Assistant manager Jamie McAllister believes Sunderland’s strength in depth is starting to tell after a 2-0 win over struggling Rochdale kept them firmly in the promotion picture.
Saturday’s victory at the Stadium of Light left the Black Cats five points off the top two in League One and they have two games in hand on leaders Hull.
Dion Sanderson’s header in the seventh minute was followed by Charlie Wyke’s 25th goal of the season as he nodded in Jordan Jones’ centre with 10 minutes remaining of the first half.
The win, Sunderland’s fifth in their last six games ahead of Tuesday’s clash with Portsmouth, came despite boss Lee Johnson again having to shuffle his pack due to injury, with defender Ollie Younger making his full league debut.
McAllister said: “It was a difficult game, the lads gave us a chance with a clean sheet, a platform to build on.
“You always have a chance when you do well in both boxes. That is down to the team doing well collectively.
“Rochdale caused problems today, but the keeper made a couple of good saves, it’s a difficult game and the lads managed it well.
“It is a good game Tuesday now, Portsmouth are a good side. We have a game plan for Tuesday, we have to take care of the business ourselves. We have been doing that of late.
“Our strength in depth is showing now with the injuries. Most teams have them when games come thick and fast, the lads coming in have been excellent. Luke O’Nien, Dan Neil, Ollie – they have all come in of late and done well.”
While Sunderland are in impressive form, Rochdale need improvements quickly to avoid the drop.
Dale have now gone eight matches without a win and this defeat dropped them to the foot of the table.
But they did have the chances to score, notably when Conor Shaughnessy turned the ball over from six yards when he looked set to equalise.
Boss Brian Barry-Murphy said: “Our lads put everything into the game. We have played well against one of the best teams in the division and feel disappointed to come away with a defeat.
“It is about fine margins. I am excited for the rest of the season and it is important we bounce back quickly again.
“It is easy to get distracted by other things going on off the pitch at this stage of the season, but everyone here is desperate to do well and focus on staying in the division.
“Our luck will change. We will only win games if we stick together and play like we did today – not like we did against Burton last week. The excitement is there in the dressing room among the lads and our luck will change.”