Lee Cattermole and George Honeyman kept Sunderland’s automatic promotion hopes alive scoring in either half to see off Plymouth Argyle at the Stadium of Light.
Cattermole’s goal capped a dominant first-half performance and Honeyman’s half-volley late on secured the victory to keep the Mackems on Barnsley’s coattails.
The victory leaves Sunderland just two points behind the Yorkshire side having played a game less than the Tykes who currently lie second in League One.
A promising start from Sunderland was nearly undone by timid defending. Plymouth’s first attack saw Freddie Ladapo go close with his shot from the edge of the area, the daisy-cutter needed tipping round the post from a sprawling McLaughlin.
Aiden McGeady was the first Black Cat to truly test Kyle Letheren in the Plymouth goal. He ended an impressive Sunderland attack with a curling effort the Welsh keeper was able to parry away for a corner.
Moments later Letheren was again alert this time to stop Will Grigg who nearly beat the shot-stopper to an errant back-pass.
Home pressure eventually told in the 32nd minute when Cattermole was first onto a Lewis Morgan cutback, he side-footed into the roof of the net leaving Letheren with no chance.
Sunderland squandered several chances to double their lead before the break. Grigg and McGeady were denied by Letheren from close range, whilst Morgan failed to square to Grigg when he would have been through on goal.
In first-half stoppage time Grigg missed an even better chance, he smartly turned after being first onto a low Reece James cross, but shot too close to Letheren from close-range. The Pilgrims keeper saved well with his feet.
The first real incident of the second-half came after 15 minutes when Tom Flanagan blocked Gary Sawyer’s effort. The left-back cut in and struck across goal with venom and was convinced Flanagan handled to block the goalbound shot.
The hosts responded well after Plymouth’s first clear chance of the game. Grigg almost headed in from close-range, but was out jumped by the visitor’s centre-halves trying to meet a weighted cross from George Honeyman.
Plymouth played with much greater confidence as the second period wore on and McLaughlin was at his best denying Ladapo mid-way through the half. The ex-Burton Albion stopper was at full-stretch to parry away the striker’s flick-on from a Yann Sonogo’o shot.
Honeyman sealed the points with less than five minutes remaining lashing home on the half-volley. The skipper perfectly timed the strike reacting first to McGeady’s teasing cross.
Substitute, Duncan Watmore botched a three on one counter attack as Sunderland chased a third, but it remained 2-0 as the hosts produced their third straight convincing win and performance, just in time for a final promotion push.
Jon McLaughlin, 7/10: Made one superb second-half save after largely being a spectator in the first-half.
Luke O’Nien, 7/10: Furthered his transformation into Sunderland’s most complete defender.
Tom Flanagan, 6/10: Fairly solid after he recovered from an early knock.
Jimmy Dunne, 6/10: Nullified Ladapo effectively.
Reece James, 6/10: Untroubled defensively, a mixed bag going forward.
Grant Leadbitter, 8/10: Sprayed some outstanding switches of play and controlled the action from to start to finish with his excellent awareness and decision-making.
Lee Cattermole, 7/10: Broke the deadlock with a superb finish and was mainly tidy in possession throughout.
Lewis Morgan, 7/10: Had the beating of Sawyer all afternoon, didn’t always pick the right pass in the final third though.
George Honeyman, 7/10: Scored the crucial second goal, but was quiet otherwise.
Aiden McGeady, 7/10: Tormented the Plymouth backline with his clever movement and intelligent passing from central areas.
Will Grigg, 7/10: Lively performance, but he failed to turn his industry into goals.
(SUB) Duncan Watmore, 6/10: Used his pace well to get in-behind the Argyle backline.
(SUB) Charlie Wyke, n/a/10: Came on too late to make an impact.
(SUB) Lynden Gooch,n/a /10: See above
Man of the Match: Grant Leadbitter