Sunderland survived a barrage of Nottingham Forest pressure in the first half of both sides' final outing of 2017 to formulate a typical 'smash and grab' performance to secure all three points at the City Ground.
Murphy misses punished by McGeady prowess
Daryl Murphy was the greatest threat during the opening sparring of the contest but could not convert any of the opportunities created for him. A long clearance from Joe Worrall found the striker who was thwarted by Robbin Ruiter, with the Sunderland goalkeeper moving swiftly off his line. Moments later, Barry McKay laid the ball to Murphy just outside the box but his curled effort bent just past the post.
The central route was not proving fruitful for the hosts so they looked to the wide positions to create further openings. Eric Lichaj whipped in an excellent cross that was glanced wide by Murphy. The aerial threat then headed over a Ben Osborn delivery as Forest continued to probe.
The home side were looking for a breakthrough from various different areas of the pitch and Kieran Dowell even attempted a strike from his own half that drifted wide of Ruiter's goal. Yet the visitors were on hand to show their hosts how to finish just before the break.
Adam Matthews found space on the left to deliver a cross to the experienced Aiden McGeady who was left unmarked in the opposition penalty area. The diminutive figure was able to pick his spot with the header to give Sunderland the lead on 40 minutes with their first shot of the contest.
No response from Forest as their challenge filters out
With Sunderland looking to defend their lead straight after the break, Forest struggled to break down an organised Black Cats defence. Dowell attempted to drive a free-kick laid off to him by Osborn but he could only pick out Ruiter with his effort.
The hosts were clearly struggling with ideas to find a breakthrough and began to lose some of their discipline. A series of hefty challenges, particularly from David Vaughan and Armand Traore, showed Forest's frustrations as a series of substitutions from both sides failed to turn the tide of the contest. If anything, Sunderland were gradually looking progressively comfortable on the ball, despite failing to test the opposing defence.
After Murphy limped off with 20 minutes to play, Forest appeared lifeless and lacking confidence. Sunderland were able to comfortably hold firm and climb out of the relegation zone on goal difference ahead of Bolton Wanderers.
Yet for Forest, the gap between them and the playoff places is now ten points with 21 games remaining. After a third home defeat in four league games, there is plenty of work to be done in 2018 at the City Ground.