THERE is a togetherness at Sunderland that could end up guiding them to automatic promotion.

Black Cast boss Phil Parkinson believes Alim Ozturk reflects the united spirit after victory at Oxford United.

Sunderland netted their third straight win after a goal within three minutes, in awful conditions at the Kassam Stadium - against a U’s side with ambitions to go up themselves.

Although the Kassam was hit by Storm Dennis, Sunderland were able to overcome both the weather and tough opponents.

The main blight on the day was Bailey Wright limping off with an apparent ankle injury.

Ozturk, who last featured in the goalless draw against Doncaster last month, came on as his replacement.

The former Turkish under-21 defender was replaced by on-loan Wright for the following trip to Tranmere.

But with a return likely for the 27-year old, manager Parkinson feels it shows how much the whole squad is pulling together.

He said “Alim is unlucky to be out of the team, when we made the change at Tranmere it was a tough call.

“Bailey has been excellent for us, and if he’s out for a period then Alim comes in, no problems at all.

“He’s got a great personality, Alim, he’s a good lad and even when he’s been out of the team he’s trained well.

“That’s really important because we’ve had the same team for quite a period of time now, and sometimes it’s difficult to keep the other lads going.

“They’ve been outstanding, and they’ve driven the lads in the team on.”

Victory now puts Sunderland within three points of league leaders Rotherham, but with a worse goal difference.

After three games in the space of seven days, Parkinson was looking forward to a full week on the training ground.

But he admitted the temptation to look at the top of League One was too great.

He added “We’ve got to have eyes on the top spot, haven’t we? We’ve got to keep looking above us, and to keep churning out the results.

“We’ve had a great week, and we’ve got a nice week to recharge the batteries, it’s been three tough games and we’ll be ready for next Saturday.

“The results of late have been good, the supporters are getting right behind the team, because they’re seeing desire, and you saw the reception the lads got at the end.”

Sunderland were unchanged for their third straight game, with Lynden Gooch looking to add to his two goals in the week over Rochdale.

Chris Maguire also returned to the club where he was between 2015 and 2017, and he played his part in the perfect start for the visitors.

His corner after two minutes found Jordan Willis, who was able to direct his effort past goalkeeper Simon Eastwood – although the ball appeared to come off John Mousinho.

Oxford started to put a small amount of pressure on, and were almost gifted an equaliser after ten minutes.

A weak header back to goal by Wright was too short for Jon McLaughlin, allowing Matty Taylor to intercept, but the shotstopper was able to deny the Oxford forward.

The visitors offered little to suggest they would double their lead, although they were able to soak up Oxford pressure and see the game out until half time with little trouble.

However, they were still put on the backfoot after the restart, with the hosts looking for a response straight away.

Josh Ruffels forced McLaughlin into an excellent tip over the crossbar five minutes after the restart, after a shot from range.

The Sunderland keeper was forced into action again on 53 minutes, after he was nearly fooled by the blustery conditions. A deep cross by James Henry caught the wind and what would have been a routine collection nearly carried over the goalkeeper, but he was able to judge the flight of the ball just right and palmed away.

Sunderland remained under pressure, and they made their first change just before the hour, with Josh Scowen replacing Lynden Gooch.

Ruffels put a corner from Anthony Forde into the side netting, in yet another warning to the visitors.

Sunderland needed a second goal to kill the game off, and Charlie Wyke headed wide after a free kick on 76 minutes.

However, another change was needed with six minutes remaining, as Wright limped off, to be replaced by Ozturk.

While referee Kevin Johnson allocated five minutes of injury time, the visitors were able to hold on for a win that may yet further boost their promotion credentials.

Afterwards, Oxford manager Karl Robinson thought that keeper McLaughlin was the best player on the field.

He said “Sunderland are one of the biggest teams in our league, and their goalkeeper was the man of the match.

“Not in the saves that he made but the way he needed to control his penalty area. I thought he was exceptional, especially in the first half.

“We asked more questions than the opposition did, in every area.

“We’re worlds away from where Sunderland are, but on the football pitch we’re close. And that’s the difference.”