First half goals from Dion Sanderson and Charlie Wyke gave Sunderland another crucial win in their League One promotion hunt.
Rochdale had the better of the first half but couldn't find a goal and were punished by clinical finishing.
With some results elsewhere having gone their way, it was important they got the three points and while it wasn't the greatest performance the result will please Lee Johnson going into a pivotal match at Fratton Park on Tuesday.
Story of the game
Lee Johnson handed a league debut to 21-year-old centre back Oliver Younger, perhaps looking towards next weekend's Papa John's Trophy final where he will be likely to start. He came in for the injured Lyndon Gooch but apart from that it was an unchanged side from Tuesday win against Swindon.
Rochdale were happy to give Sunderland the ball in the early exchanges and were punished. Aiden McGeady pushed the ball past Dale Right back Ryan McLaughlin putting a cross and being fouled in the follow through.
From the free kick, McGeady elected to go deep finding the head of Dion Sanderson who smartly kept his header low and into the corner beyond Gavin Bazunu to give Sunderland the early advantage.
They nearly doubled the lead seconds later. Callum McFadzean's cross was spilled into the path of Jordan Jones but his follow up was well blocked by Jimmy Keohane to keep Sunderland at bay.
The hosts kept up their tempo with Rochdale struggling to get out, in the early stages.
They started to grow in confidence as the game ticked past the twenty minute mark and nearly had an excellent chance. Aaron Morley with a flat ball over the top which Kwando Baah chested down after peeling off McFadzean. But the Rochdale forward couldn't get the ball under complete control and Luke O'Nien was able to get his body in front of the effort, blocking the shot with his chest in the end.
They were getting more joy as the minutes ticked by, playing out from the back they engineered a three on one counter attack. Conor Shaughnessy had carried the ball and saw Baah in acres down Rochdale's right. A good pass and he's is one on one with Burge but the pass is overhit and Lee Burge was able to gather.
Euan O'Connell finally forced a save from Burge after 28 minutes. It was straight at the Sunderland number one but it was another sign of Rochdale's growth in the game.
Lee Johnson was an animated figure on the touchline, his side had started well but Rochdale had roared back and it looked a matter of time till they scored.
They should have after thirty two minutes. McLaughlin did well to get to the byline and put a great low cross, Jimmy Keohane up from left back must be five yards out with the goal at his mercy but he blazed horribly over.
He and Rochdale were punished in emphatic fashion for they wastefulness. Down Sunderland's right Jones stood up Keohane finding a yard of space and bending a cross into the corridor of uncertainty. Wyke was quicker off the mark than Paul McShane to head into the right hand corner beyond a helpless Bazunu.
It was completely against the run of play and summed up Rochdale's season perfectly. A good footballing side who can't put the ball in the net or keep it out of their own.
It was a strange feeling at half time, Sunderland hadn't played well and probably didn't deserve to be ahead. But they had shown the cutting edge of grit of a promotion worthy team.
Into the second half and it was Rochdale raising the tempo, trying to find a way back into the game. Their best chance of the early stages was from a smartly worked quick free kick. Morley played a low pass into the path of Stephen Humphrys on the penalty spot, one on one with Burge it took a strong hand from the Sunderland goalkeeper to tip it round the post.
Sunderland, happy with their lead didn't force the game. Chances were few and far between for Wyke etc.
They nearly sealed the perfect counter just before the 70 minute mark, Jones burst down Sunderland's right and cut the ball back but it was just behind Wyke and McGeady coming in.
There was then a strange stoppage. The linesman in chasing Jones down the line pulled his hamstring and had to go off. He was replaced by the 4th official.
The five minute stoppage didn't shunt Sunderland and they continued to build momentum. Firstly sub Chris Maguire came close from a long range free kick, nearly catching Bazunu out who was beaten all ends up had it been on target.
Maguire was then involved again moments later, putting in an excellent delivery from a corner which Wyke met at the front post but his header sailed over the bar.
Rochdale continued to push forward even late on, with a large amount of stoppage time expected a goal could have been game on. Their best effort late on came from another McFadzean mistake. He misjudged his bounce allowing Shaughnessy a shot on goal which Burge could only parry but he gathered well at the second attempt.
That was all they offered late on as the game fizzed out to a big win for Sunderland.
Man of the match - Dion Sanderson
Giving a defender MOTM when you've won always seems a waste but Sanderson was the only player it could be. His goal was well taken but it's more than that. Without a crowd you could hear him shouting at players when levels started to drop. The awareness of where to be, he rarely dives in and is an example to those around him.
He's a quality player and if Sunderland keep him next season it will be monumental.