SUNDERLAND RECORDED just their second Premier League win of the season as they upset the form guide by beating the 10-men of Fulham.
Goals from Steven Fletcher, Carlos Cuellar and Stephane Sessegnon cancelled out Mladen Petric`s strike for the Cottagers who saw skipper Brede Hangeland wrongly dismissed.
Martin O`Neill brought Danny Rose back into the side, with James McClean once again left on the bench as Seb Larsson, Adam Johnson and Sessegnon were selected as the supplementary attacking trio.
Martin Jol elected to go with Bryan Ruiz and Dimitar Berbatov up front, the former deployed in a deeper role off of the rangy Bulgarian.
Fulham certainly enjoyed the better of the opening exchanges, Steve Sidwell, Damien Duff and Berbatov combining neatly in and around the area for Sidwell to shoot tamely at Simon Mignolet.
Just after the half hour mark, Hangeland was dismissed for what referee Lee Probert perceived to be a two-footed, off-the-ground challenge. In reality the Norwegian was guilty of nothing more than being slightly over-zealous in his endeavours to win the ball.
Berbatov had the next opportunity for the Whites, shooting low into the palms of Mignolet after Duff squared the ball to him from the left-hand side.
Sessegnon carved out Sunderland`s first presentable chance when he made progress down the right-hand side of the penalty area, his pull-back only finding Fulham feet to clear.
Berbatov very nearly opened the scoring when he stretched Cuellar and shot low towards the far-post, his precise effort very nearly squeezing inside Mignolet`s right-hand post.
In the 50th minute, the opener finally came, but it was O`Neill`s side who made the breakthrough.
Fulham were unlucky to see John Arne Riise`s deflected effort hit the bar before Fletcher was released on the edge of the Whites` penalty area with one sublime pass. The Scot controlled instantly before nudging beyond the onrushing Mark Schwarzer.
Sunderland could have stolen a second when substitute Phillipe Senderos was pressurised into losing the ball, Lee Cattermole squaring to Johnson who saw his curled effort beaten out by Schwarzer.
In the 62nd minute, the hosts grabbed a deserved leveller.
On the left-hand side of the area Duff profited from some lax Sunderland defending and squared for Petric to finish from close-range with his second touch.
Injured in finishing his goal, Petric was withdrawn from play as he received treatment, leaving Fulham with just 10.
It was Sunderland who profited this time, re-taking the lead when Cuellar thumped Johnson`s corner home to head his first goal for the Lads.
Petric returned to the fray, but even with 10 men Fulham could not resist Sunderland and were caught on the break when Sessegnon freed Fletcher down the left.
The Scot hung onto the ball as long as possible before returning to the Black Cats` number 28 who dropped his shoulder and instinctively walloped past Schwarzer first-time from 20 yards to seal the win.
It could have been four when Fletcher bundled home from close-range as he met Jack Colback`s pass but the big Scot was rightly denied for offside.
Fulham: Schwarzer; Riether, Hangeland (c), Hughes, Riise; Duff, Sidwell, Karagounis (Senderos), Kacaniklic (Rodellega); Ruiz (Petric); Berbatov.
Subs not used: Stockdale (GK), Kelly, Smith & Dejagah.
Sunderland: Mignolet; Bardsley, O`Shea, Cuellar, Rose; Larsson (McClean), Cattermole (c), Colback (Vaughan), Johnson; Sessegnon; Fletcher.
Subs not used: Westwood (GK), Wickham, Saha, Kilgallon & Campbell.
Attendance: 25 646
Referee: Mr L Probert.