NINE wins from 12 games, fourth in the table and three points off the top. Win tomorrow evening and Sunderland could climb into the top two.

No wonder the fans were singing Phil Parkinson’s name on Saturday.

“Parky, give us a wave,” they chanted in the latter stages of the afternoon and he gleefully obliged, enjoying the moment as supporters celebrated the latest win, a fully-deserved 3-0 victory over Bristol Rovers to continue the Black Cats’ upwards trajectory.

After a slow start to his tenure he now has a team transformed, a well-drilled side playing consistently well in a formation that brings the best out of them, the run of wins generating momentum and confidence.

There will be tougher challenges ahead. The next three fixtures – Fleetwood, Coventry and Gillingham – are all against teams also in good form, whereas Bristol Rovers recently went 14 games without a win and it showed.

But should Sunderland continue in this vein, it is difficult to see anything other than automatic promotion, not a prediction anyone on Wearside was making at Christmas.

There is a long time to go yet, of course. Cautious Sunderland followers need no reminding that it was around this stage last season when the wheels fell off and results nosedived, culminating in a heart-breaking play-off final defeat.

Difficult to see the same occurring to the current incarnation of Sunderland, however. Besides, surely the nadir of this season has already been reached with the now infamous Boxing Day draw with Bolton when all seemed lost.

Sunderland were 15th in the table and Parkinson appeared to be a dead man walking, yet two months later and the team’s form has turned around as dramatically as public opinion.

“The supporters have been great. I said to the lads before the game that it was important that the intensity of our game was right, the closing down and the work ethic because those elements have got the supporters right behind you and made this an enjoyable place for you to play," said Parkinson.

“You’ve got to keep it there by putting those qualities into play. The fans want to see honesty and they’re getting that, and on top of that they’re getting quality.”

Asked about the style of play, he added: “It has evolved over a period of time by identifying what supporters want first and foremost, playing with honesty, and I just feel that in recent weeks the supporters have been very patient at times.

“Like at times like today until we got the first goal, they stayed right with us because they could see what we were trying to achieve out on the pitch and that’s very important.”

It was not until deep into the second half that Sunderland opened the scoring, taking the lead in the 71st minute with a Lynden Gooch goal that had been coming since the first half, the Black Cats quickly taking control and carrying on from where they left off against Oxford last week.

For all their possession and intent, however, goalkeeper Jamal Blackman was not seriously tested in the first half, Luke O’Nien heading inches over from a Denver Hume cross being the best chance.

Rovers’ resistance was broken after referee Ben Toner dismissed Abu Ogogo, who had collided with Chris Maguire off the ball, a dismissal which suddenly give Sunderland a man advantage and soon the floodgates opened.

Gooch added the finishing touch to a lovely passing move, side-footing in after a Maguire pass from the right, and Wyke soon doubled the advantage when he rounded Blackman after another Maguire ball.

And it was 3-0 when Maguire completed his third assist of the day, making ground down the right, pulling the ball back for O’Nien and his effort took a heavy deflection before hitting the net.

Sunderland had to be patient, but they got their rewards.

“We reiterated at half-time, keep moving the ball quickly, keep switching it, keep getting into areas where we know we could hurt Bristol Rovers, keep knocking on the door and eventually it’ll come,” said Parkinson.

“The other thing we spoke about was keeping cool heads. Everyone was getting frustrated with some of the decisions out there, and we don’t want that to detract from what we’ve got to do on the football pitch.

“I was so pleased with the lads for the way they did that in the second period, and it was one of their players who lost his cool and took them down to ten men.

“I thought we played well in the first half, we just couldn’t get a goal. You don’t always get everything your own way in football, sometimes it doesn’t fall for you."

Sunderland have conceded just twice in nine games, both in the 2-0 defeat at Portsmouth.

It is a far cry from earlier in the campaign when the club were at a low ebb, a point that was put to Parkinson after the match.

“It was, now we’re enjoying this run and the important thing now is we sustain it," he said.

“Everyone is winning around us, and you expect the top teams to keep winning, but we’ve got to make sure our run lasts longer than everyone else’s.”