George Honeyman’s late winner at Spotland, puts Sunderland within touching distance of the automatic promotion places in League One.
The skipper’s late second-half strike followed Charlie Wyke’s cool finish after the break to complete memorable comeback over Rochdale.
Dale had led after a clinical strike from Ian Henderson and battled well in a tense, evenly fought second-half, but ultimately Jack Ross’ men won the day, forcing the ball into the net with time running out.
The Black Cats are level with second-placed Barnsley, with two games in hand on their promotion rivals.
Sunderland edged the scrappy early exchanges at Spotland and on 15 minutes Will Grigg had the first chance of note. The Northern Ireland international forced an acrobatic save out of Josh Lillis with his guided volley from close-range.
With their first shot of the match the hosts took a shock lead. Sunderland failed to deal with an initial cross from the right, a quick cutback found Henderson in acres of space and the veteran striker took one touch before calmly slotting past a helpless Jon McLaughlin.
Minutes before half-time Sunderland finally tested Lillis again. This time Max Power came close forcing a fingertip save with his curling effort that fell just short of the top corner.
Rochdale held onto their lead going into half-time, forcing Sunderland into a slow-paced dogfight and a second-half that would prove to be a true test of their promotion credentials.
After a cagey start to the second-half the Black Cats got their goal through Wyke. The forward turned and slotted past Lillis with an accurate daisy-cutter. The burly striker had been well found by the penalty spot by a probing Denver Hume.
Grigg wasted another major chance minutes after Wyke’s leveler. His appalling first-touch denied him the chance to shoot on goal from six yards out. Lilis smothered him and the chance was gone. This came after George Honeyman’s driven cross evaded everyone prior to Grigg fluffing his lines.
The match was far more open following Wyke’s strike and the visitors needed a brilliant save from McLaughlin to stay level. Backpedaling at full-stretch, the 31-year-old was able to parry over Jack Baldwin’s wayward clearance over. Baldwin’s shinned effort was on its way to dipping over the keeper into the bottom of the Sunderland net.
Dale were inches away from re-taking the lead. Henderson’s glancing near-post header evaded everyone and rolled agonisingly close to the far-post before going wide.
With time elapsing Sunderland stole all three points. Luke O’Nien drove into the home box and picked out Honeyman who slotted coolly from close-range.
Despite not being at their best, Sunderland found a way to win, when it truly mattered, in what might be one of the defining matches of the season. A great way to end one of the most memorable weeks in the club’s recent history.
Jon McLaughlin, 7/10: Produced a brilliant stop to deny Baldwin scoring a memorable own-goal.
Luke O’Nien, 8/10: One of Sunderland’s few effective passers on the day and did brilliant for Honeyman’s winner.
Tom Flanagan, 6/10: Failed to impact the game.
Jack Baldwin, 5/10: Guilty of one too many aimless cross-field passes to no-one.
Denver Hume, 5/10: Had a poor all-round game and lacked his usual swagger on the ball.
Dylan McGeouch, 7/10: Started well and switched play intelligently throughout.
Max Power, 7/10: Created some of Sunderland’s brightest moments.
Lewis Morgan, 5/10: One of those games where you forget Morgan is on the pitch.
Lynden Gooch, 6/10: Lively until an early injury ended his game, couldn’t capitalise on some of the excellent positions O’Nien found him in.
Charlie Wyke, 8/10: A real nuisance all game, brought others into play, also his first-touch has never looked better in a Sunderland shirt, not to mention his crucial goal.
Will Grigg, 4/10: Another who failed to impose himself, plus his finishing and awareness around the box was dreadful.
(SUB) George Honeyman, 7/10: His liveliness and level of activity was crucial to Sunderland’s fight-back.
(SUB) Bryan Oviedo, 6/10: Added a touch of class on the left after his introduction.
(SUB) Kazaiah Sterling, 6/10: Produced one decent cross in limited minutes.
Man of the Match: Charlie Wyke