ANOTHER game gone; another step closer to the abyss. While still not guaranteed, Sunderland's relegation to the Championship becomes more and more certain with every game that passes.
Last night's 5-1 defeat to Tottenham, which made it 20 successive Monday-night fixtures in the Premier League without a victory, followed another weekend that saw a number of the Black Cats' relegation rivals win. While their opponents pull away, Sunderland are going nowhere fast – apart from out of the top-flight.
Their latest setback was one of the more painful, as they had led for the first time since the Capital One Cup final after Lee Cattermole's first ever goal for the club secured an unlikely first-half advantage.
Emmanuel Adebyaor's close-range strike ensured Tottenham regained parity before the interval, and by the time the Togo international tapped home his side's fourth with four minutes remaining, Sunderland's second-half capitulation was total.
Harry Kane, Christian Eriksen and Gylfi Sigurdsson also found the target as the Black Cats fell away completely after the break, and while it would be unfair to suggest that Gustavo Poyet's side lack effort or commitment, a crippling absence of quality and belief is all-too-apparent. Sadly, that is a failing that looks impossible to address in the games that remain.
Seven points adrift of safety with seven games remaining, Sunderland's next three matches pit them against Everton, Manchester City and Chelsea. By the time they have played those, their fate might well have been sealed.
Poyet cannot be accused of burying his head in the sand, but the more the Uruguayan alters in the hope of sparking an improvement, the more his side's fortunes remain resolutely unchanged.
The switch to five at the back did not work against Liverpool or West Ham, so he dropped his skipper, John O'Shea, in the hope of shoring up his backline at White Hart Lane. The result? Sunderland conceded five for the first time all season. Goodness knows what's left to try against Everton.
By the final whistle, the Black Cats were a thoroughly bedraggled bunch, yet things had briefly looked more positive early on. Seven days after starting wretchedly against West Ham, and save for an early scare when Vito Mannone had to turn Eriksen's deflected cross over the crossbar, it was Sunderland who were the more composed side in the early stages.
Tottenham, in a state of flux given the uncertainty over Tim Sherwood's managerial future, were hesitant and edgy in the opening quarter-of-an-hour. Their opponents, despite their obvious concerns at the foot of the table, retained possession more effectively.
They didn't really look like creating a clear-cut chance though, so perhaps it was just as well that Tottenham delivered their opening goal on a plate in the 16th minute.
JINKING BY: Adam Johnson skips past Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris
Hugo Lloris rushed his clearance to Vlad Chiriches, but the Romanian centre-half should still have had ample time to funnel the ball forwards.
Instead, he took the inexplicable decision to play a square ball to no one across the face of his own area, enabling Cattermole to advance and claim possession 30 yards out.
There was still a fair bit to do with Lloris scampering back towards his own goalmouth, but Cattermole placed a fine low strike into the bottom corner of the net. For once, it was Sunderland profiting from some dreadful defending rather than serving it up.
Given Spurs' recent poor record, it would have been interesting to see the hosts' reaction had Sunderland been able to build on their lead, but when Cattermole laid the ball off to Fabio Borini midway through the first half, Lloris got down well to turn the Italian's low strike around the post.
Spurs had already begun to build momentum by that stage, with Mannone smothering Kane's shot after the ball fell fortuitously for the striker in the area and Kyle Naughton drilling a first-time strike narrowly wide after the dangerous Eriksen had slipped inside Marcos Alonso.
The switch to five defenders was designed to provide more protection in the penalty area, but in order for it to work, those playing at the back have to remain switched on to do their jobs. Not for the first time, when Spurs grabbed their equaliser, that simply didn't happen.
Eriksen delivered a low cross from the left, and with all three centre-halves standing motionless in the area, Adebayor stole behind Brown to convert from close range.
Poyet must have been furious at his side's failings, although the majority of his ire was directed at fourth official Mike Dean, who he repeatedly accused of lying before storming off down the tunnel muttering obscenities under his breath shortly before half-time.
He returned to witness his side produce a bright start to the second half, with Adam Johnson, who was recalled in place of Connor Wickham, drilling over the top after a dribble beyond two Spurs defenders.
Four minutes later, and Poyet had cause to thank the officials after referee Lee Mason failed to award a penalty even though Carlos Cuellar appeared to trip Kane in the box. The contact was minimal, but it undoubtedly impeded the Spurs' striker's progress.
Kane, a 20-year-old striker who has become increasingly prominent this season, was lively throughout, although it says much about the failings of the Sunderland defence that he did not really have to do much to fire his side into the lead.
The goal bore strong similarities to Spurs' first strike, with Eriksen delivering a low cross from the left, Sunderland's centre-halves again failing to react to the danger, and another striker stealing ahead of Brown to score. The only difference this time was that it was Kane rather than Adebayor applying the finish.
With his side not really looking like getting back on level terms, Poyet introduced Ignacio Scocco and Craig Gardner, and switched to a more straight-forward 4-3-3 formation in search of a goal. Instead of his side recovering, however, they duly shipped three more goals in the last 12 minutes.
Eriksen scored the first, drilling a low 20-yard strike into the bottom corner of the net via a deflection off Phil Bardsley's heel.
Adebayor scored his second of the night with four minutes left, tapping home from close range after an error from Mannone enabled Kane's weak shot to squirm through the goalkeeper's grasp.
And substitute Sigurdsson compounded Sunderland's misery in stoppage time, stabbing home from close range after Adebyaor and Younes Kaboul were allowed to exchange short-range passes in the penalty area.