Lee Johnson enjoyed his return to Bristol as Aiden O’Brien’s first-half strike maintained Sunderland’s push for automatic promotion.
The former Bristol City head coach saw his side win 1-0 against relegation-threatened Rovers.
O’Brien was given space to run onto an Aiden McGeady corner from the right and net with a volley from 10 yards just before the break.
Johnson said: “Overall, I’m pleased because results are everything to us now. But in the first half I thought we had fire in our bellies, without enough ice in our heads to pick the next pass.
“Rovers deserve credit for closing us down and making things difficult. The goal came at a good time because we were able to be calm and reassess things at half-time.
“In the second half we had a number of good chances to get the second goal. When you don’t take them, you give life to the opposition.
“Even so, we were able to defend our lead with only a couple of threats, which you would expect from a team like Rovers, who are fighting for their lives.
“We have put ourselves in a great position, but there are 30 points still to play for. All we can do is take care of our own form and keep getting results.”
Rovers boss Joey Barton gave a debut to 20-year-old Pablo Martinez in midfield and a first League One start to 19-year-old forward Zain Walker.
But, hard as his side fought, a trademark lapse defending a set-piece saw them slip deeper into trouble at the foot of the table.
Barton said: “There were a lot of pleasing things we can take forward into our remaining games.
“Yet again poor officiating has cost us. On Tuesday against Swindon, we had a perfectly good goal ruled out and today the referee has ruled that what should have been a stonewall penalty for us was a free-kick for them.
“It seems like there is an agenda. We can do nothing about decisions, but I am having to teach the players the basics of defending and it was another poor goal to concede.
“We also have to find some confidence in front of goal. That is not something you can instil on the training ground.
“When you come into a club in February, you are trying to win games with someone else’s players. I have to learn about individuals and the only way to do that is by playing them.
“Zain Walker was really lively today and Pablo Martinez had a very good debut. They were among the positives, but it is another disappointing defeat.”