RICKY ALVAREZ’s first Sunderland goal sent the Black Cats into the FA Cup fifth round after a second-half fightback at Fulham.
The on-loan Inter Milan winner scored a stunner at Craven Cottage in the fourth round replay to secure a trip to League One Bradford in the last 16 of the competition.
Completely against the run of play, Sunderland found themselves trailing at the interval after Hugo Rodallega took advantage of some awful marking from a corner.
But Sunderland fought back after the break, albeit they received a hefty slice of fortune after Fulham keeper somehow spilled a harmless cross into his own net.
That gave Sunderland the impetus to go for the winner, with Alvarez capping a mazy run with an unstoppable shot into the net.
Sunderland then sealed their passage into the fifth round in stoppage time when Danny Graham was brought down in the area and Jordi Gomez coolly converted from the spot.
Jermain Defoe remained in the starting line-up, despite Gus Poyet indicating after last weekend’s win over Burnley that he would rest the England striker.
But Poyet was forced to make a late change to the side after Connor Wickham pulled out after the warm-up, to be replaced by Steven Fletcher.
Fletcher’s inclusion turned out to be one of four changes - Vito Mannone replacing Costel Pantilimon in goal, Ricky Alvarez coming in for the injured Adam Johnson and Emanuele Giaccherini handed a midfield role ahead of the absent Seb Larsson.
But there were only six players named on the bench, with Larsson, Jack Rodwell, Billy Jones nor Will Buckley involved.
Fulham also made three changes, with Jack Grimmer, Seko Fofana and Alexander Kacaniklic included.
Despite the late withdrawal of Wickham, Sunderland started the game brightly, spending the first few minutes in the Fulham half, only to be let down by their crossing.
Sunderland came close to making that early pressure count in the 14th minute when Anthony Reveillere’s cross from the right looped over the head of Fletcher and found Jordi Gomez at the far side of the area.
Gomez unleashed a powerful low, left-footed drive which was turned away at the near post by Fulham keeper Marcus Bettinelli at the near post.
Moments later, Fulham lost possession in midfield and Giaccherini slid in Fletcher down the left-hand side of the area.
Fletcher looked to have taken the ball too wide, but his shot across goal required an excellent stop from Bettinelli to tip it around the post.
Bettinelli came to the rescue again in the 23rd minute when Giaccherini’s angled ball over the top left Fletcher in behind the home defence, but the Fulham keeper just got to the ball ahead of the striker.
But completely against the run of play, it was Fulham who broke the deadlock in the 28th minute when Ross McCormack’s low corner from the left wasn’t deal with at the near post and Cauley Woodrow smashed a shot against the underside of the bar from six yards out.
It fell to Hugo Rodallega, who managed to scramble the ball in.
Sunderland continued to test Bettinelli though - Alvarez making a yard on Fulham right-back Jack Grimmer before firing a shot in towards the near post which was blocked by the keeper.
However, buoyed by the goal, Fulham remained a threat on the counter-attack, with McCormack pulling a shot a yard wide from the edge of the area in the 37th minute.
Gomez whistled a long-ranger just past the post with a minute of the half to go, but Sunderland went into the interval trailing.
HALF-TIME Fulham 1 Sunderland 0
Sunderland began the second half as they had done the first and spurned a good chance to draw level in the 52nd minute when Alvarez cut inside off the right and hit a shot which deflected and screwed across goal into the path of Patrick van Aanholt.
But it fell on the Dutchman’s weaker right foot and he scuffed a shot wide of the near post.
Sunderland remained vulnerable from corners though - Kacaniklic heading wide at the far post when he should have at least got his effort on target.
It was to take a huge slice of fortune for Sunderland to draw level in the 61st minute.
Van Aanholt’s cross from the left was deflected and looped into the air towards Bettinelli, only for the Fulham keeper to spill the ball horribly into his own net under minimal pressure.
Sunderland came desperately close to going ahead just four minutes later when van Aanholt fed Giaccherini, 15 yards out, and the Italian curled a right-footed inches wide of the far post with Bettinelli stranded.
Danny Graham was introduced from the substitute’s bench and immediately made a chance for Alvarez when he fed the Argentine international down the right-hand side of the area.
But Bettinelli was off his line sharply and saved at the feet of Alvarez.
Alvarez wasn’t to be denied though as he handed Sunderland the lead with a stunning goal in the 75th minute.
He cut inside off the right and went past two Fulham players before firing an unstoppable shot into the far corner.
Sunderland sealed their passage in stoppage time when Graham was brought down in the area after a clumsy challenge from Fulham centre-half Shaun Hutchinson.
Gomez sent Bettinelli the wrong way from the spot - coolly sending his kick into the bottom right-hand corner.
FULL-TIME Fulham 1 Sunderland 3
FULHAM: Bettinelli, Grimmer, Hutchinson, Bodurov, Stafylidis, Fofana (Christensen 82), Tunnicliffe, Kacaniklic (Roberts 83), McCormack, Rodallega, Woodrow. Subs not used: Kiraly, Zverotic, Burn, Williams, Dembele. Booked: Woodrow (40), Bodurov (62), Fofana (82), McCormack (89), Hutchinson.
SUNDERLAND: Mannone, Reveillere, Vergini, O’Shea, van Aanholt, Bridcutt, Gomez, Giaccherini (Brown 90), Alvarez (Agnew 87), Fletcher (Graham 74), Defoe. Subs not used: Pantilimon, Coates. Booked: Bridcutt (25), Giaccherini (82)