Rochdale boss Keith Hill says Lee Cattermole's 'mental ability' showed the difference between the two sides on Saturday.
Cattermole has quickly established himself as an integral member of Jack Ross's side this season and after being left out of the squad on the first day of the season, he has featured in every game.
He continued his fine form with a controlled display in the 4-1 win.
"It is a reflection of the mental consistency that you need as an individual and as a group of players to consistently turn out positive results," Hill said.
"That was the big difference between the two sides.
"The mental ability of somebody like Lee Cattermole, it is not seen but it is obvious from my point of view.
"You can see why he has played in the Premier League, he can control a game mentally, that is his experience.
"We shot ourselves in the foot, no question about that. I am disappointed but I hope it's a learning curve for the players.
"We tried to salvage something in the second half, we had the first opportunity but it was a great save by their goalkeeper.
"We never really got going and to be honest Sunderland probably played at 80 per cent and won 4-1. I expect us to be better than that."
Jack Ross responded to those comments and said that Cattermole had proved his mental resilience over the years.
“I’ve been consistently complimentary about Lee, both on the training pitch each and every day and within games," Ross said.
"People don’t get a proper feel for somebody until they work with them, but I see what he does every day. The one thing Lee has done is dealt with the pressures of playing for this club for a number of years. Whether or not he’s been part of successful teams here or ones that have suffered relegation, he’s dealt with the demands and never hidden from it.
"You have to be resilient to do that. When I took this job, I had an understanding of the group I’d have to put together to deal with the demands of playing here because it’s not easy.
"I mean that in the best possible way, but it’s not easy. He’s one that’s proven it, and you can see others that are getting ever better at dealing with that responsibility.
"With Lee for example, one of my staff was talking to him during the week and he was talking about how he played against Roma when he was 17.
"He’s done a lot of big things during his career that get forgotten about, and that’s an advantage to me and an asset to have that within my squad on a daily and weekly basis.”
Cattermole is one game away from a suspension after picking up four yellow cards this season.