Perfect away performance sees Sunderland capitalise on Portsmouth and Barnsley stalemate
Sunderland produced the perfect away performance to make it back-to-back league wins for the first time since November.
Luke O'Nien and Aiden McGeady were on the scoresheet as the Black Cats applied more welcome pressure on the top two.
Jon McLaughlin was almost completely untested as a direct Bristol Rovers side, who had only lost once since visiting the Stadium of Light in December, were comfortably beaten.
Buoyed by the win over Gillingham, Jack Ross kept the shape of his side the same, with Duncan Watmore slotting in where Chris Maguire had started.
That was an open game with plenty of goalmouth action, but Bristol Rovers quickly set their stall out for this one.
The hosts looked constantly for a direct ball over the top or into the channel, putting a lot of pressure on the Black Cats backline.
Nevertheless, Sunderland started well enough with Aiden McGeady their main threat.
The winger twice beat his market to get to the byline, his cross just gather by Jack Bonham on both occasions.
Alex Rodman had Rovers' first meaningful effort of the game, driving wide from range as Jon McLaughlin sprawled to his right.
But for the most part Sunderland were comfortable, Grant Leadbitter and Lee Cattermole again offering welcome composure in midfield.
Creating clear openings was a struggle but 25 minutes in the visitors took a welcome lead.
Defender Tony Craig looked to punt a ball into the channel but made of a mess of the clearance, knocking the ball out with his other foot. Sunderland took it short, Leadbitter teeing up
McGeady. He crossed to the back post where Will Grigg had cleverly peeled away from his marker. He turned the ball across goal where Luke O'Nien had an easy finish.
Rovers continued to go long but with little reward, Ollie Clarke slicing wide from the box just before half time in what was their only real effort on goal.
Sunderland were struggling to make much headway in the final third but had reasonable control of the game.
Rovers started the second half with purpose and the Black Cats had to survive a couple of dangerous balls into their box.
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It looked like they might have to absorb a lot of pressure but they got themselves a crucial second goal on 55 minutes.
Excellent build up play from Grant Leadbitter created an overload on the left, where Reece James crossed into the box. The ball broke free on the edge and with the Black Cats poised with intent, Liam Sercombe handled the ball. Aiden McGeady stepped up and curled a superb effort straight into the top corner, Bonham completely unmoved in the Rovers goal.
The hosts did come close to a quick response when Jonson Clarke-Harris got free at a corner, heading onto the roof of the net.
Sunderland continued to dominate both in terms of territory and possession, but let the hosts in when a sloppy Lee Vattermole pass forced Jimmy Dunne to tip Clarke-Harris on the edge of the area.
From a similar distance to McGeady's effort, Sercombe could only shoot over the bar.
It was Sunderland who finished the game strongest as Rovers lost their way, substitute Lewis Morgan enjoying the space to drive forward on the counter.
He twice crossed for fellow sub Charlie Wyke, who couldn't convert from close range.
Morgan was dazzling, another wonderful first touch sending him free again. He again unselfishly crossed for Wyke, who turned the ball wide with the goal gaping .
The Black Cats were not made to rue those misses as they saw out the game with relative ease.
Sunderland XI: McLaughlin; O'Nien, Flanagan, Dunne, James; Leadbitter, Cattermole, Honeyman; Watmore (Morgan, 67), McGeady (Power, 84), Grigg (Wyke, 76)
Subs: Ruiter, Matthews, Ozturk, McGeouch
Bristol Rovers XI: Bonham, Clarke, Lockyer, Craig, Holmes-Dennis; Sercombe (Nichols, 84), Clarke (Upson, 67), Ogogo, Rodman; Reilly (Jakubiak, 57), Clarke-Harris
Subs: Smith, Nichols, Partington, Sinclair, Matthews
Bookings: O'Nien, 22 James, 49 Dunne, 71
Attendance: 10,009 (1,408 away)