Sunderland produced a commanding performance at the Stadium of Light to pick up a well-earned 3-0 victory against Reading that lifts them out of the Premier League relegation zone.
The home side produced a fantastic first-half display and strikes from James McClean and Steven Fletcher, who passed a late fitness test, put them into a perfect position going into half-time.
Reading came out fighting after the restart and had their chances but Sunderland soaked up the pressure before Stephane Sessegnon made sure of the result by adding a third in the final few minutes.
A vital three points for Sunderland, who had lost five of their last seven league games, sees them jump from 18th to 15th, while Reading are now six points adrift of safety.
The Black Cats came out of the blocks firing as McClean opened the scoring for the home side inside three minutes with a fine strike from the edge of the box that found the bottom corner.
Reading replied almost instantly as Nicky Shorey found himself up the other end of the pitch and blazed a shot just over the bar from outside the area after his original effort was blocked.
The electric start to the game continued as Sebastian Larsson conjured up a fine run to beat two players before shooting from the edge of the box, only for Adam Federici to turn the shot just round the post.
Sunderland had another chance as Adam Johnson hit the side netting with an effort before Alex Pearce sent a Shorey free-kick just wide for the visitors.
After chances for both sides it was Fletcher who was finally able to make one count as he turned Danny Rose’s cross into the back of the net with a superb backheel.
Sadly for Sunderland the brilliant Johnson was forced off at half time with an injury, and to make matters worse for the home side Reading upped their performance after the break.
Noel Hunt saw a snapshot at goal, following a pass from Adam Le Fondre, sail just over before Shorey had a free-kick tipped round the post by Simon Mignolet, while Adrian Mariappa should have done better with a header.
There was to be further bad news for the home side as Rose, who had also had a great game, was the next player to go off injured.
As the second half went on Sunderland were able to sit back and defend their 2-0 advantage and Reading’s chances soon dried up.
Sessegnon and McClean both brought good saves out of Federici as the Black Cats looked to finish off the game.
Reading managed to produce a late surge, hoping for one goal that might suddenly help them on the way to salvaging a point. It nearly came when Hunt rose to meet Shorey’s corner but Mignolet pulled off a great save.
With the visitors going for broke, Sessegnon soon latched onto a ball played over the top that Reading were unable to deal with. The Sunderland man was calmness personified as he rounded Federici before knocking it into an open net to confirm the result for his side, who had previously only won one of their last 11 home games in the league.
The three points comes at a vital time for Sunderland who have a trip to Manchester United on Saturday. Meanwhile, struggling Reading welcome Arsenal on the back of five defeats on the bounce.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Steven Fletcher - Sunderland: He made a late return from injury for the game and how important that was for Sunderland. Held the ball up brilliantly throughout, was always a danger and took his goal brilliantly.
SUNDERLAND: Mignolet 7, Rose 8, Cuellar 7, O'Shea 7, Gardner 6, Johnson 8, Colback 6, Larsson 7, McClean 7, Fletcher 8, Sessegnon 7. Subs: Bardsley 6, Vaughan 5, Bramble 5.
READING: Federici 7, Shorey 7, Cummings 5, Pearce 5, Mariappa 5, Leigertwood 5, Tabb 6, McAnuff 7, McCleary 5, Hunt 6, Le Fondre 6. Subs: Samuel 5.