HOW many days have to pass in January before it becomes unacceptable to wish someone a Happy New Year?

For Sunderland fans, three weeks is more than they would have wanted to wait to get their first taste of success in 2018, but at last they are off and running this calendar year.

Whilst there is no disgrace in losing to a Cardiff City side fighting for promotion, the manner of the second-half collapse last weekend will have worried manager Chris Coleman.

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But on Saturday, fuelled by the energy and the passion of youth, this was a different Sunderland. It was a team that showed it was up for the fight.

Right from the outset, Sunderland were causing Hull City goalkeeper Allan McGregor problems. He had to punch away Bryan Oviedo’s free-kick, and was tested down to his right by Josh Maja.

Billy Jones had the game’s first real chance, shooting wide from the edge of the area,  before George Honeyman played the perfect through ball to 18-year-old Joel Asoro, who calmly slotted the ball past McGregor and in off the post to give the Black Cats what would prove to be the decisive goal.

By way of contrast, Sunderland were everything that Hull City weren’t. As Nigel Adkins, the Tigers’ boss, later admitted, it was a “concerning” first 35 minutes.

They rarely threatened in the first half. On his return to the Stadium of Light, David Meyler’s 25-yard shot was easily gathered by Robbin Ruiter, and Jon Toral fired over from Seb Larsson, one of three ex-Black Cats in the Hull side returning to Wearside.

“From minute one, we played on the front foot,” said Coleman.

“I knew in the second half we’d have a tough 15 or 20 minutes, but the three points for us is so valuable.

“We sat off and we were getting beaten on one-twos in the last third and you stop remembering what we’ve been working on and you play on pure emotion and you make mistakes, and we just lost a little bit of confidence and calmness.

“But overall, we were gutsy, greedy, we could have probably scored more goals, just a bit more confidence in the last third, but overall there was an edge about us and I think it was a good performance.

“We felt the supporters were right with us, and if you play with a bit of grit the supporters will get behind you. If you’re nervous and edgy, they won’t.”

At no point did Sunderland settle for the one-goal lead. Oviedo struck a free kick from 20 yards that narrowly went over the crossbar, and Honeyman came within inches of a second, when he muscled his way past Larsson and rolled the ball across the face of the goal.

Hull looked more like equalising in the second half. Evandro had a thunderous strike from the edge of the box cleared off the line by Oviedo, and Meyler had a chance late in injury time to rescue a point, but his close-range shot was well saved by Ruiter.

“It is great after it is over,” admitted Coleman.

“The hardest bit is from 80 to 90 minutes when you are 1-0 up, you know something is going to happen at the wrong end of the pitch, and you’re hoping and praying.

“When you haven’t got that second goal, that’s a long time. Robbin pulls off a great save for us, and everyone is suffering the same as I am and we are, but it is good when you come through it and you get the points.”

There was no one more pleased than Asoro. 19-year-old Maja secured the points when Sunderland last won at the Stadium of Light against Fulham in December. Now it was the turn of the young Swede.

“There was no one happier - I’m very happy. I was a bit shocked as well,” said Asoro.

“I always said if I get the chance I’ll do the best that I can, I just got the shot off and ran away, I was just screaming, I can’t describe it. I had a quick look at the far post and saw the keeper wasn’t there so I knew that was where to aim for.

Asoro’s only disappointment in the match was having a penalty appeal turned down and then being subsequently booked by referee Keith Stroud for diving.

“He (Dawson) stepped on my foot but the referee has to make the decision, I can’t argue about it now,” he said.

“We’ve had problems scoring early which has made it really hard for us so it was good to be able to do that and put the pressure on Hull.

“To see the fans, to share in that happiness with them is amazing, the passion and love they have, it is just pure happiness.

“They have got behind us, I’m so happy because it feels like, when you’re with your family and you have that connection and understanding, it feels like that. It feels like they understand us.”

The victory moved Sunderland off the bottom of the Championship table, although they remain in the relegation zone on goal difference.

"We had no clean sheets in the first 17 games, and now we’ve had five in the last 11, so there is improvement there,” said Coleman.

“But it is about consistency, and we have to go to Birmingham in the next game and we’ve got to go there with the same attitude as today."