The Premier League club and fellow relegation battlers have shown little improvement despite changes at the helm, could Steve McClaren and Bolo Zenden have done any better?
It is 11 months since Paolo Di Canio strode into the media room at Tottenham Hotspur and embarked on a 24-minute diatribe against the fragile mentality and lack of professionalism within his then Sunderland squad.
That followed a 1-0 Spurs win at the end of a season in which the Wearsiders had narrowly avoided relegation. As Gus Poyet confirmed when he took his turn to walk into the very same room at White Hart Lane in the wake of Monday night's 5-1 thrashing, they will almost certainly not be so lucky this time.
Di Canio's successor was both emotional and brutally frank as he revealed it would "take a miracle" and was "practically impossible" for Sunderland to avoid dropping into the Championship.
"I cannot see it [survival] happening," stated the Uruguayan. "As soon as we go forward we cannot defend. We cannot make decisions. We cannot go one v one. We cannot pass the ball. We cannot get a shot on target. There are so many basic things we cannot do and there is no place to hide."
Seven points adrift of safety at the foot of the Premier League, Sunderland hold games in hand on their rivals but have not won a league game since the 3-0 victory at Newcastle United on 1 February. At the time Poyet believed a watershed had been reached but he possibly underestimated precisely how poor Newcastle have become since the turn of the year.
A month later Sunderland lost the Capital One Cup final to Manchester City and, with the adrenaline boost of the Wembley run withdrawn and pre-existing flaws no longer disguised, they immediately went into freefall.
Although the decline seems to have been exacerbated by Poyet apparently losing faith in his previously strong ideological conviction that 4-1-4-1 and a patient possession-based passing game were the way forward, the former Brighton manager is not really to blame, even though the recent shift to five at the back has not really worked.
After all he did not sign the 14 players, 13 imported from overseas, recruited by the club's former director of football Roberto De Fanti, who was sacked in January. Of that contingent only three – Vito Mannone, Ki Sung-yueng (on loan from Swansea) and Fabio Borini (borrowed from Liverpool) – started at White Hart Lane on Monday night. None made the bench, leaving the £6.5m striker Jozy Altidore to turn out for the reserves and the £8.7m winger Emanuele Giaccherini kicking his heels at home.
Sunderland were 20th when Poyet replaced Di Canio in October and they are 20th today. Perhaps not so coincidentally this is a common trend. Despite first René Meulensteen and then Felix Magath having succeeded Martin Jol, Fulham still occupy the 18th position they resided in when he was sacked. Similarly, West Brom were 16th when Steve Clarke was dismissed and remain there under Pepe Mel's guidance.
Cardiff, meanwhile, have dropped from 17th to 19th since swapping Malky Mackay for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Swansea from 12th to 15th in the wake of Garry Monk stepping into Michael Laudrup's shoes. Indeed, of those clubs who have changed manager mid-season only Tony Pulis's replacement of Ian Holloway at Selhurst Park appears to have really been much of a success; under the former's guidance Crystal Palace have risen from 19th to 14th.
In Sunderland's case, switching managers was forced on them by the dressing-room revolt that resulted in senior players approaching members of the board and demanding Di Canio's ousting.
The Italian's man-management clearly left an awful lot to be desired but, despite only collecting a disappointing one point from the season's opening five games, there was a sense of an opportunity missed.
At times Sunderland played some pleasing attacking football – Arsène Wenger even praised Di Canio's vision – and club insiders acknowledged that the Italian's often appalling handling of individuals was counterbalanced by excellence on the training pitch.
"What Paolo did was right," said Steven Fletcher, the team's currently injured key striker. "But he did it in the wrong way. He wanted the best for the club and his training and stuff was right. He could have been a good Sunderland manager. The fans loved him."
If Di Canio would almost certainly have self-destructed at some point he was hardly helped by the fact he was not responsible for any of De Fanti's signings, with the former director of football turning a persistently deaf ear to his pleas to sign Tom Huddlestone from Spurs. Without Huddlestone there is a very good chance Hull City would be embroiled in a relegation fight now.
With De Fanti also failing to move on dressing-room dissenters, most notably Phil Bardsley and Lee Cattermole, Di Canio was effectively a dead man walking and Poyet inherited what always looked a mission impossible.
Assuming the latter stays at the Stadium of Light, his pleasing football philosophy promises to offer Sunderland an excellent chance of making an immediate return to the top flight before finally breaking the seemingly endless cycle of struggle they have endured in recent years. Poyet's interest in the academy and enthusiasm for youngsters being coached in a "more European" way is particularly encouraging.
Helped by Lee Congerton, Sunderland's new director of football, who appears to be a very promising appointment, Poyet may find the Championship is the best place to conduct the radical root and branch reform that this squad – in which a raft of players are out of contract this summer – so clearly requires. An entire locker-room mindset clearly needs altering. Urgently.
Even so, he was arguably the wrong choice to replace Di Canio in the circumstances. Last autumn Steve McClaren was available and willing. McClaren is not perfect and has his critics but you do not win the League Cup, turn Middlesbrough into a top-10 Premier League club, reach the Uefa Cup final and win the Dutch title with Twente by complete accident. The current Derby manager also had the advantage of knowing John O'Shea and Wes Brown well from his days coaching at Manchester United. Not to mention knowing how to handle Cattermole, whom he managed at Boro, learning an awful lot about which of the combative midfielder's buttons to press and when.
Maybe, just maybe, McClaren might have done better than Poyet. He certainly wouldn't have made the basic tactical error of banning The Sun for correctly predicting that Sunderland would road test a back five at Liverpool the other week. It is surely no coincidence that shortly afterwards we all learnt how the Premier League and Sunderland had hushed up the six-figure fine the latter paid for fielding Ji Dong-won without international clearance earlier in the season.
He might have recruited a bit better than Poyet did in January, too. While Liam Bridcutt will probably be one of the best players in the Championship next season, Oscar Ustari is a decent back-up goalkeeper and Marcos Alonso has enjoyed some bright moments at left-back. Igancio Scocco, however, is way out of his depth in English football, while the jury remains very much out on Santiago Vergini.
Even better, McClaren might have made Bolo Zenden his assistant. Currently coaching in the Netherlands, the much-respected former Chelsea, Boro and Sunderland midfielder assisted Rafael Benítez at Chelsea last season and seems precisely the sort of figure Sunderland should surely be employing in some capacity.
If he sticks around, Poyet – whose current misery is exacerbated by the prospect of the major knee surgery he is set to undergo this summer – could do a lot worse than adding Zenden to his coaching staff.
The horrible irony is that Ellis Short is so infinitely preferable an owner to Mike Ashley up the road at Newcastle. Yet where Ashley has got away with some dreadful decisions – although there may soon be a reckoning – Short's generally commendable, internationalist vision, has been blemished by his penchant for appointing the wrong people to execute it at the 49,000-capacity Stadium of Light.
If Congerton is as good as everyone says he is that should be about to start changing but far too many of Sunderland's recent woes have been self-inflicted. The only consolation is that Short took the precaution of inserting clauses in all player contracts, reducing wages by 40% in the event of relegation.