AIDEN O'BRIEN notched a first-half winner as Sunderland maintained their push for automatic promotion with a 1-0 League One win at relegation-threatened Bristol Rovers.

The visitors grabbed the goal that mattered on 39 minutes when Rovers allowed O’Brien space to run onto an Aiden McGeady corner from the right and net with a volley from ten yards.

It meant a happy return to Bristol for Sunderland head coach Lee Johnson following his years as head coach across town at Ashton Gate.

The first half saw McGeady chip over and Lynden Gooch have a shot saved by Rovers keeper Anssi Jaakkola, while at the other end Jonah Ayunga and Zain Walker shot narrowly wide.

Sunderland might have increased their lead after the break as O’Brien shot over, Jaakkola twice saved well from Charlie Wyke and McGeady hit a post with a free-kick.

But at the death Lee Burge had to save well from Rovers substitute David Tutonda as the desperate home side remained in deep trouble.