Lee Johnson was relieved to see Sunderland emerge from a “really tough game” against Bolton with three points at the Stadium of Light.
The Black Cats secured a fifth straight home win in Sky Bet League One courtesy of Carl Winchester’s third goal of the season in the 17th minute.
Winchester, operating at right-back this season, coasted into the penalty area unmarked to finish left-back Dennis Cirkin’s excellent run and cross.
Sunderland had chances to extend the lead after that while Bolton can count themselves unfortunate not to have levelled with Eoin Doyle handed a few good chances.
Head coach Johnson, whose side sit level on points with Wigan at the top of the table, said: “It is definitely fair to say it was a really tough game.
“With Sunderland rose tinted glasses I should say we should have killed them off because we played some wonderful football and created plenty of chances.
“But Bolton had good chances as well, probably expected goals, and opportunities wise it could have been 4-3 either way.
“The fans roared us on. We need them. We made some emotive decisions and that led to us giving the ball away too much. I can’t criticise them too much though because I encourage them to play.
“I was really pleased with the three points because that is a good three points. I fully expect them to take a lot of points off teams and by Christmas I expect them to be around the top six.
“We had a good start. It was up to us to pick up the momentum. Just before the goal we asked our full-backs to push on and it worked because the goal was full-back to full-back.”
Bolton boss Ian Evatt was satisfied with his side’s display and felt there was more to be encouraged by than frustrated with.
Evatt said: “We were really pleased with our performance levels. These are a very well coached team, rightly so at the top of the division, when you come to a place like this it is a good test.
“First half we were just starting to gain control and we conceded, that rocked us in the way we play. Second half we passed through their press really well.
“I have just said this was a true test for us. We have lost back-to-back against Sunderland and Rotherham, both teams are fancied to be up there. If we play like that, keep the belief and trust the process I will be satisfied.
“It was frustrating for us not to score but we will back our players to take chances. With Eoin, in particular, today we wanted the chances to fall to him, but we will back him.
“What we are doing is tee to green to get there, if we keep creating chances we will eventually take them because we have the players to take them.
“We are newly promoted, because we are Bolton people forget that. We have been competitive against all the teams and their manager will probably be honest and say they got away with one today.”