Phil Parkinson was proud of the way Sunderland refused to bow to the provocations of Steve Evans as they beat Gillingham 2-0 in a fiery finish at Priestfield.
In a second half packed with incident, Black Cats goalkeeper Lee Burge saved a penalty and Gillingham’s Alex MacDonald was sent off for an horrendous tackle on Luke O’Nien.
The visitors held their nerve, Chris Maguire converting a penalty six minutes from time and Lyndon Gooch netting in injury time to keep them in the play-off places in Sky Bet League One.
“That’s a great win for us,” said Parkinson afterwards. “When you come here and see that the rain is driving down and there are gale-force winds, it suits the Steve Evans way of playing.
“We knew what to expect and I thought the lads coped with it really well. When we were in possession we played with that bit of class, which is what you need to do here.
“Even without a crowd here you’ve still got their bench jumping up and down, appealing for everything.
“The key thing at Gillingham is to be competitive but cool in your mind. You can’t get caught up in that – and we didn’t.”
The game turned when former Gills loanee Tom Flanagan clumsily bundled Ryan Jackson over, Burge parried Jordan Graham’s penalty and Dominic Samuel somehow fired the rebound over.
Midfielder MacDonald was dismissed minutes later for his rash challenge, before Charlie Wyke forced Gills’ debutant goalkeeper Joe Lumley – signed on an emergency loan from QPR on Friday – into a stunning fingertip save.
Following Zech Medley’s foul on Wyke, Maguire coolly slotted his penalty past Lumley for Sunderland’s opener six minutes from time.
Gooch wrapped up his side’s success in the fifth minute of stoppage time with a solo goal on the counter-attack.
Parkinson said: “We came here twice last year and we competed and battled but didn’t play. I thought we got that balance right this time.
“The penalty save and the sending off were big moments but against 10 men, it’s not always easy. I felt we showed patience against the 10 and eventually we got our rewards.”
The Gills, who saw manager Evans booked for his reaction to the penalty decision, slumped to a fifth consecutive league defeat for the first time since February 2012.
“It was more of the same from us, a really good performance and chances not taken,” said Evans.
“Alex commits a terrible tackle and then the assistant referee gives them a penalty which looks to be an absolutely disgusting decision. It’s simply not a penalty.
“The best team has lost. Nobody is going to believe that when we’re only on iFollow and a large percentage of the fans don’t see it but that’s an outstanding Gillingham performance.
“We’re at the stage now where I’d accept it being rubbish and we win. We’ve lost five games in a row – we should have drawn two and won two of those – so we need to go again.”