The opening 10 games of the season should be a time when players relax and enjoy their football without the pressure cooker of promotion and relegation looming large.
But there has been no such leeway for Sunderland.
This weekend’s visit of travel specialists West Ham – only Sunderland’s eighth game of the campaign – has the air of a crossroads moment in the Black Cats’ hopes of extending their Premier League existence.
Sunderland are at starvation point for a maiden win prior to the second international break. Certainly, a failure to emerge victorious from these next three ‘winnable’ games against West Ham, West Brom and Newcastle would be near-fatal.
‘Positives’, ‘encouraging signs’ and ‘sources of hope’ are becoming increasingly meaningless for the Premier League’s basement boys.
Sunderland need a win. Full stop. Dick Advocaat’s players know it too.
“Even if people are doing things better together, we need a win,” said captain John O’Shea.
“We’ve had draws, performances, but we’ve not got anything from it.
“We need to turn that around quickly.
“This West Ham game is going to be a crucial one for us to pick a win up.”
Sunderland’s defensive frailties are the predominant reason why Advocaat’s side are propping up the table, even if they have failed to find the net in the last three Premier League outings.
The Black Cats are yet to keep a clean sheet this season and have shipped a frightening 16 goals in just seven games.
At the same stage of last season, Sunderland were struggling to score goals, yet they had at least seen their defences breached on only seven occasions.
Even when Sunderland looked more defensively solid at league leaders Manchester United last weekend, they still managed to concede three times after the hosts found the breakthrough in first half stoppage time.
“United didn’t really break us down as such, we just switched off for a couple of seconds at times and they punished us,” added centre-half O’Shea.
“If we can improve the concentration, then the effort is there on the training ground and hopefully it will turn quickly.
“It’s one of those things, you have to make sure you do your work on the training ground, make sure you prepare properly for games.
“We need to get clean sheets and then hopefully get the supply to the strikers to score for us.”