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Chelsea, Sunderland show injuries matter

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Contrast between top and bottom clear

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David Moyes' future in doubt

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Last Rites for Sunderland

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David Moyes and Sunderland's misery complete with shambolic relegation

With only six wins, Sunderland's bright spots -- like the first victory (2-1, on Nov. 5 at Bournemouth) and the astonishing-but-fluke hammering of Crystal Palace (4-0 on Feb. 4 at Selhurst Park) -- served only to encourage false hope this season.

Rating out of 10: 2

Highlight

It was not a season in which highlights seem appropriate to describe occasional saving graces, but on an individual level, two of the many players expected to leave Sunderland this summer brought smiles to supporters' faces.

Goalkeeper Jordan Pickford built on all the promise shown as Vito Mannone's understudy, suggesting he might become a long-term fixture for England and a club capable of winning trophies.

And the indefatigable Jermain Defoe combined ruthless finishing and extraordinary compassion for Bradley Lowery, the Sunderland supporter -- six last week -- suffering from a rare form of cancer, neuroblastoma.

Jordan Pickford looks on during the Premier League match between Everton and Sunderland at Goodison Park on February 25, 2017 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Chris Brunskill Ltd/Getty Images)
Jordan Pickford continued to shine during a difficult season for Sunderland.

Low point

Sunderland supporters are accustomed to poor results, but will broadly forgive anything except lack of effort and commitment. On occasions throughout a miserable season, both qualities have seemed absent.

From plenty of contending games in which defeat was meekly accepted as if pre-ordained, perhaps the worst performances of all were reserved for two matches against fellow relegation strugglers Swansea City, with Sunderland truly clueless as they slumped to defeat 3-0 away and 2-0 at home.

One veteran fan described the lacklustre, passionless display against Swansea in the season's final home game as the worst he could remember in half a century of supporting the club. That might be an exaggeration, but is one based on sheer disbelief that a team with pride to play for, and under no other pressure having already been relegated, should offer such little threat to a club just three places above them with every right to feel nervous about a battle for survival nearing its climax.

Jermain Defoe's goals gave Sunderland a shred of hope but David Moyes' doomed side finally succumbed to the drop.

Star Man

Pickford's absence because of injury for several weeks of the season makes the choice of Defoe easier, but it would have been hard to argue with the striker's tally of 15 goals in any case. This amounted to more than half Sunderland's shameful total of 29.

Defoe is a model professional who takes care of his body, and this has enabled him to be ever-present -- until pulling out of the finale at Chelsea -- despite ending the season less than five months short of his 35th birthday. What is more, Defoe scored his goals despite an abysmal level of service. His goalscoring return to England action was a personal bonus and if, as everyone including the player himself thinks certain, he has now played his last game for Sunderland, he leaves with the immense goodwill and respect of supporters.

Flop

In Sunderland's case, the process of choosing the season's biggest flop could begin with something longer than a short list. Exclude perhaps three or four names from the squad and you have candidates galore. But Adnan Januzaj stands out as the most glaring disappointment in a thoroughly demoralising season.

After his season-long loan, he should return to Manchester United and an uncertain future with his head hanging in shame.

Manager David Moyes has described the Belgian as technically the most gifted member of his squad. There was intermittent evidence of his skill -- including 11 minutes as substitute against Arsenal -- but even these mostly offered no end product. He will be remembered far more, if he is remembered at all, for what appeared repeatedly throughout the season to be the lack of desire of a man whose heart and mind lay far away.

Transfer talk

Moyes, or a successor if the wish of many supporters is granted and he is replaced, needs to study the success of Roy Keane in building a team with enough hunger and quality to rise from the bottom of the league to promotion as champions in 2006-2007. Keane recruited the likes of Ross Wallace, Liam Miller, Dwight Yorke and Carlos Edwards; who will be their equivalents for 2017-18?

With so many of Moyes' players wanting to leave, and others needing to be shipped out whether they like it or not, the task is enormous. Two strikers are obvious priorities, but Sunderland will need midfield grit and flair and almost an entire new defence to have any chance of emulating Newcastle United's immediate return to the Premier League.

Colin is ESPN FC's Sunderland blogger. Follow him on Twitter at @salutsunderland

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