Up until even a few weeks ago this looked like being the game that would either relegate Sunderland or see them complete what owner Ellis Short yesterday described as their “greatest escape”.
But with safety already achieved four days earlier, it was all a bit of a damp squib.
A last day of term without the threat of the drop might have been a godsend to most of the 45,580 in attendance, but the upshot was a lifeless 90 minutes as Gus Poyet’s men ended their white-water ride of a season at 14th in the table and without so much as a ripple to surf on.
Of course when every single place in the Premier League table is worth an additional £1.2 million there is no such thing as a dead rubber, but Sunderland went about this game like a side who had already put their cue on the rack.
Certainly it was Swansea who began with the greater urgency, Garry Monk’s first game in permanent charge seeing his side two up inside 14 minutes despite having changed more than half of his starting XI.
Wayne Routledge’s through-ball caught Phil Bardsley flat-footed on the left corner of his own box for Nathan Dyer to dink past Vito Mannone into the far corner, Sunderland’s lack of cohesion seeing the Swans attacking at will.
John O’Shea was turned inside-out on 14 minutes when Marvin Emnes collected a Wilfried Bony pass on the edge of the Black Cats’ box, the former Middlesbrough striker putting his left boot through the ball which sailed past Mannone and into the net.
Sunderland’s attempts to claw their way back into the game were stuttering at best, Bardsley crossing to an empty back post, Connor Wickham dribbling into a cul-de-sac and Seb Larsson having a shot blocked from 20 yards.
Liam Bridcutt’s opportunity to shine in the midfield holding role saw the former Brighton man running hither and thither without managing to match Jonjo Shelvey’s range of passing, Jack Colback, too, frustrated by a lack of time on the ball.
Even with the tidy tap-and-move that has become Poyet’s hallmark it was all a bit one-paced, but slack marking and a determination to get to the ball first handed them an in-road when a corner from the right saw Fabio Borino heading past Gerhard Tremmel at the near post.
Whether or not the Italian’s future lies on Wearside remains to be seen, but the value of a clinical striker was quickly shown at the other end when Bony took full advantage of Sunderland’s failure to clear their lines, striking the ball low to Mannone’s right to restore his side’s two-goal margin.
“I promised you a miracle,” blared the Stadium of Light’s PA system in a pre-match medley of songs with Poyet’s favourite word in the title, and the longer the game went on the more it looked his side needed one.
With the major fear already removed it was of minimal consequence, and those who stayed for the obligatory lap of appreciation seemed satisfied enough by the bigger picture.
Some or even many of the players parading round the field may have been doing so for the last time, and the ovation Seb Larsson gave to the home crowd on his second-half substitution did not have the look of a simple “see you next season”. Such matters should of course become clearer over the interlude – as must the Black Cats’ game-plan.
Devoid of any real movement between the lines and going through the motions around halfway, only the occasional Adam Johnson flurry looked like creating anything tangible.
The winger’s Cruyff turn on the edge of Swansea’s box bought him a sight of goal, but his right-foot drive sailed over by a metre.
Jozy Altidore produced similar results when his first touch of the ball saw the industrious American’s shot rising high above the bar, and the fact neither of the two sides was given offside once inside 90 minutes was an indicator of the tame fare on offer.
Barring a small handful of idiots the threat to storm the pitch on full-time proved to be an empty one, and the club’s owner was suitably warm towards his supporters in a heartfelt programme column.
Short was equally enthusiastic about the manner in which his side have avoided tumbling in football’s version of snakes and ladders, stating: “When Gus arrived at the club it was at a low ebb, but he and his staff galvanised the squad. What they and the players have achieved will be written into football history. It was something special, something against the odds – a quite remarkable renaissance.”
He is not wrong, even if yesterday’s season-ender had the feel of being a game too far in this season of chaos. Like dog years, it has felt at times like seven condensed into one, and Poyet had the look of a man who could do with a couple of weeks on the beach when he delivered his post-match assessment.
“Last one,” he puffed, joking with the media, adding “yes” when asked if he was exhausted, then “I hope none of you call me for a week, and don’t follow me!”
It was all in jest, the head coach going on to say: “It has really been incredible. I knew it would be difficult when I took on the challenge, but if you believe in yourself and your staff and you think you have got what it takes, you can do it.
“It is very east to say it, and it is nice to be sat here able to say that we have done it. I am proud to be able to say that, and to have done the job the chairman asked me to do.”