GUS POYET has found breathing easily devilishly difficult over the last few days after a heavy cold saw him wrapped in every piece of Sunderland-crested merchandise available on Wednesday night.
But even if the Black Cats’ boss had avoided the worst of the winter ailments, he would barely have had chance to reach for oxygen before walking into the white-hot atmosphere of a Tyne-Wear derby.
The schedule over the last fortnight has bordered on the ridiculous for the Uruguayan.
Tomorrow’s trip to St James’s Park will be Sunderland’s fifth game inside 15 days – including the emotional rollercoaster of extra time and penalties at Old Trafford – and all of that while the January transfer window has reached boiling point.
For all the dismissal of ex-director of football Roberto De Fanti will benefit Sunderland, it has heaped more work onto Poyet’s already heaving plate.
But results have not suffered and if Sunderland can come away with something for their efforts tomorrow, it will cap a marvellous two weeks for the Black Cats.
Sunderland have every chance of achieving that objective.
From what was a harrowing derby record a couple of years ago, the Wearsiders have completely changed their fortunes against the Magpies after eight points from the last four meetings.
Those in red and white have suddenly grasped what this game is all about and what is needed to emerge victorious. That is a priceless asset.
Poyet’s men outbattled the Magpies with their hunger to win in October’s meeting between the sides and that dramatic last-gasp success, coupled with April’s stunning 3-0 win on Tyneside, will give Sunderland real confidence heading into tomorrow’s encounter.
So, too, will the absence of Newcastle’s key men.
Alan Pardew’s worst fears have come true with the players he has lost over the last fortnight.
No Fabricio Coloccini (injured). No Yohan Cabaye (sold). No Loic Remy (suspended).
Even Yoan Gouffran, who has netted a respectable six league goals this season, is unlikely to feature through injury.
The absence of such players guarantees Sunderland nothing and Pardew will doubtless look to play on overcoming adversity in his team talk.
But taking that many goals out of the Newcastle team does Sunderland no harm, particularly the pace of Remy and the guile of Cabaye.
With new signing Luuk de Jong drastically short on match fitness, Pardew may have little choice than to opt for the Ameobi show and deploy both brothers in the starting line-up.
Shola has, of course, proved to be Sunderland’s derby nemesis over the years, yet John O’Shea and Wes Brown are no mugs in a physical, aerial battle.
Poyet’s own injury worries centre on Phil Bardsley and Lee Cattermole, providing the latter is still a Sunderland player after tonight’s deadline.
Bardsley will undoubtedly feature if available and the likelihood is that Cattermole will do too.
Should Sunderland receive all the necessary paperwork through for Liam Bridcutt and Nacho Scocco, then the duo will add to Poyet’s options too, although they are both likely to be among the substitutes at best.
But the prospect of unleashing the latter from the bench will excite Poyet. The Argentine winger is the signing earmarked to inject the magic dust into Sunderland’s attack.
Scocco is renowned in his homeland for his knack of scoring spectacular goals and it would be a fairytale if the 28-year-old can net a strike akin to last season’s three stunners on Tyneside.
A repeat of that victory – to record three successive wins over Newcastle for the first time in 91 years – would be huge for Sunderland and not just in terms of earning more bragging rights over the Magpies.
There could be no better time to record back-to-back league victories for the first time this season, with those three points catapulting Sunderland towards mid-table ahead of another very winnable clash against Hull City seven days later.
Even a point though would cap what has been a superb fortnight for Sunderland and maintain the confidence in the Black Cats camp.
Sunderland supporters have grown accustomed to daring to dream though over the last 15 days. It is too much to hope for one more memorable day?
* Don’t miss tomorrow’s derby special Football Echo – it’s online from around 7pm with the biggest and best coverage of the big day