Sunderland have held the lead for a paltry total of just 53 minutes in their nine Premier League outings so far this season.
Time and again, Sunderland have been forced to play catch-up after falling behind, with the Black Cats managing to register just one point from a losing position – August’s 1-1 draw against Swansea.
If that scenario occurs again in Sunday’s Wear-Tyne derby, Sunderland legend Gary Bennett fears for the chances of Sam Allardyce’s side, given their lack of confidence from a winless start to the campaign.
While Newcastle’s self-belief is healthier after last weekend’s 6-2 win over Norwich City, the Magpies are still only three points better off than Sunderland.
And Bennett believes that is likely to make Sunday’s opening goal, a winning one.
“If you look at the nine games we’ve played already, Sunderland have made a mistake in every game and been punished for it,” said the BBC Newcastle pundit.
“Now if they do that on Sunday against Newcastle...
“The first goal is going to be very, very important.
“I think whoever gets it will go on to win the game.
“You look at both teams. Whoever goes a goal down, do they have the character to go on and get something out of the game or even win it?
“I don’t think the derby record will play a part, because, at the present time, we’re not mentally strong enough.
“Since the start of the season, you see the amount of mistakes we’ve made.
“That’s something Sam Allardyce will have been working on this week, along with the shape of the team and talking to individuals.
“He needs to get them mentally stronger.
“If we can get a result on Sunday against Newcastle, then that should breed confidence.”
Defeat in Allardyce’s opening game in charge at West Brom last weekend left Sunderland five points adrift of safety and in a worse position than at the same stage of 2013-14, when Gus Poyet required a “miracle” to beat the drop.
With Sunderland the only side in the top four divisions yet to register a league win too, Bennett says only one outcome is good enough for the Black Cats on Sunday.
He said: “Yes, it’s a must-win. Definitely.
“If you don’t get a result this weekend, then the gap will get even bigger.
“There’s a little bit of a gap there now.
“Are we good enough to play catch-up? No.”
Newcastle only broke their own duck against Norwich, with both North East clubs still in the thick of the relegation dogfight.
The ex-Sunderland skipper expects the pair to remain in the battle for survival until the end of the season, but hopes the derby remains a fixture on the Premier League schedule.
“You fear for at least one of them this season,” he added.
“Both clubs cannot keep doing what they have been in the last few seasons.
“One day, your luck is going to run out and it could be this season.
“But if we can get a result this weekend, it will put us in good stead, especially under Sam Allardyce.”
Bennett and former Sunderland pair Julio Arca and Kieron Brady are holding their Back to Basics coaching sessions next week for youngsters in the half-term holidays.
Sessions will take place at Hartlepool’s Dyke House College between Monday and Wednesday, and at Castle View Enterprise Academy, in Sunderland, between Wednesday and Friday.
For more information visit btbcoaching.co.uk or contact 07749 600 498.