Having shunned alcohol for Lent, Mick McCarthy hopes to soon cross another vice off his spring detox list. Half a dozen more results, if not performances, like this and the Sunderland manager will no longer need to cast covetous glances towards the Premiership.
His single-minded approach appears to be working, and the manager deserved much of the credit for orchestrating a sixth consecutive victory with a trio of second-half substitutions. One of those, Chris Brown, struck the 77th-minute winner from the edge of the area after being teed up by another, Sean Thornton, while Andy Welsh gave them an added dimension they had been missing in one of their least convincing displays.
"I told them they don't sit on the bench just to warm their arse," said McCarthy, who admitted Sunderland were poor for an hour as for the first time this season they were inhibited by run-in nerves.
Having been muscled out of the top two last season by Norwich City and West Bromwich Albion, Sunderland are determined not to suffer the same fate this time. They will remain at the summit for at least a fortnight now, however, after making the most of Wigan's inability to beat Nottingham Forest.
These sides could be two divisions apart next season as Coventry now contemplate dropping into the third tier of English football for the first time in 41 years.
Micky Adams, their manager, said: "The players are getting the message over what I want them to do. It's just whether we run out of games."
Goal: Brown (77) 1-0.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Myhre; Wright, Breen, Caldwell, McCartney; Lawrence (Brown, 56), Robinson, Whitley (Thornton, 56), Arca (Welsh, 69); Elliott, Stewart. Substitutes not used: Ingham, Collins.
Coventry City (4-4-2): Bennett; Duffy (Shaw, 83), Page, Staunton, Hall; Jorgensen, Osbourne, Doyle, Benjamin (Barnett, 83); McSheffrey (Adebola, 79), John. Substitutes not used: Steele, Morrell.
Referee: A Wiley (Staffordshire).
Booked: Sunderland Arca; Coventry City Jorgensen.
Man of the match: McCartney.
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