SUNDERLAND moved out of the Championship relegation zone after executing an almost perfect smash and grab away performance at the City Ground.

Nottingham Forest dominated possession with over 60 per cent of the ball and rained in 22 shots on the Sunderland goal. Crucially only three of those efforts were on target while Aiden McGeady calmly converted Sunderland’s one chance of the match. The Irishman’s header was enough to earn Chris Coleman’s side three vital points but cost Forest boss Mark Warburton his job.

Coleman said: “Three points is all that matters. We had to do something different to what we did in the last game - and I thought the guys were brilliant. I was critical of us after the last game but, this time out, I was so proud of our players. They were absolutely brilliant.

Loading article content

“They defended for long periods in the second half and they defended very, very well. The only scare was when they hit the post with the last kick of the game and we deserved the three points.

“Again our travelling support was absolutely immense and that’s how we can thank them with three points. There was a lot of meaning and intent in out performance.

“Some of the defending was stunning. It was the organisation and communication, the centre halves were always talking, Darron Gibson organising in the middle of the pitch and George Honeyman covered every blade of grass. I thought all the lads were absolutely fantastic.

“It was a great header from Aiden, he was a thorn in Forest’s side all afternoon. We tried to get him on the ball and he was causing a lot of trouble and a lot of damage. It was a great header, a proper striker’s header. It was a great cross as well and came at the end of a good move so I’m delighted.”

Sunderland started the game brightly with Josh Maja making his full debut up front in place of the injured Lewis Grabban. The 19-year-old linked well with McGeady and won an early free kick in a dangerous area that the visitors were unable to turn into a chance.

However, it was not long before the game took on a more familiar pattern with Forest controlling the ball for long periods but struggling to break down Sunderland’s defence.

There was an early scare when John O’Shea and Marc Wilson were uncharacteristically hesitant in allowing Joe Worrall’s long ball to bounce. Forest’striker Daryl Murphy was fastest to react but Robbin Ruiter raced out of his goal to smother the ex-Sunderland man’s effort.

Murphy was the biggest threat throughout the opening 45 minutes shooting just wide of the Sunderland goal four minutes later before sending a tame header into Ruiter’s grateful arms.

As the match approached the half-hour mark the impressive Kieran Dowell, who is on loan at Forest from Everton, did brilliantly to keep the ball in at the byline before looping a cross to the far post but Murphy was not fast enough to meet it.

The alert Dowell spotted Ruiter off his line and tried his luck from his own half with an effort the Sunderland keeper was relieved to see sail wide and Murphy skimmed another header off the visitor’s crossbar.

Forest were made to pay for their lack of potency in front of goal five minutes before the break as Sunderland grabbed their one opportunity with both hands to take the lead.

Adam Matthews was given time and space on the left flank and picked out an unmarked McGeady with a perfect cross. The Irishman, who has rarely been noted for his heading ability, planted a cushioned header beyond Jordan Smith and into the net.

An unremarkable second-half followed with Sunderland content to sit on their lead while Forest struggled to even replicate the half chances of the first period. Murphy limped off and made way for Jason Cummings while James Vaughan replaced Maja and tried manfully to provide and outlet for Sunderland.

The hosts did win a series of late corners before Eric Lichaj had hearts in mouths as he struck the post with the final chance of the match but Sunderland hung on and now host Barnsley in a game that gives them a big opportunity to move away from trouble.

Coleman said: “These two games in three days physically and mentally are a tough ask. To get the three points away from home is a big boost for us and we can enjoy it, but not for long because we’re already now planning for the next game,

“They’re a team in and around us in the table, we’re at home and there will be a lot of tired lads on both teams but we have got to try and make sure we emulate our intent today and hopefully that will get us the win.”