Just when Sunderland looked to have finally cracked it back in late Autumn, fate struck.
David Moyes had struck upon a winning formula, with Jermain Defoe supported by Victor Anichebe and Duncan Watmore as Sunderland won four games out of seven.
Then, as has so often been the case, Sunderland were hit with a double injury blow – Watmore and Anichebe hit by long-term injury blows.
Moyes had to find a new system, with the Scot favouring a 5-3-2 formation.
With Sunderland devoid of powerhouse Anichebe and livewire Watmore, the Black Cats have had to adapt their style of play too, playing through the middle more.
Last month, Moyes, when speaking about the new system, said: “One of the extra centre-halfs can get out and give you a little bit more.
“But then what needs to happen, it needs to be played in the middle of the pitch, then it needs to be developed into the forward players, and we’re lacking that player in the middle.
“Jack [Rodwell] can probably do that a bit better than most.”
With Rodwell again out with a hamstring injury, Moyes turned to January signing Darron Gibson to fill that role on his full debut against Southampton on Saturday.
Gibson isn’t the long-term answer for Sunderland. The 29-year-old has only signed an 18-month deal, shrewd given his injury record.
He is a sticking plaster in central midfield, but he showed signs of his intent in the 4-0 drubbing to the Saints.
His first pass was astray, but the former Manchester United youth player quickly composed himself.
Gibson, in the Jan Kirchhoff role, played 10 to 15 yards further up the pitch than the German normally does and his influence was greater for it.
Sunderland actually played some of their best football of the season in the opening 25 minutes, with Gibson calm in possession, keeping play moving, keeping it simple.
Gibson’s eye for a pass was also noted, albeit they didn’t always come off. It’s what Sunderland are crying out for – someone who can carve open a defence with a single pass.
Gibson is capable. It didn’t come off enough, but at least he was trying to be positive.
Given Southampton’s defence has been decimated with the sale of Jose Fonte and injury to Virgil van Dijk, it was a clear tactic.
Defoe was the target for one early pass, cut out before reaching the 14-goal top scorer.
The pick of the bunch was Gibson’s pass towards Seb Larsson, but, to everyone’s frustration, Jack Stephens came from nowhere to cut it out.
The intent was there, the killer pass was not. There were times when he could have been stronger and he also played a blind ball into the path of Manolo Gabbiadini.
But, overall, Gibson’s performance was one of very few bright spots on a miserable day on Wearside.
This was only Gibson’s fourth appearance of the season and it was no surprise to see him visibly tire as Claude Puel’s side, led by the superb Oriol Romeu, dominated midfield.
Didier Ndong had an afternoon to forget, he gifted possession away countless times, with Larsson faring little better.
In January, Moyes turned to characters he can rely on; Joleon Lescott, Gibson and Bryan Oviedo.
Their impact won’t be the same as last January’s recruits, but the early performances of both Oviedo and Gibson have shown they at least have something to offer.
Intent alone won’t be enough to keep Sunderland up, though.