Forty-five minutes of frustration followed by 45 minutes of pure delight. Plymouth will have been comfortable and confident in the Stadium of Light  away dressing room at half-time on Saturday. Come full-time, they won’t have known what had just hit them.

After a flat and frustrating opening period for Sunderland, this had the makings of being one of those days. The only shot on target the Black Cats had mustered was a speculative Jack Clarke effort from distance and they trailed after Ryan Hardie’s classy finish rounded off a swift counter six minutes before the break.

Sunderland were stifled in the first half and there was little evidence of what was to follow after the break, when Michael Beale’s side were a team transformed. Within quarter of an hour of the restart they were ahead thanks to a quickfire double from Pierre Ekwah and Jack Clarke, before substitute Jobe Bellingham wrapped up the points with the third goal just two minutes after being introduced.

The Clarke and Bellingham goals were both moments of brilliance and a reminder – not that one was required – of the individual quality in the Sunderland squad. But the second half wasn’t about individuals, rather a team clicking. Beale’s side have now picked up seven points from a possible nine and have climbed into the top six.

Beale was visibly touched when the Stadium of Light rose as one after four minutes in support of the head coach’s four-year-old niece, Poppy, who is fighting leukaemia. He tapped his heart in a show of appreciation to the supporters.

Plymouth have adjusted well to life in the Championship and to their recent change of head coach. Former England Under-20 coach Ian Foster was unbeaten in three league games in charge of Argyle ahead of the trip to Sunderland, but the Pilgrims have found life difficult on the road, their win at Swansea last time out their first victory away from Home Park all term.

Buoyed by their recent success, Plymouth settled well and it was the visitors who carved out the only clear cut chance in the opening half an hour when Ryan Hardie forced a good save out of Anthony Patterson.

The challenge for Sunderland was clear from the off: could they pick their way through Plymouth’s back five? The answer in the opening period was no, their only effort of note a Clarke strike from distance that keeper Conor Hazard managed to keep out despite an awkward bounce.

Clarke shared the frustration of the supporters in the stands when a free-kick in a dangerous position was blazed high and wide.

And Sunderland frustration deepened when Plymouth broke the deadlock six minutes before half-time. Having won a corner after a promising move down the right, Sunderland had bodies forward but were caught cold on the counter, Morgan Whittaker setting Hardie away with a stunning through-ball. Hardie rounded Patterson twice before coolly lifting the ball into the net.

If Hardie’s opener was clinical then his attempt to double Plymouth’s lead moments later was incredibly audacious. From inside his own half, Hardie spotted Patterson off his line and went for goal, his effort bouncing only just wide to the relief of the keeper.

The half-time whistle was met by a smattering of boos but the mood soon changed inside the Stadium of Light, for Sunderland were instantly improved from the restart and a team transformed after the break.

It took just seven minutes for Ekwah to level, a low free-kick driven under the wall, and just seven minutes later the Black Cats were in front thanks to another moment of pure brilliance from Clarke. There looked to be little for Plymouth to worry about when the winger picked up the ball on the left but normal ruled don’t apply where Clarke is concerned and Sunderland’s star man cut in from the left and unleashed an unstoppable drive that went in off the post.

The third goal was another beauty. Jobe Bellingham had only been on the pitch two minutes and had barely touched the ball when he set off on a driving run towards the Plymouth box, dropped a shoulder and found the top corner.