If Sunderland fail in their attempt to regain a Premiership place at the first attempt they will surely curse themselves for not taking advantage of some outrageous good fortune.
In a 10-game spell between 18 October and 20 December, Mick McCarthy's team managed only one victory and scored just eight goals. Yet after winning their last three matches, the Black Cats are right back in the thick of the promotion chase, looking as good a bet as any to secure at least a play-off place and perhaps better.
Contrast their position with that of Nottingham Forest, who visit the Stadium of Light today, and the scale of Sunderland's good luck can be properly appreciated. Paul Hart's side have not won in 10 League games. But whereas the Wearsiders, helped by the inconsistency of their rivals, managed somehow to stay with the leading group almost throughout their slump, Forest have tumbled from eighth place to 20th.
Forest's plight could not have been forecast on the opening day of the season, when Sunderland suffered a 2-0 defeat at the City Ground and McCarthy's high rating of their opponents was only reinforced.
But the Sunderland manager now believes Forest may be suffering from the negative effects of their play-off semi-final defeat against Sheffield United. "Forest were one of the favourites but have fallen away and I sometimes wonder about the effects of losing out in the play-offs," he said.
"I have seen it happen before to Barnsley and to Millwall. Perhaps some teams over-achieve and then can't sustain it, although Paul Hart has lost a few players with David Johnson injured and Marlon Harewood going."
Defeat in the play-offs does not appear to have affected Sheffield United adversely, however. The Blades failed to perform in the final in Cardiff but Neil Warnock has them on course for another tilt. A point ahead of Sunderland, they have a game in hand of all their rivals and two on second-placed West Bromwich Albion.
United are as strapped for cash as ever but Warnock has still managed to increase competition for places. He signed the striker Paul Shaw for only £75,000 this week, having recently taken the experienced forward Dean Sturridge from Wolves on a three-month loan deal.
"I want competition and I am looking for more players, particularly those out of contract," said Warnock. "It makes them a lot more viable to a club like ourselves who haven't got a lot of money."Reuse content