They never do it the easy way.
This was a vital three points for the Black Cats, heading into their mini-break having cut the gap on their main rivals.
Portsmouth, Peterborough and Doncaster all lost, the top now just four points away.
Jack Baldwin's fine finish was a worthy winner in any game but another lapse in discipline meant that the away side had to do it the hard way. Jon McLaughlin's penalty save spared Max Power's blushes after he kicked out off the ball midway through the second half.
Bradford had begun to turn the corner under new manager David Hopkin and from the early stages their gameplan was clear. Jack Payne aside, a wonderful footballer, the home players were looking to launch the ball into the channels at the first opportunity.
Sunderland had to ride some early pressure as a result but they did fashion the best two early chances.
First, Chris Maguire chased the loose ball from a free-kick and stood the ball up to the back post. Josh Maja was in space but his connection was poor, firing into the ground and over the bar.
Moments later Jack Baldwin had an even better opportunity, nodding an Aiden McGeady cross wide from a similar position.
When the breakthrough came it was an excellent move.
Bradford felt they should have had a free-kick when Maja used his body to control an aerial ball near the halfway line. He broke free and moved the ball to Maguire, who switched it to McGeady. His cross was headed away but only as far as Lee Cattermole. He took one touch before volleying at goal, Maja turning into the bottom corner with his chest.
The Black Cats looked comfortable, though they were fortunate that George Miller missed with a wild overhead kick in the box. The ball had dropped favourably for him from a corner.
Aiden McGeady forced a good stop from Richard O'Donnell as the visitors exerted some pressure early in the second half, but their set-piece gremlins returned when centre-back Anthony O'Connor turned a long throw home at the back post.
Sunderland's response was immediate.
A Chris Maguire free-kick wasn't dealt with properly and Jack Baldwin took full advantage, scoring a delightful half volley on the turn.
Max Power came close to adding another minutes later, advancing into the box but shooting straight at O'Donnell.
After a low-key opening the game had developed a tempo far more familiar to League One tempo. The hosts continued to threaten but it was again Sunderland who went close, Tom Flanagan's header from a corner somehow kept out by a combination of the crossbar and the last man in defence.
But for the second time in a week, a straight red card turned the game on its head.
Max Power was sent off for an off the ball incident, handing Jack Payne the chance to level from the spot. Power had fallen to the floor when kicking out, not making contact but leaving the referee with little choice.
McLaughlin was equal to Payne's effort with his second penalty save of the season, leaving the Black Cats with just over 20 minutes to survive with ten men.
To their credit they defended excellently. Three substitutions from Jack Ross shut the game down and though territoriality Sunderland were under pressure, McLaughlin had no real save to make.
Their job was made considerably easier as Sean Scannell was given a red in stoppage time, lashing out at substitute George Honeyman before throwing Lee Cattermole to the floor.
Sunderland survived seven minutes of addition play to seal three vital points.
Bradford XI: O'Donnell; Mellor, McGowan, O'Connor, Knight-Percival; Scannell, O'Brien (Gibson, 83), Payne, Wood; Ball (Bruenker, 76), Miller (Seedorf, 87)
Subs: Sykes-Kenworthy, Seedorf, Isherwood, Goldthorp, Wright
Sunderland XI: McLaughlin; Matthews, Flanagan, Baldwin, James; Power, Cattermole; McGeady (Honeyman, 73), Maja (McGeouch, 69) Maguire; Sinclair (Ozturk, 84)
Subs: Ruiter, Mumba, Robson, Kimpioka
Bookings: Cattermole, 12
Red Card: Power, 66 Scannell, 90