Lee Johnson delivers this verdict as Sunderland's close in on top two with Bristol Rovers win

Lee Johnson hailed the commitment of his Sunderland squad after they came through a difficult contest at Bristol Rovers to boost their automatic promotion hopes.
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Joey Barton's side limited the Black Cats to few first-half chances but Aiden O'Brien's goal gave them a valuable lead.

Sunderland should have extended their lead further in what was a much improved second-half showing, but were denied by a combination of the woodwork and Anssi Jaakkola's goalkeeping.

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Lee Burge had to make a good late save to deny Bristol Rovers substitute David Tutonda, but he had little to do through the game for the most part.

Aiden O'Brien scores Sunderland's winner at Bristol RoversAiden O'Brien scores Sunderland's winner at Bristol Rovers
Aiden O'Brien scores Sunderland's winner at Bristol Rovers

"It's hard to summarise because I was as delighted as I was frustrated," Johnson said.

"I thought that they did really well in the first half, they used the slope and forced us to go direct which I didn't really like.

"We needed to show more ice in the head.

"We had the fire in the belly but not enough control and understanding of where the next pass needed to go.

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"In saying that, it was always going to be a difficult game.

"They used a different formation and we weren't able to utilise the space for our wingers that left. You have to give them credit for that.

"Obviously we got the goal which was an important one at an important time, and then we used our strong bench.

"We didn't have too many scares in the second half and our territory and attacking play was much better, even though they of course had one or two moments, as you'd expect."

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Sunderland's preparations for the game had been affected by a positive COVID-19 case in the group earlier this week, and Johnson was thrilled with the character of his group.

Sunderland's Head Coach felt they could have won the game sooner but hailed a 'really big' three points.

Though Peteborough United returned to form with an emphatic 7-0 win over Accrington Stanley this afternoon, Hull City were held by Gillingham as Sunderland cut the gap to the top further.

"When you don't take those opportunities it can give spirit and energy to the opposition," Johnson said.

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"I'm not too sure how many were in the crowd but it seemed like about 60 from Bristol Rovers, and it felt pretty lively for a game with no fans.

"I'm pleased, the results are the most important thing at this stage of the season and we just have to keep doing our bit.

"There's 30 points to play for and we've just got to focus on that.

"We've put ourselves in a great position. The first thing is to secure the play-off place with a points tally and go from there.

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"I was really pleased with the player's commitment because it was a really difficult week, we couldn't train the first three days because of the positive COVID case we had, which of course scuppers your plans.

"The lads and the staff have had to stay flexible and so today is a really big win for us.

"They're a decent side, Bristol Rovers, and I think they're unlucky to be where they are."

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