Anton Ferdinand believes Sunderland need to accept the fact that they have been dragged into a battle to save their Premier League status.
The Black Cats began the season well under Steve Bruce and that form sparked talk of a place in Europe.
But Sunderland, who narrowly avoided the drop last season, have now failed to win in 14 league games to fall to just three points away from the relegation zone.
Bruce's men face a crucial match against fellow strugglers Bolton after the international break and Ferdinand has been speaking bluntly ahead of the game.
"It would be naive to say that we're not in a relegation scrap, said the defender in the Daily Express.
"The league is so tight that a couple of results either way can make a massive amount of difference. If we win a couple of games, we could easily be back in the top 10.
"We just have to concentrate on ourselves and not worry about what is going on below or above us. No-one is mentioning the R-word and we don't want to start having to talk about it.
"We don't want to go through what we put the fans through last year. We want to be home and dry before the final two or three games of the season.
"We are better off this year than we were at the same period last season, so we must have learned something."