NORMALLY a football manager is the one employed to bring the playing staff back down to earth, at Sunderland it appears midfielder Carl Robinson has been afforded the role as realist.

After Sunderland had battled for the three points against Cardiff City on Saturday all eyes, including those of boss Mick McCarthy, turned towards the giant scoreboards at either end of the Stadium of Light.

First Ipswich's home defeat to QPR was greeted with a clenched fist into the air by McCarthy and a deafening chorus of cheers from the Wearside faithful; two seconds later those reactions were repeated when Wigan's reversal at Gillingham was confirmed.

Sunderland climbed into second place, level with leaders Wigan on 66 points, and with 11 games to go it is hard to imagine what might erupt inside the awesome venue on May 8 if Premiership status has been reclaimed two years on from when it was lost.

The congratulatory hugs exchanged between the players in red and white shirts and the handshakes dished out by McCarthy suggested there is a determination in the Black Cats squad to stay in the top two, something that has eluded them for the most part of the campaign.

McCarthy felt a joyous sense of relief and excitement which was reflected in his post match reaction but, as he patted Robinson on the back as he trooped off the pitch, the Sunderland chief was given a quick word of caution in his ear.

"I said to Carl as he came off 'Well done and the other two teams have lost, we've gone second'. Carl put me straight back in my box and replied 'We have another 11 games left, it's not done yet," said McCarthy.

"It's good to hear that but I think we have to enjoy it while it lasts.

"A week in football is a long time and we didn't enjoy the defeat at Brighton last week when we lost touch with the other two teams. But I was at pains to say it can change, and where are we this week? Two wins and things look different. It's amazing."

Sunderland were poor at Brighton last week but the players knew. The criticism from that result has had the sort of effect McCarthy could only have hoped for.

Two games, two wins and six goals - promotion form if only in statistics.

The target will now be go to Burnley on Friday night, pocket three points, leapfrog Wigan and go top of the Championship for the first time since losing their place among the country's elite before the rest of the division play on Saturday.

Cardiff boss Lennie Lawrence was full of admiration for Sunderland's style and the role McCarthy has played in that after the home side claimed the points courtesy of goals from Gary Breen and Marcus Stewart.

Lawrence, a former manager of Middlesbrough, has no doubts about who will be celebrating promotion come May. "They are the best team we have played for a long time. I was impressed with them. Their passing and movement was great. Sunderland will go up," he said.

The Bluebirds boss, aiming to guide the club from South Wales clear of relegation, labelled Sunderland striker Stewart as the main difference between the two sides.

Stewart's 13th of the campaign, three minutes before half-time, when he rose first to meet a Dean Whitehead cross with a downward header, gave Sunderland a two-goal cushion at the break but it was his overall contribution that proved most valuable.

The experienced forward worked tirelessly up front alongside Stephen Elliott and his clever play made a mockery of the high price-tag placed on the head of Cardiff centre-back Danny Gabbidon.

Stewart's goal came at the right time as Sunderland had struggled to build on Breen's opening goal which arrived just three minutes in.

The strong running of Andy Welsh down the left flank, after Cardiff team-mates Graham Kavanagh and Rhys Weston both went for the same ball, led to the winger driving a powerful cross that missed everyone and fell to Breen at the back post.

The Irish centre-back, who scored in Tuesday's win over Rotherham as well, took a touch before his shot could only be turned high into the net by goalkeeper Neil Alexander.

But it was Welsh, a replacement for injured favourite Julio Arca, who proved there could be another left-sided hero at the club with an adventurous display thoughout.

"Welsh gives us something different. Welsh runs at players and the last thing defenders want to see is that," said McCarthy.

Welsh could have capped his first league start for the club with a goal eight minutes after half-time but he side-footed wide after some neat play between Jeff Whitley, Liam Lawrence and Stewart.

Aussie Tony Vidmar, who spent time on trial at Sunderland, set up a nervous finish when he fluked a volley over Thomas Myhre after Kavanagh had found him unmarked at the back post but the sending off of striker Andy Lee, for an elbow on Steve Caldwell, summed up the visitors' day.

Wigan and Ipswich have never looked like taking control of the Championship promotion race but maybe, just maybe, Sunderland are about to show them how it should be done.