Sunderland’s hopes of getting a result in tonight’s crucial bottom of the table clash at Swansea City rest on the Black Cats netting first.
Under Sam Allardyce, Sunderland are yet to win a game - or even pick up a point - having conceded first.
We’ve got to go out against Swansea as we did against Villa and as we did against Arsenal - get in front and then try to maintain our lead to a winSam Allardyce
And the Black Cats boss admits he must address that chink in the armour quickly ahead of another “must not lose” Premier League clash - with the club unable to rely on producing another Great Escape to stay up.
There is certainly a lot riding on tonight’s match at the Liberty Stadium, with Sunderland four points adrift of their hosts.
Second bottom with 15 points and only four wins to their name with more than half the season gone, the situation is perilous.
And Allardyce is all too aware of the need to pick up points against those sides they are battling with to stay up.
Two out of the next three games are against teams in and around Sunderland, with the Swans first tonight before the home game with 16th-placed Bournemouth a week Saturday.
Failing to pick up points in those key fixtures is almost unthinkable.
“There’s games that you look at where for me, they’re not to lose,” said Allardyce.
“If you lose those fixture, then you have to make up those three points against the top boys.
“While the club has achieved that over the last few years to achieve relegation, it’s not what you want to rely on because sooner or later, it’s going to catch up with you.
“We’ve got to go out against Swansea as we did against Villa and as we did against Arsenal - get in front and then try to maintain our lead to a win.
“But if we can’t win, make sure we don’t lose, so at least at the end, Swansea are no further ahead of us than they are today.
“If we can go away and win it, then it alleviates our problems even more, against someone that’s close to us.”
The record books for the 2015-16 campaign highlight just how crucial scoring first is for the Black Cats.
The only time they have picked up a result having gone a goal down was ironically against tonight’s opponents at the Stadium of Light back in August.
Dick Advocaat was in charge when Bafetimbi Gomis gave Swansea an injury-time first-half lead only for Jermain Defoe to equalise 62 minutes in, the game ending 1-1.
The importance of picking up draws has again been stressed by Allardyce on the training pitches at the Academy of Light.
“We haven’t won a game from going a goal down, we haven’t even drawn a game,” said Allardyce.
“Arsenal was the first game I’d lost when we’d scored first, so that was a disappointment.
“But I am constantly talking to the players about the responsibility to draw matches, if we can’t win.
“Until we get that right, it’s going to keep giving us a problem all the way through the season.
“Eventually, it makes every game a must-win game.
“At the moment, they’re not ‘must-win’ games.
“They’re just ‘must not lose’.”
Allardyce took charge after the resignation of Advocaat at the start of October and he admits that he expected Sunderland to be higher up the table than their current plight.
Back-to-back wins over Crystal Palace and then Stoke City in November seemed to be a major turning point.
But five straight defeats followed and coupled with Bournemouth and Norwich City stringing together a good run of results has plummeted the Black Cats deep into relegation trouble.
Last time out in the league Sunderland beat basement side Aston Villa 3-1 and Big Sam is looking for more performances like that between now and the end of the season if they are to remain in the top flight for a 10th consecutive season.
Allardyce is adamant the talent is there and he needs the squad to turn the potential into points.
“The position we’re in the league is not what I expected to be,” admitted Allardyce.
“I expected to be a little better than that.
“I think we had the capabilities and have shown the promise to do better than that, but have let ourselves down by not drawing enough games where we’ve been in a drawing position.
“And instead of drawing them, we’ve ended up losing them.
“We did the same on Saturday in the FA Cup.
“We were in a very good position to draw the game at 70 minutes, but threw it away.
“We’ve got that fault in our armour that I have to iron out.
“And at the other end, if I can get a player who provide us with more goals, it will hopefully resolve our problems,” added Allardyce ahead of tonight’s trip to the Liberty Stadium.