STEVEN Fletcher’s double helped Sunderland to back-to-back Premier League wins for only the second time this season after surviving a late fightback at Wigan, writes Chris Young.
The Black Cats made the worst possible start after finding themselves behind with less than four minutes on the clock when David Vaughan put the ball into his own net.
But Sunderland were ahead by the 20th minute when Craig Gardner levelled from the penalty spot before Fletcher slotted in the rebound after his own header was saved.
Fletcher took his tally for the season to 10 before the interval as Sunderland made it 3-1.
But Wigan produced a spirited comeback in the second half and hit the woodwork twice before substitute Angelo Henriquez halved the deficit – prompting Sunderland to survive a nervy finale.
Alfred N’Diaye was handed his first Sunderland start, with the France Under-21 international replacing James McClean in the side.
The change saw N’Diaye partner David Vaughan in central midfield, Seb Larsson moved from central midfield to the right and Adam Johnson switch flanks to the left.
John O’Shea and Steven Fletcher returned to the starting XI after missing the midweek FA Cup third round replay defeat to Bolton, with the pair taking the place of Matt Kilgallon and Connor Wickham.
There was also a place on the bench for Ahmed Elmohamady after returning from his loan spell at Hull City.
Wigan made two changes, with defender Ronnie Stam taking the place of cruciate knee ligament victim Ivan Romis and Jordi Gomez replacing David Jones in midfield.
Sunderland made the worst possible start after finding themselves behind inside the opening four minutes.
Jean Beausejour got in behind Craig Gardner down the left and his low ball across the face found James McArthur on the far post.
McArthur shanked a shot into the turf, that was allowed to bounce into the six-yard box before David Vaughan inadvertently directed it past Simon Mignolet.
But Sunderland should have been level within four minutes, when Seb Larsson curled an inswinging free-kick from the right which was flicked on at the near post by Fletcher.
The ball dropped invitingly for N’Diaye, four yards out, but the midfielder somehow directed his header over the top.
The Black Cats went close from another Larsson free-kick moments later, which was glanced on at the near post by John O’Shea, but the header drifted just wide of the woodwork.
Sunderland threatened again in the 14th minute – Adam Johnson’s low cross from the left just evading the outstretched leg of Fletcher six yards out.
The perseverance from O’Neill’s side paid off two minutes later when they were awarded a first penalty of the season.
Larsson’s free-kick from 25 yards out was blocked in the wall by the outstretched arm of James McCarthy and referee Anthony Taylor immediately pointed to the spot.
Gardner stepped up and sent Ali Al Habsi the wrong way, planting his penalty into the bottom left-hand corner.
By the 20th minute, Sunderland were ahead after N’Diaye’s superb overlapping run was picked out by Johnson down the left flank.
N’Diaye lifted a left-footed cross to the far post, where Fletcher saw his header brilliantly blocked by Al-Habsi before the Scot had enough presence of mind to tuck home the rebound on the volley.
David Vaughan fired into the side netting in the 35th minute after Stephane Sessegnon’s low cross was blocked by McArthur and fell to the Welsh midfielder 15 yards out, down the right-hand side of the area.
Three minutes before half-time, Sunderland did add a third when Gardner’s floated a free-kick from just inside the Wigan half into the opposition box.
Fletcher got the faintest of touches to flick it on to Johnson, who managed to get it under control before laying it back to the Scotland international, who curled an unstoppable left-footed shot into the top corner from just inside the area.
Wigan reacted well – Ronnie Stam’s driven cross from the right forcing Mignolet to tip behind in first half stoppage time.
HALF-TIME Wigan 1 Sunderland 3
Wigan made a half-time change with Honduran midfielder Roger Espinoza handed his Premier League debut as he replaced Stam.
Mignolet produced a stunning save within four minutes of the restart when Shaun Maloney chipped a ball into the area to McArthur and received a return ball from the Scottish midfielder.
Maloney hit a shot back across Mignolet from 12 yards out, but the Belgian stopper produced a full length save to parry away with his outstretched left arm.
Moments later, Mignolet was almost the catalyst for a fourth for the Black Cats.
The keeper claimed an inswinging free-kick and launched it immediately to Sessegnon on halfway.
The Benin international drove forward and picked out the bursting Seb Larsson who fired a shot across goal from the right-hand side of the penalty area which drifted inches wide of the far post.
Maloney screwed a shot just wide of the far post in the 64th minute after weaving a yard for himself down the right-hand side of the area, following a cheap giveaway by Larsson.
The woodwork spared Sunderland five minutes later when Jordi Gomez’s free-kick on the right was deflected off the outstretched leg of Fletcher onto the top of the crossbar.
Moments later, Sessegnon spurned a glorious opportunity to seal the three points on the counter-attack.
David Vaughan had burst forward from midway inside his own half and managed to prod it square to Fletcher.
The Scot turned and spread it to Sessegnon, who had open space between him and Al-Habsi.
But the forward tried to take it past the back-tracking Caldwell and lost the ball.
Wigan hit the woodwork for a second time in the 72nd minute when Maloney’s central free-kick from 20 yards pout struck the outside of the post.
Gomez tried his luck from a free-kick 30 yards out in the 76th minute, but it cleared Mignolet’s bar by a foot.
Wigan’s pressure finally told three minutes later though when O’Shea inadvertantly swept the ball to Maloney down the left.
The Scot went too easily past Sessegnon before lifting a cross to the far post where unmarked substitute Angelo Henriquez headed past Mignolet from six yards.
Maynor Figueroa tried his luck from 25 yards in the 82nd minute with a fizzing left-footed drive which drifted just wide of the post.
FULL-TIME Wigan 2 Sunderland 3
WIGAN: Al Habsi, Boyce (Henriquez 71), Stam (Espinoza 46), Caldwell, Figueroa, Gomez, McCarthy, McArthur, Beausejour, Di Santo(Boselli 77). Subs not used: Joel, Jones, McManaman, Golobart. Booked: Boyce (15), Beausejour (63), Henriquez (83)
SUNDERLAND: Mignolet, Gardner, Bramble, O’Shea, Colback, Larsson, Vaughan (Elmohamady 90), N’Diaye, Johnson (McClean 76), Sessegnon (Bardsley 85), Fletcher. Subs not used: Westwood, Wickham, McFadden, Kilgallon. Booked: Colback (68), Bramble (72)