IT says much about Sunderland’s current plight that the worst season in the club’s 141-year history will not be chronicled on Netflix. Season three of ‘Sunderland Til I Die’ was shelved before filming had begun. The harsh reality is that when it comes to scenes of failure and thwarted ambition, there is nothing new to show.

Next season will be Sunderland’s third in a row in the third tier, and rather than resembling an errant aberration, the club’s status as a League One club is beginning to look like the new normal. The messy manner in which the EFL ratified the curtailment of the season was unedifying, and it is possible to construct a case arguing that Sunderland were unfortunate not to make the play-offs. Had they won at Bristol Rovers in their final game before lockdown or not conceded a 95th-minute equaliser to Gillingham in their penultimate fixture, they would have finished in the top six.

Yet when Sky TV officials approached their Wearside contacts to inquire whether there would be anti-EFL demonstrations outside the Stadium of Light for them to film on Tuesday afternoon, they were told to look elsewhere. The vast majority of Sunderland supporters will grudgingly concede that while the formula for ending the season might have been flawed, the end result after 36 matches was what the Black Cats deserved.

They were not good enough over the course of seven months, just as they had not been good enough for the previous seven seasons. Aside from an odd moment here and there, some might argue that tally could just as well stretch to 17.

Every forward step over that time has been followed by at least two backward ones, and while it is hard to see how things could get much worse than the present, it would be folly to assume that further regression is impossible. League One will be just as tough next season, and with a host of senior players heading out of contract, there is no guarantee Sunderland will be any better.

Jim Rodwell, the club’s new chief executive, said the right things in the wake of Tuesday’s announcement, promising a renewed drive to turn things around. “We have a plan of what we want to do, it’s just executing it,” he said. “We know we’ve got to build a squad better than anybody else in League One for next season and we should have that.” Easy to say, devilishly difficult to pull off. Perhaps he’ll be predicting a 100-point tally next?

Rodwell has already held detailed discussions with Phil Parkinson and the rest of Sunderland’s recruitment team, but whatever the outcome of those talks, it will only be papering over the cracks. To many, the club appears rotten to the core, with the continued presence of owner Stewart Donald casting an all-encompassing shadow over everything else that goes on. Until Donald goes, it is hard to see how the toxic combination of anger and apathy that has seeped through Sunderland’s fanbase over the last 12 months can shift.

How times have changed since those early days two summers ago. Back then, Donald was heralded as a saviour, with his podcast appearances and open invitation to help change the Stadium of Light seats endearing him to a group of supporters that had grown thoroughly disillusioned with the evasiveness of the Ellis Short regime.

Yet as time has gone on, so it has become increasingly clear that Donald’s promises are as empty as his pockets. From the lack of clarity behind the terms of Short’s departure to the forced acknowledgement that parachute payments were used to finance the majority of the £37m purchase price, Donald’s financial dealings have set alarm bells ringing and resulted in him losing the support of a large swathe of Sunderland’s fans.

Last month’s revelations, relating to the removal of a legal obligation that would previously have forced Donald to pay back £20.538m that has been borrowed from the club, was the final straw for many. Sunderland released an official response stating that the money will be repaid in full, either by way of a ‘gift’ or ‘shareholder funds’, but the initial lack of openness suggested a desire to hide what was going on rather than be explicitly clear. At the very least, it stood in marked contrast to the promises of clarity that were showered on supporters two summers ago.

To many, it feels as though the “p*ss-take party”, a phrase so memorably coined by Charlie Methven, is still going on. Only this time, it is the fans that are being exploited rather than those in the boardroom.

That is a hard accusation to shake, and even if things improve on the pitch next season, the toxic atmosphere off it will remain. Donald has always maintained he would walk away if he was not wanted – he repeated as much on camera on more than one occasion in the most recent ‘Sunderland Til I Die’ series – but while the club remains for sale, it is far from clear that he is doing all he can to make it a viable proposition for a buyer.

It has been suggested that Donald is demanding £35m to sell, with suggestions of an additional £5m top up if Sunderland are promoted to the Championship, and in the face of a global pandemic, that seems a wildly-optimistic valuation.

Factor in the recent reports of a £20.5m hole in the accounts, and it becomes easy to see why possible purchasers have either walked away or, in the case of the US-based FPP group, opted to invest in the form of a loan instead of completing a full-blown buyout.

If, as he claims, Donald really has Sunderland’s best interests at heart, he will revisit his asking price and spend the summer redoubling his efforts to sell. Otherwise, the worst season in the club’s history could prove part of an irreversible decline.