter at @salutsunderland