Sunderland’s survival hopes were dealt a bitter blow on January 5 when Lewis Grabban returned to parent club AFC Bournemouth.
Word from Sunderland was the striker was keen to see the clause, that allowed his season-long loan deal to be cut short, activated.
Grabban, who went on to sign on loan for promotion chasing Aston Villa, insisted claims he wanted to leave Sunderland were untrue.
Either way, Sunderland lost their top scorer.
And they have failed to adequately replace him leaving the goalshy Black Cats chronically short in attack.
James Vaughan also left, though his departure to Wigan Athletic was no loss. Grabban’s was. He remains top scorer with 12 and his tally is unlikely to be beaten.
Chris Coleman wanted to bring in Burnley striker Jon Walters, injury prevented that deal, then Chris Martin from Derby, though he signed for Reading after Sunderland withdrew their interest following delays.
On deadline day Coleman signed Ashley Fletcher on loan from Middlesbrough but has thus far been a disappointment.
Fletcher, unable to play against parent club Boro today, has started four games and is yet to score, missing a glorious chance at Bristol City and a string of chances in the 1-0 defeat to Bolton Wanderers.
In 2018 so far, Sunderland have scored five goals in nine games. Just five. And three of those came in a 20 minute spell at Bristol City - two of which were own goals.
Sunderland, bottom of the pile, have the second worst defence and their goal difference of -24 is not being helped by the chronic lack of goals in the side.
The stats say it all:
Grabban (who played a total of 1,558 minutes) scored 12 goals, hitting the back of the net on average every 130 minutes, with 53% of his shots hitting the target.
The minutes per goal ratio then becomes very concerning.
Winger Aiden McGeady, inconsistent and often dropped, is the second top scorer with six goals (and three assists) yet he only scores every 310 minutes - or every three-and-a-half games. His shots on target ratio 43%.
George Honeyman has four goals but he only scores once every 652 minutes. Honeyman, who also has two assists, has played 2,609 minutes in total, a shots on target ratio of 52%.
Lynden Gooch, two goals, averages a goal every 470 minutes while Joel Asoro has hit the net once since breaking into the team, playing 685 minutes so far.
Fellow teenage prospect Josh Maja has also only managed one goal in his 413 minutes of first team football this season.
James Vaughan (2), Billy Jones (1), Donald Love (1), Adam Matthews (1), Paddy McNair (1), Bryan Oviedo (1) and Jack Rodwell (1) the other scorers for Sunderland this term.
Coleman has Fletcher, fellow January signing Kazenga LuaLua - who is yet to start a game - and teenagers Maja and Asoro as his striking options.
LuaLua is a winger by trade but Coleman plans to use his pace and power through the middle when fit.
The two youngsters have done well but Sunderland’s survival hopes can’t be pinned on their shoulders.
Grabban’s departure was always going to be a huge blow, despite concerns over his workrate, he regularly found the back of the net.
Sunderland don’t have a player in their ranks who can do the same.
The club’s Championship status is hanging by an increasingly small thread and their goal threat is minimal.
Cash-strapped Sunderland downgraded in the January window when they needed to upgrade. It wasn’t Coleman’s fault, he tried everything possible to get in a striker on a budget thinner than a shoestring, relying on loans and free agents.
Ellis Short’s failure to provide funds for a proven goalscorer is playing a big part in Sunderland’s ongoing battle against the drop.
A battle they look increasingly like losing.