That sense of fatalism became reality during the eight-minute spell in which they self-destructed. Sunderland now go into the Christmas fixtures with the lowest-ever points tally for a Premiership side.
This was their 10th consecutive defeat, and 100th in the Premiership, but their manager still derives a somewhat masochistic pleasure from the top flight.
"I love the games," claimed McCarthy. "You have to have a positive outlook on life. If you don't, it's only going to get worse, isn't it?"
McCarthy admitted that the sentiments of the Sunderland chairman, Bob Murray, are less philosophical. "He's probably more than hacked off," McCarthy said. "As a supporter, he still feels it."
Gary Breen and Nyron Nosworthy were culpable for the first goal. They left a gaping hole which allowed Danny Murphy to slip the ball towards Darren Bent. The Charlton striker exploited his opponents' lack of positional sense and thumped the ball beyond his former Ipswich team-mate Kelvin Davis.
Next it was Steven Caldwell's turn. After clumsily directing the ball on to his own near post, he was quickly caught out again. Luke Young crossed and Caldwell nudged the ball to Darren Ambrose, who added Charlton's second. Caldwell reacted histrionically, thumping the turf.
Sunderland's pain was Charlton's much-needed gain. Alan Curbishley, the Charlton manager, was particularly relieved as his negative tactic of deploying Bent as a lone striker would have attracted serious criticism.
With memories of their surrenders against Blackburn and Tottenham still fresh, Charlton were jittery at 2-0, though. Dean Kiely kept the visitors two goals behind with a string of impressive saves.
Chris Powell, playing his 600th League game, thought the key to this result was his team-mates taking more individual responsibility, a point stressed at last week's emergency meeting called by the players. "Darren Bent was getting plaudits and so was Danny Murphy," said Powell of Charlton's start to the season. "I think we just relied on them and you can't do that as a team."
Curbishley is fed up of reminiscing about Charlton's five wins in their first six games. "People are getting tired of what we have done," he said.
How Sunderland wish they had a similar early-season run to reflect upon.
Goals: Bent (42) 1-0; Ambrose (49) 2-0.
Charlton Athletic (4-5-1): Kiely; Young, Perry, Hreidarsson, Powell; Thomas (El Karkouri, 73), Kishishev, Murphy, Smertin (Hughes, 67), Ambrose; Bent (Bartlett, 76). Substitutes not used: Myhre (gk) Rommedahl.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Davis; Nosworthy (Leadbitter, 80), Breen, Caldwell, Hoyte; Lawrence, Whitehead, Bassila, Arca; Le Tallec (Stead, h-t), Gray. Substitutes not used: Alnwick (gk), Collins, Woods.
Referee: Alan Wiley (Staffordshire).
Booked: Sunderland Nosworthy, Caldwell.
Man of the match: Kiely.