SUNDERLAND moved out of the relegation zone after triumphing 3-0 in their crunch relegation clash with second bottom Reading.
Martin O’Neill’s men enjoyed an ideal side after James McClean broke the deadlock inside the opening three minutes with his first Premier League goal of the season.
Sunderland doubled their advantage midway through the first half when Steven Fletcher grabbed his seventh of the campaign with an outrageous back-heel to Danny Rose’s cross.
The Black Cats remained solid, rather than spectacular during the second half, although Simon Mignolet had to produce a brilliant save two minutes from time to deny Noel Hunt.
But Sunderland ensured only their second victory at the Stadium of Light since March in stoppage time when Stephane Sessegnon latched onto Carlos Cuellar’s punt forward, rounded Adam Federici and tucked the ball into an empty net.
The win came at a cost though, with Adam Johnson, Danny Rose and Phil Bardsley all limping off with injuries.
SFletcher was a surprise inclusion in the Sunderland starting line-up after recovering from the ankle injury which ruled him out against Chelsea on Saturday, to replace Connor Wickham up front.
It was one of two changes made by Martin O’Neill, with Jack Colback recalled to the side in place of Phil Bardsley – a change that saw Craig Gardner switched to right-back.
Reading made three changes from the side which lost 1-0 at Southampton with Alex Pearce, Noel Hunt and Garath McCleary replacing injured trio Sean Morrison, Hal Robson-Kanu and Jason Roberts.
Sunderland made a dream start after making a breakthrough inside the opening three minutes.
Reading stopper Alex Federici flapped at Adam Johnson’s corner from the right and the ball came out to McClean, 12 yards out, who drilled a shot inside the near post.
Federici denied Sunderland a second two minutes later when Seb Larsson broke on halfway, played the ball into the feet of Fletcher and received a clever back-heeled return pass which put him in behind the Reading back-line.
Larsson steadied himself 20 yards out and let fly with a right-footed shot which Federici managed to palm behind.
Moments later, Johnson fired into the side netting after Stephane Sessegnon’s effort from 25 yards was deflected into his path just inside the area.
But Reading almost netted an equaliser against the run of play in the ninth minute after Danny Rose pushed McCleary on the edge of the area.
Shorey crossed from the resulting free-kick, rather than having a go himself, and he found the outstretched leg of Pearce, who cushioned a volley just wide.
Sessegnon lashed a shot wide in the 22nd minute after spinning away from Pearce on the edge of the Reading area and unleashing a right-footed effort which sliced comfortably wide of the far post.
The second did arrive for Sunderland six minutes later when Rose darted down the left-hand side of the area, crossed low into the area and Fletcher, with his back to goal, back-heeled with his instep beyond Federici into the far bottom corner.
Sunderland almost added a third two minutes before the interval when Fletcher headed Johnson’s right wing corner a foot over the bar from six yards out.
HALF-TIME Sunderland 2 Reading 0
O’Neill made a change at the interval with Phil Bardsley replacing the injured Johnson – the victim of a heavy challenge by Jobi McAnuff in the closing stages of the first half, which somehow didn’t see the Reading skipper booked.
Bardsley slotted in at right-back, with Gardner moving into central midfield and Larsson switching to the right.
Reading had a half-chance four minutes after the interval when Shaun Cummings launched a ball down the right channel for Adam Le Fondre to chase onto.
Le Fondre squared for Hunt, whose first-time shot sailed over the bar from just inside the Sunderland area.
Simon Mignolet was significantly tested for the first time five minutes later when Shorey curled a free-kick towards the top corner from an attractive position, just outside the area to the right of goal.
Shorey’s effort was goal-bound, but Mignolet dived full-length to his left and palmed it behind.
A route one approach almost carved out a third for Sunderland in the 69th minute when Fletcher flicked on Mignolet’s punt forward, Sessegnon controlled and let fly with a dipping volley from 25 yards which Federici just managed to hold.
The Black Cats had another opportunity to seal the points in the 78th minute when Sessegnon broke from halfway and fed McClean down the left-hand channel of the area, who hit a first-time shot towards the far corner that Federici managed to beat away.
Four minutes later, Gardner arrowed a shot straight at Federici after being picked out by Sessegnon’s square ball, at the culmination of a Sunderland counter-attack.
Reading were almost handed a lifeline for a late charge with two minutes to go when Hunt met Shorey’s right wing corner with a thumping header, only for Mignolet to produce a magnificent save - palming it away with an outstretched right arm.
But Sunderland sealed the victory in the fourth minute of stoppage time when Carlos Cuellar’s hoof over the top deceived the Reading back four and Sessegnon held off the back-tracking Pearce before rounding Federici and passing the ball into an empty net.
SUNDERLAND: Mignolet, Gardner, Cuellar, O’Shea, Rose (Vaughan 69), Johnson (Bardsley 46, Bramble (75)), Larsson, Colback, McClean, Sessegnon, Fletcher. Subs not used: Campbell, Wickham, Kilgallon, Westwood. Booked: Rose (53), Fletcher (73)
READING: Federici, Cummings, Mariappa, Pearce, Shorey, McCleary (Samuel 72), Tabb, Leigertwood, McAnuff, Hunt, Le Fondre. Subs not used: Gunter, Gorkss, Harte, Gunnarsson, Obita, Taylor. Booked: Mariappa (13)