CONFIDENCE shattered, wins impossible to come by and supporters turning their fury on the players.
It’s a deeply unpleasant situation at Sunderland and one which will only become worse if Newcastle emerge victorious at the Stadium of Light this weekend.
But the scenario is a familiar one for 1973 hero Dick Malone.
The FA Cup winner reflects back to the autumn of discontent in 1972 when a return of just one win in eight saw manager Alan Brown given his marching orders before Sunderland failed to conquer any of their subsequent four opponents.
But following the appointment of Bob Stokoe in the dug-out, Sunderland managed to beat south coast pair Portsmouth and Brighton before beginning that FA Cup journey against Notts County.
Stokoe managed to stop the rot and as results improved, confidence seeped back into Sunderland’s players.
Watching Sunderland from the stands nowadays, Malone believes it is that absence of self-belief which is new head coach Gus Poyet’s major challenge ahead of his Stadium of Light bow against the Magpies.
Malone told the Echo: “Points are the only way you can get out of it.
“I’ll go back to 73 - without being stupid about it. We were having a bad run when Alan Brown got the sack.
“The heads were down and the crowd were on your back, which was understandable.
“But Bob came in, lifted the lads a little bit and we got a win.
“The first thing he concentrated on was not getting beat.
“But the wins came because we had individuals capable of scoring goals.
“Sunderland have that now, but it’s the confidence aspect of it.
“We had confidence in the cup, more than the league, and then we were playing the top teams in Europe and beat them.
“It ended up from when everyone was calling us rubbish, we were one of the best teams they have ever seen.”
The former defender added: “Mentally, it’s devastating when it’s like it is at the moment.
“If anything goes against you, then the heads go down.
“Confidence is a major part in the revival of the team and I think, in today’s game, that’s the major role of a manager.
“They have to go out feeling they can be beat the team they’re going out to play.
“But when you’re on a run, it makes it even harder.
“Gus has played at the highest level though so I’m sure he knows what is required.”
Sunderland supporters would revel in taking the North East bragging rights from a second successive meeting with the Magpies.
But Malone believes the points are far more important for the Black Cats, with Poyet’s side cast adrift at the basement and without a Premier League win all season.
“They definitely need the points more than the bragging rights,” said Malone, now 66.
“It is more important for Sunderland to get a result and I think a result would do the trick.
“They’re playing well-enough in open play, but they’re giving away silly goals. I’m sure they’re aware of that without me stating the obvious.
“That’s the first thing that the new manager will try to do.
“We played Liverpool and it was very impressive, and against Man United.
“But they just gave away some stupid goals.
“Supporters are paying a lot of money and all I can say to them is to stick with it.
“The only time anyone needs support, whether it’s business, private life or sporting life, is when you’re having a bad time.”