INTERIM manager Mike Dodds hailed the impact of Jobe Bellingham as a centre-forward after Sunderland beat Cardiff 2-0 to claim their first win since February 10.

Bellingham won an early penalty before scoring his seventh goal of the season in all-round mature performance as the Black Cats brought their seven-game winless run to an end and climbed back into the top half of the Championship.

“We should be excited about his performance, it's something we can build on moving forward,” said Dodds, who revealed he has held conversations with Bellingham about his best position after tending to play him in midfield.

“He’s scored a goal and done well in the the game. He’s a coach’s dream, if I said go and play in goal he would just crack on with it.

“What he has got, which many number nines don’t have in this league, is unbelievable quality with his feet – a centre-midfielder playing up front.

“He gave us a platform to play off but you’ve got to remember he’s a second-year scholar playing in the Championship.

“He’s 18 and I know he carries the weight of his brother, which I think sometimes is unfair.

“But if you put that to one side, you’ve just seen a second-year scholar who has been exceptional and should be playing youth-team football.”

Dodds succeeded the sacked Michael Beale on February 19 and Sunderland had lost six and drawn one of their previous seven games to slide down the Sky Bet Championship table.

He said: “I think it was a real professional performance and I’ve tried to stay really balanced in this seat looking at performances.

“I am more happy for the group and the fans because the result makes everything feel a little bit lighter but I’m quite balanced.

“The (first) goal was a huge psychological factor in us just relaxing, after that we were excellent and cut through them really well.”

Cardiff had won four successive games before suffering the pain of losing the South Wales derby at Swansea before the international break two weeks ago - and their hangover lingered as Sunderland quickly took control.

The Black Cats won an early penalty when Dimitrios Goutas gave away possession and his haste to make amends saw him put an arm on Bellingham’s back.

The teenager needed no invitation to go to ground and, three days on from Wales’ painful Euro 2024 shoot-out exit, the Canton End was the backdrop to another spot-kick.

France Under-20 midfielder Aouchiche converted with ease and Cardiff’s reaction to the early setback was poor.

Abdoullah Ba tested Ethan Horvath at the near post, Dan Neil curled over from 20 yards, and Sunderland should have doubled their advantage when Bellingham freed Chris Rigg.

Horvath scampered from goal to deny the 16-year-old and Cardiff cleared the danger. However, Sunderland’s wait for a second goal lasted a matter of moments.

Aouchiche found room on the right and his cross was volleyed home from close range by the stretching Bellingham.

Loud boos greeted the half-time whistle with Cardiff off the pace and the visitors’ solitary moment of discomfort coming from a free-kick when Goutas headed straight at Sunderland goalkeeper Anthony Patterson.

Cardiff sent on Aaron Ramsey – who had stayed on the bench as Wales bowed out of Euro 2024 on Tuesday – for the second period with the Bluebirds desperately seeking impetus.

But Sunderland continued to dominate and Neil went close with a deflected effort before Nat Phillips prevented Bellingham from capitalising further.

Cardiff called on their set-piece potency as Goutas’ header skimmed the crossbar but Ba and substitutes Hemir and Romain Mundle all had clear openings to increase Sunderland’s advantage.

The Black Cats will now look to build on the victory when they host Blackburn at the Stadium of Light on Monday.

Dodds said: "There were two messages to the group. It’s not been an easy period for myself or anyone because of the results.

"But what they have given me is they’ve completely bought into the processes and every single day they’ve turned up and bought into what we’re trying to do, and I thank them for that and have reiterated how important that is going forward.

"The second bit was being a little bit tough with them in terms of making sure we get a positive result on Monday because the reality is come Monday night if the result isn’t positive, everyone has forgotten about this.

"We’ve got to make sure we can make that a back-to-back feeling for everyone, so I’ve put a little bit of pressure on them and that we hit similar standards and levels on Monday."