McCartney's despondency was clear to see when he reflected on the Black Cats' 2-0 defeat to Aston Villa at the Stadium of Light on Tuesday night.
It was a result that has left Sunderland, who head to Manchester City on Saturday, hurting from a run of only one win from their last eight league matches.
An inability to improve on such a record at Eastlands this weekend is likely to see Steve Bruce's team drop into the bottom half of the table for the first time under his management.
It is a position the players are well aware of and McCartney has outlined the extent of the desire to make sure the situation improves, claiming there is a determination to ensure Sunderland start climbing rather than dropping again.
Last season there were a lot of changes. The managers were coming and going, we didn't have a settled team or backroom team, so I don't think we can compare the two seasons, said McCartney.
Steve Bruce has come in and had his own ideas. We want to push into Europe and in the past few weeks we have not been performing. It's the tightest league I have seen in a long time, from the bottom up to seventh, a couple of wins and you are up there, just like a couple of defeats and you are down there.
After the start we have had and the money the club has spent, the players we have in the team, we should be looking to finish in the top half.
We have slipped away in the last few weeks and luckily we have built up enough points at the start of the season that keeps us up in tenth at the moment. We need to get back to winning ways in the next few weeks to make sure we improve on that.
Dejection among the supporters reached new levels under Bruce on Tuesday against Villa. But the sight of Lee Cattermole making an appearance for the final stages of the match after recovering from knee ligament damage offered a glimmer of hope to the fans.
Sunderland's depressing run has coincided with Cattermole's lay-off, dating back to the win over Liverpool on October 17. McCartney, though, feels the midfielder's return will not guarantee a sudden turnaround in fortunes.
I don't think one man ever makes a team, so from that view I don't think that Lee's absence has been a big factor in our bad run, said McCartney.
He's a big influence, he cuts play up, he intercepts a lot of passes and gets himself around the pitch more than a normal player would. But whoever has come in has been more than capable of filling in and doing a job.
As premature as it might seem for a player who had not been expected to make a comeback to the first team stage until next month, Cattermole is expected to start at Manchester City.
With Lorik Cana suspended, following his sending off against Villa, the Stocktonborn midfielder could even be handed the captaincy.
Cattermole was originally expected to play for the reserves against Hartlepool last night, rather than figure on Tuesday.
But he said: I said to the gaffer I would rather play a Premier League game than play against Hartlepool.
No disrespect to Hartlepool, but you never know, they might want to start kicking lads who have got a bit of a name, so I thought I would give that one a miss and try to get a run-out for the first team.