The heat is off and the shackles are following, if a little too late
There's a strange mood in the Mackem air at the moment. Recent results may have all but condemned Sunderland to League One, but the last three performances have taken some of the heat off Chris Coleman.
Improved, spirited displays at Derby and Leeds coupled with a half decent - if futile - home showing against Sheffield Wednesday last week have convinced many that perhaps there are signs of life in the playing squad and perhaps Chris Coleman can actually get a tune out of a few of them.
The Black Cats boss himself has appeared fairly self-satisfied and appears convinced that there is sufficient sign of progress, even it really is far too late to save the club from its fate.
So Norwich will be the latest to arrive at the SoL on Tuesday night convinced that three points will be theirs for the taking but with a rare wariness for a visiting side. With the shackles slowly loosening now that relegation is imminent, Sunderland might put on a decent show for the few hardy souls prepared to turn out and watch it.
In truth, Coleman got it all wrong from Christmas onwards and his wariness and adamant stance that defence was the best form of attack pretty much condemned this side to relegation. At last the Welshman has changed his outlook and Sunderland look much better in the present 4-5-1 but it's really all too little too late.
What now and who can take us forward?
League One is unchartered territory for most of us but the recent performances of Paddy McNair and Lynden Gooch have given the Sunderland support some hope that the nucleus of a decent side actually resides within the bowels of the club.
Add to them the presently solid but unspectacular George Honeyman and others like Ethan Robson and Elliot Embleton and there may yet be hope and Maja and Love may well come into their own.
Andrew Nelson and Tom Beadling are doing alright on loan up in Scotland too and third tier football at the SoL may yet earn them a reprieve from being released as happened to Michael Ledger and Rees Greenwood earlier this season.
Who will remain is unknown but it's fair to assume that 'senior pros' like Lamine Kone, Bryan Oviedo, Adam Matthews and Aiden McGeady will be openly put up for sale in a bid to raise some cash. Whether anyone will take them remains to be seen of course and it wouldn't be a huge surprise to find some of them still lurking come August.
Didier Ndong will also return and a pittance will be probably be raked in compared with what he supposedly cost. Likewise Wahbi Khazri and Papy Djilobodji who remain to be sold on for a few million each. The pair will have two years left on their Sunderland contracts in the summer.
The danger is that the short-sighted outlook of the Sunderland regime will continue and that the crown jewels will continue to be sold. Keeping hold of the better prospects is essential to enact a swift return to the Championship, but the temptation to flog Joel Asoro and others like him could well prove too tempting for the cost-slashing bean-counters who have poisoned the club this last year or two.
There's no way a phoenix can rise with these few still here come August
It's becoming cliche and like punching a man when he's down but there is a fresh urgency to wash through the club those individuals long associated with failure.
John O'Shea has already hinted he may yet stay on for yet another season but without a fresh approach to his position - some coaching role maybe - it's difficult to build a case for the man who will be 38 at the end of next season remaining at the heart of it all.
Lee Cattermole looks about broken and is another who surely needs a fresh challenge to see out the final days of his career. He may have improved a bit in the restructured Sunderland formations of recent weeks but Catts is in danger of becoming a crowd hate figure if he lingers here much longer.
Rodwell will have to go too of course but the jury seems to remain out on Chris Coleman himself. Unconvincing and unable to demonstrate any improvement in any department, who the new owners are will determine his fate. Should the Welshman remain at the club next season, he will find himself at a career-determining crossroads.
If Coleman can restore Sunderland to the Championship at the first attempt, he has the opportunity to lead the club for many years or step on elsewhere, but there'll be no room for excuses or the present mitigating factors to be ongoing reasons for failure down in the lower league.