FACING Newcastle has provided relegation-battle CPR to Sunderland in the last three seasons.
Invariably, Sunderland have embarked upon baffling barren runs after the euphoria and feel-good factor which stems from triumphing over the nearest and dearest.
Yet four times in a row, the derby has provided Sunderland with a precious three points. The Magpies are the only side that the Black Cats have the Midas touch over.
The record-breaking run needs to become five-in-a-row next week.
The game promises to be the lowest quality derby in recent memory, with the Premier League’s most out-of-form pair managing a pathetic three top flight wins between them in 2015.
With that backdrop, neither set of fans will be crowing about the possible outcome over the next fortnight.
But no matter the complexion of the encounter, Sunderland realistically have to emerge victorious after Saturday’s fourth defeat in six did nothing to improve their prospects of beating the drop.
Time is running out for Sunderland to get the nine or so points they probably need to remain in the Premier League, particularly when the last two games of the campaign are now at Arsenal and Chelsea.
No matter the positives in performance from West Ham, it was a chance missed. Sam Allardyce’s men were lethargic and not particularly threatening, yet Sunderland still contrived to come away empty-handed.
When Dick Advocaat desperately needed to win one of his opening two games at the helm to build some upwards traction, one chance has slipped away already.
There’s no margin for error anymore.
Yes, it was better at Upton Park, although the performance couldn’t really get much worse than the previous two games.
And it was no surprise that Sunderland’s players looked like they had received the proverbial kick up the backside.
There was effort, pressing and intensity again in Sunderland’s ranks. Those facets should be a minimum, but the Black Cats couldn’t even manage that during Gus Poyet’s humiliating final game at the helm.
But players invariably put in the yards when a new manager comes in. We’ve seen it plenty of times from most of the current crop at Sunderland.
Given Advocaat’s no-nonsense character and his message of spelling out the reality of life in the Championship, it would have been more noticeable if there had been a continuation of the measly resistance against Villa.
Effort won’t keep Sunderland up though.
The problem remains that Sunderland don’t look like scoring and don’t look like winning.
The drought of just one goal in the last six league games has even affected Jermain Defoe. By his standards, his golden first half chance at Upton Park was a sitter.
For all Sunderland comfortably dealt with the unimaginative succession of crosses that peppered their area, there didn’t look to be the belief there that they could get a goal and actually win the game.
In the second half, in particular, the scrappy, ugly encounter was there to be taken by the scruff of the neck, but all Sunderland could manage was Patrick van Aanholt’s decent hit from long range.
Of course, Advocaat cannot get bogged down by the ominous air surrounding Sunderland nor the precariousness of their plight.
It was clearly affecting Poyet towards the end (amongst many other things) and led to his confused conveyor belt of formations and selections.
Instead, Advocaat understandably opted for simple and sensible at the start of his SOS reign. That would have got Sunderland a point at least had Lee Mason spotted a blatant foul on Seb Larsson in the build-up to West Ham’s late winner.
Gone was the lopsided set-up. Gone too was the defensive midfield holding role, with Poyet favourite Liam Bridcutt tellingly dropped to the bench.
The narrow system looked far better balanced as a result.
The front three gave a helping hand in tracking back, with Connor Wickham noticeably putting a shift in.
Too often the ball got stuck under Wickham’s feet and he was caught out, yet playing in the hole behind the strikers is a position which might actually suit the 21-year-old down to the ground.
He hasn’t got to worry about holding the ball up. He can get it deep and drive with those powerful runs towards the opposition defence. That’s what he really likes to do.
Two players who are not necessarily favourites among supporters also performed markedly better.
Steven Fletcher looked sharp and lead the line cutely alongside Jermain Defoe, while Jordi Gomez was a much more resilient - and quicker - creature than he has been since his summer arrival.
With Lee Cattermole back from suspension for the derby, there has to be a suspicion that Gomez will return to the bench, yet the Spaniard didn’t do his chances any harm of remaining in the starting XI.
Gomez persistently looked for the raking pass in behind the West Ham defence for Defoe to chase onto. Sunderland looked better for it too.
It was unfathomable why Poyet didn’t ask his side to do that more after Defoe’s arrival. It’s a ploy which the 32-year-old has reaped rewards from throughout his career.
While Poyet wanted to keep the ball on the deck, there was no harm in going long every now and then. It’s no wonder Sunderland became so predictable as an attacking force.
Using a front three at least ensured Sunderland had numbers in the final third too.
That gives them half-a-chance of finding the net, rather than leaving Defoe on his own up front and asked to play with his back to goal.
But that promise and industry was undone at the death.
Had Sunderland held on for a point, it would have provided some sort of concrete foundation for Advocaat’s mission to keep the club in the Premier League.
Yet it was the same old story.
As Ellis Short and Sunderland’s board looked down from the directors box, their anxiety at the prospect of the club dropping into the Championship was not eased.
There was improvement, but Advocaat’s short-term tenure is all about results. Short and co remain non the wiser over whether the Dutchman can get them.