David Moyes desperately needs to find positives from the final weeks of a dismal Sunderland season

Lamine Kone (right) and Jason Denayer combine to keep Manchester United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic at bay last weekend. Picture by Frank Reid
Lamine Kone (right) and Jason Denayer combine to keep Manchester United's Zlatan Ibrahimovic at bay last weekend. Picture by Frank Reid

The wheels of the rumour mill are already beginning to grind.

Fabio Borini has been linked with a third reunion with Brendan Rodgers, who one described him as physically the best player he has ever worked with.

Lamine Kone is linked with West Ham. The inevitability of relegation is matched only by the inevitability of the resulting scramble to the exit door.

Some will leave Sunderland with a thank you, a pat on the back and a lingering sense of what could have been. Others, not so much.

As has already been well documented, this summer will see an upheaval at a pace and size more dramatic than has been seen on Wearside for many a year.

So what now?

Behind the scenes, plans for the drop are surely beginning in earnest. Those on the terraces are certainly steeling themselves for the inevitable.

Before then, however, seven games.

The atmosphere at the Stadium of Light has been flat for some time. Why would it be anything else?

The Sunderland faithful, still pouring in at numbers above 40,000, have not seen a home goal scored since January 14. By then, their team was already losing 3-0 to Stoke City.

The flatness in the stands against Manchester United reflected a sense of apathy, futility and the realisation that an impasse has been reached.

Sunderland’s season is as good as over. The manager cannot get goals and wins out of this current squad.

He will almost certainly stay to rip it up and start again. Many of the players will have no part in turning it around next season.

So it is tempting to wonder whether, for the club at least, what happens in the next seven games, a remarkable escape aside, will make any concrete difference to what follows.

Those in the ground know that it will probably not, and perhaps that offers some explanation as to why rather than stay and voice their displeasure, many have simply headed for the exits as the numbing second halves have progressed.

Many gripes from this season will not be addressed in the coming weeks. It is unlikely for Sunderland to start suddenly making aggressive and subsitutions. Despite Seb Larsson’s suspension, Wahbi Khazri will probably not be recalled. In all likelihood ,Darron Gibson or Steven Pienaar will return.

That will frustrate, though in truth perhaps a Khazri start and subsequent masterclass may only serve to exacerbate the feeling that he should have returned months ago.

The Black Cats are at an impasse, waiting to turn the page on what has been an occasionally exhilarating but all too often frustrating time in the Premier League.

Yet these seven games matter, if Sunderland are to head into the summer still insistent that the course set is the right one.

It is up to the current regime to find a way to lift the crowd, to point towards a positive start to the next campaign and not more of the one-paced pain of this.

How can they manage it?

Blood youth, perhaps? Lynden Gooch has not been seen since his injury, in the first-team set-up at least, but would surely be a squad player next term.

As Lee Cattermole heads towards full fitness, could he, Gooch and Didier Ndong lift the intensity in midfield?

Perhaps it is too soon for Josh Maja and Elliot Embleton, two of the brightest youth prospects. A spark is badly needed, regardless.

Debate on where Sunderland are headed will continue until the end of the season, with selections, substitutions and tactics all up for debate.

That is the beauty of the game, how it always will be. Nevertheless, the sense remains that the path is set whatever happens between now and May 21.

But if fans are to be expected to keep looking at the bigger picture and endure purgatory in the meantime, a lift is essential.

David Moyes must find a way to do it, even if he is preparing to work with a wholly different squad next season.