There is a precedent for a Stadium of Light derby arriving at such a tender stage of the campaign.
Just ask Steve Bruce.
Back in 2011, Sunderland succumbed to Newcastle United in their opening home game and although it wasn’t an immediately fatal wound for then manager Bruce, it proved to be the beginning of the end.
David Moyes has no such worries if Sunderland come away empty-handed this weekend. Nor is the visit of Middlesbrough on a par with the Wear-Tyne tussle, however much the newly-promoted Teessiders may crow about the fixture in the run-up to Sunday’s encounter.
However, it is still a crunch clash for Sunderland as they look to get their season up and running.
Although Sunderland rightly emerged with a healthy dollop of credit for their performance at Manchester City last Saturday, Moyes’ men still came away empty-handed.
This club hasn’t triumphed in a Premier League fixture during August or September since Martin O’Neill was at the helm and no-one needs reminding of the domino effect that has created at the business end of the season.
“We just need to get points on the board as early as possible to save ourselves that end of season frantic finish,” said Sunderland skipper John O’Shea.
“The sooner we get points on the board, the better for everybody.
“It’s the new manager’s first home game as well, and it happens to be Middlesbrough, who have just been promoted and they will be looking for their first win too.
“Everyone is looking forward to it, and it’s a chance for some of the new lads to see the stadium and the surroundings and the atmosphere that can be created.
“It’s a chance for the fans to get the bragging rights.
“With Newcastle being in the Championship, this is the one that the fans will be looking to as the closest we have to a derby game.
“It’s one that, no matter what the performance, you want the three points.”
Moyes has spent this week dividing his time preparing for the Wear-Tees derby, and continuing his quest to add much-needed fresh blood to the Sunderland squad.
Although Sunderland have spent in excess of £13million, Moyes is realistically still in need of at least four further acquisitions – a striker, right-back and two central midfielders.
The depth of Moyes’s options was brutally highlighted at Manchester City, with centre-half O’Shea reverting to a defensive midfield role that he hadn’t practised competitively since his Manchester United days.
It’s not a position that the 35-year-old expects to play regularly.
In contrast, Boro – who drew 1-1 with Stoke on their Premier League return last weekend – have done much of their summer spending after splashing big wages on ex-La Liga heavyweights Victor Valdes and Alvaro Negredo.
“They have brought in a more European feel, but they have a good core who have been there for a couple of years that has been close to promotion a couple of times and they finally got it done last season,” added 35-year-old O’Shea.
“The manager has a good rapport with everyone down there, too, so they have a lot of things in their favour.
“They have an owner there that has been in the Premier League before and the atmosphere around the place, they want to stay in the Premier League and the signings they have made and are trying to make shows the intent that they have.
“I’ve played against Negredo before – he’s a handful – but we have the players to cope with that and hopefully we can show that on Sunday.”