THERE were a few empty red seats dotted around the Riverside Stadium, and understandably so. Given the sorry state that these North-East neighbours find themselves in, it was incredible that there weren’t more.

The odds on Middlesbrough and Sunderland going head-to-head a couple of times in the Championship next season remain very short, even if there is slightly more hope of survival on Teesside after a long-awaited first victory of 2017.

It is a shame for the region that two clubs, who previously met in the Premier League here more than ten years ago, will not be gracing the top tier together again next season.

There was noise, a full away end of just under 3,000 fans from Wearside and more than 30,000 in all to watch the action unfold – and a pre-match red flare helped create a decent enough occasion despite relegation looming large.

And some football, particularly Marten de Roon’s ninth-minute winner, served up provided a decent advertisement for, dare it be said, the Championship next season; even if Boro will hope to stun Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool in their final four games to improve their chances.

Who will be in charge of both come August? There were vociferous chants for David Moyes to lose his job from the Sunderland fans, just as they chanted against West Ham 11 days earlier.

The word from the Stadium of Light is there is no appetite to change the manager, with chief executive Martin Bain’s belief that Moyes can bring brighter times back apparently echoed by owner Ellis Short.

But Short remains keen to sell. If his wish is granted in the weeks ahead, anything could happen. It is hard to imagine Sunderland being able to bounce straight back up smoothly like Newcastle United have done this season.

There will be huge changes; more than a team of players are likely to depart when relegation is confirmed and that could be this weekend if a further defeat to Bournemouth arrives and Hull’s result goes against them.

Seven of Sunderland’s players are out of contract, three loan signings will return to their parent clubs and Jermain Defoe will depart on a free because of a relegation clause in his contract.

Added to that any likely sales, and Moyes (or whoever is manager if he does go) has a huge restructuring job on his hands; and to be carried out with debts in excess of £140m recorded before relegation from the Premier League.

The cost of falling out of the top-flight has been felt at the Riverside before. Having spent seven years in the Football League after relegation under Gareth Southgate in 2009, chairman Steve Gibson does at least know what it takes to get back up.

The Boro squad will not need anywhere near the sort of surgery required up the A19. In fact the biggest question mark hanging over the club will be centred on who leads the charge back to the Premier League.

Steve Agnew, who finally celebrated his first win in seven since taking over from Aitor Karanka, has made no secret of his desire to be handed the job on a full-time basis. Gibson will weigh up the alternatives, and it could take five straight wins for Agnew to stand a chance.

Regardless of who fills the role beyond the final game, though, the core of the squad that took Boro up to the Premier League last season should remain in place. That experience of the Championship could be crucial.

Seven of Agnew’s starting line-up against Sunderland played crucial roles in the promotion-winning season, while Dimi Konstanopoulos, Fabio, Patrick Bamford and Rudy Gestede were all on the bench and have proven themselves at that level too.

There are no ownership concerns for Boro and no public calls for change either after Karanka’s recent departure. Yet there is an acceptance things couldn’t have gone much worse in the first season back in the Premier League.

Boro have a glimmer of hope in the battle to stay up, but the supporters’ cheeky willingness to embrace the likelihood of relegation at both clubs just about summed the situation up.

“You’re going down with the Sunderland” was the cry from the away end, and the retort was “you’re going down with the Boro” from the home supporters along from them in the South Stand.

But will it be possible for the teams from Teesside and Wearside to return back to the Premier League together at the first time of asking in a year’s time? Middlesbrough hope it doesn’t even come to that.