Jon McLaughlin was Sunderland’s hero again saving his second penalty in Mackem colours to secure a vital triumph at Valley Parade.
Max Power’s 66th minute red-card for violent conduct gave Jack Payne the opportunity to pull Bradford level, but McLaughlin guessed right and parried his effort away, Tom Flanagan then made a goal-saving challenge as Sunderland held on.
Josh Maja’s ninth goal of the season sent Sunderland on their way to victory, but Anthony O’Connor leveled just after half-time, Jack Baldwin put Sunderland back ahead two minutes later.
That was enough to win it for the Black Cats who vault up to third in League One on a day where all three of the top three at the start of play lost.
Sunderland spurned a great chance early, Chris Maguire delivered a weighted cross to the back-post, after Bradford half-cleared a Sunderland set-piece, but Josh Maja volleyed tamely, high and wide.
Sunderland broke the deadlock in the 20th minute, Lee Cattermole completing a strong Black Cats move with a measured volley. The goal-bound effort took a nick off Maja who chested to help deflect the strike beyond Richard O’Donnell in the Bradford goal.
Payne took advantage Mackem reluctance to close him down and registered Bradford’s first decent effort. The Huddersfield loanee’s low drive from 25 yards was just wide of McLaughlin’s near-post.
Ross’ side’s season long problems from set pieces were nearly exploited again, five minutes before half-time. Sean Scannell returned an over-hit corner back into the danger area, and after an unmarked header forwards, George Miller fired over with a bicycle kick. The City striker was left unmarked on the six-yard box.
Sunderland avoided that scare, however, and headed into the break a goal to the good.
Half Time: Bradford 0 - 1 Sunderland
The second half kicked off and surprise, surprise Sunderland conceded from another set-piece. This time it was a long-throw that eventually made its way through to the Bradford skipper who fired in on the volley, his shot raced by McLaughlin who had no chance.
Bradford weren’t level for long as within two minutes Baldwin had Sunderland ahead. The centre-half was able to make a yard of space for himself after controlling a Maguire free-kick and shot on the turn, his daisy cutter squirmed under O’Donnell into the far corner.
Power wasted a glorious chance to seal the points for the visitors. He caught a Bradford defender in possession inside his own area, but shot straight at O’Donnell, one-on-one.
Tom Flanagan was the next Sunderland player to come close to wrapping things up. He rose highest from a Maguire corner, but saw his header tipped onto the underside of the bar.
For the second straight game a Sunderland player was given his marching orders. Power the guilty party this time, he was shown a straight red for kicking out at a Bradford player off the ball. Not only did Power’s idiocy leave Sunderland defending a lead with ten men, but it also gave Bradford a chance to level things up from the penalty spot.
Payne stepped up to take the spot-kick, his shot was tame and McLaughlin guessed the right way to parry his strike away. Payne was first to the rebound but before he could get a shot off, Flanagan dispossessed him at full-stretch, a truly remarkable tackle.
Scannell was sent off in stoppage time after a foul on George Honeyman lead to a scuffle involving several men from both teams.
Full Time: Bradford 1 - 2 Sunderland
Jon McLaughlin, 8/10: A penalty saving hero again, how many points has our new stopper won us this season already?!
Adam Matthews: 7/10: His best all-round display of the season.
Jack Baldwin, 9/10: Immense. Won the game with his goal, and superb in defence.
Tom Flanagan, 8/10: Targeted in the air by the hosts, he stood up to the challenge excellently. Made an unbelievable tackle to deny Payne after the penalty was saved!
Reece James, 6/10: Defensively solid, but a non-factor at the other end.
Lee Cattermole, 8/10: Another great all-round display.
Max Power, 3/10: A truly mindless, red-card bailed out by his teammates thankfully.
Aiden McGeady, 5/10: Wasteful for the most part, looked leggy after the Peterborough game.
Chris Maguire, 7/10: Way short of his usual standards, guilty of being far too casual when Sunderland could have killed the game off before half-time. Made up for it with his tireless work leading the line when we were a man down.
Jerome Sinclair, 6/10: Inconsistent today, but his physical presence will be a big asset in future fixtures.
Josh Maja, 7/10: Bagged his ninth(!!!) goal of the season, to put us on our way to a crucial away win.
(SUB) Dylan McGeouch, 5/10: Another unconvincing showing.
(SUB) George Honeyman, 6/10: Worked hard after being brought on in difficult circumstances.
(SUB) Alim Ozturk, 6/10: Helped sure-up a vital victory.
Man of the Match: Jack Baldwin