EVEN near-300-mile return journeys somehow seem to fly by after away wins such as the Blues’ 2-0 victory at Sunderland on Saturday.

Town’s first win on the road of 2018 was also their first at the Stadium of Light, a ground where they had only claimed a single point on previous visits and had lost their last seven.

Indeed, the last time the Blues claimed three points on Wearside was back in 1989 at Roker Park under John Duncan’s management when they won 4-2.

But Sunderland currently have all the hallmarks of a team in perennial plummet, with last year’s relegation from the Premier League set to be followed by a drop out of the Championship.

When you consider the size of the club - the Stadium of Light is the sixth-biggest ground in the country with a capacity of 48,707 - the level of mismanagement to get the Black Cats into their present predicament is staggering.

Former Wales boss Chris Coleman made three deadline day signings - striker Ashley Fletcher, midfielder Ovie Ejaria and keeper Lee Camp - as he sought to resuscitate their season and for a while it seemed to have made a difference against the Blues.

The Black Cats had most of the first-half chances and ought to have been ahead, with Joel Asoro missing the best opportunity.

But Sunderland are second bottom for a reason and their soft underbelly became all too evident in the ten minutes before the break.

Once Joe Garner had hit his tenth and probably best goal for the Blues in the 35th minute, Black Cats heads dropped.

Town dominated the remaining minutes of the half and all but sealed the win via Adam Matthews’ own goal, the full-back nipping in ahead of Freddie Sears, who would otherwise have ended his now-30-game goal drought.

In the second period the Blues sat back and comfortably repelled whatever Sunderland tried to throw at them with Bartosz Bialkowski never seriously threatened.

Once again, McCarthy’s Town pulled off a win just when they needed one, their hopes of reaching the play-offs having diminished during a January in which they claimed only one win.

Talk of the season already being over had become widespread, even if in the Championship that’s not something that can ever be said with any certainty until the final weeks.

But grabbing much-needed wins when they’re required is one thing, it’s consistent form which will put the Blues, who are still 12th, eight points off the top six, back in the play-off picture.

And that’s not something they’ve managed since that explosive start to the campaign when they won their first four in the league and five in all competitions.

Indeed, Town have only won two games in a row on one occasion since then - the victories at Derby and at home to Nottingham Forest in late November and early December - and their longest unbeaten run is only three matches.

If they’re to be in the end-of-season shake-up - which would be an achievement given the injury situation throughout the campaign and the comparatively tight budget - then that has to change during the remaining weeks of February.

Table-propping Burton Albion are at Portman Road tomorrow in a game Town simply have to win.

The Brewers have lost their last five in all competitions and appear certain to end their two-year stay in the Championship.

Following that, there’s the small matter of the East Anglian derby at Carrow Road when Town will be looking to end almost nine years without a win against their greatest rivals.

In league terms, the two clubs are separated by goal difference and only one place and, putting bragging rights and local pride to one side for a moment, is the type of away game from which the Blues need to be grabbing a point if not all three.

Fourth-placed Cardiff will provide a tough test after that, even if their form has been up and down recently, before a visit to Preston, who are an impressive seventh having been defeated only once in 15 in the league.

Hardly an easy run but Town have to show greater consistency and pick up a decent haul of points, certainly in excess of six, to stretch their play-off push into the season’s final couple of months.