Fletcher, Cuellar and Sessegnon on target in away win.
Battling Sunderland claimed three big away points as they motored to victory at high-flying Fulham.
Brede Hangeland was dismissed for the hosts in a goalless first half, and the game only really came alive after leading scorer Steven Fletcher gave the visitors a 50th-minute lead.
Mladen Petric's equaliser was then itself nullified quickly by Carlos Cuellar, who picked a vital time to nod in his first goal for the club.
And Stephane Sessegnon's spectacular long-range strike was a fitting way to cap a first away league win since February.
Fulham came out fighting after Hangeland's dismissal but Martin O'Neill's men deserved this win for their craft and desire against a Cottagers side who have been excellent so far this season.
Simon Mignolet made two key saves late on to dispel any thoughts the hosts may have had of a late comeback.
Martin Jol's outfit had played out an exciting 3-3 draw at Arsenal in their previous outing and were lively early on as they looked to continue their good recent form.
Dimitar Berbatov, so influential to Fulham's play this season, came close to an breakthrough four minutes in but glanced Damien Duff's cross just past the post after rising highest in the middle.
Sunderland responded with efforts on goal from Seb Larsson and the tricky Sessegnon, with the former testing Mark Schwarzer from just inside the box before Sessegnon fired an ambitious 30-yarder over the top.
The hosts went into the game having scored 24 goals in just 11 league fixtures and looked a threat going forward in the early stages with Steve Sidwell shooting straight at Mignolet after good work from Duff and Berbatov.
But Sunderland showed an equal propensity to pass the ball around with returning captain Lee Cattermole a key figure.
His counterpart, Hangeland, paid the price for a lapse on the half-hour as the hosts were reduced to 10 men.
The two captains went into a 50-50 challenge in midfield, with Cattermole sent flying by the Fulham player, who went in two-footed and was given a straight red card.
Evidently aggrieved by the decision, the hosts upped the ante, with the crafty Berbatov twice threatening either side of an excellent break from Sunderland - Sessegnon's dangerous square ball hurriedly swept away before Fletcher could strike from 10 yards out.
Both sides had a chance to reorganise at the break and Fulham almost had the lead five minutes after the restart when John Arne Riise's deflected effort looped over Mignolet only to strike the face of crossbar.
But Sunderland's transition from defence to attack was perfect and they made the most of the space to reply instantly with much of the Fulham side caught upfield.
The clearance found Johnson on the left and his delightful raking ball dropped perfectly over the retreating home back line for Fletcher, who drew Schwarzer before slotting home his sixth goal of the season.
The strike seemed to light the blue touch paper as a quiet affair exploded into life with plenty of drama at both ends.
Sub Petric wasted a chance to notch a quick leveller when he blazed over from a tight angle, while Johnson was denied a second Sunderland goal by a fine full-length save from Schwarzer.
But Fulham continued to push and probe and the ten men were level just after the hour when Petric stole in to convert Duff's low cross from six yards.
Again, though, Sunderland showed their strength of character and short-circuited the hosts' momentum by re-taking the lead just two minutes later.
What a time to score your first goal for the club – and Cuellar did just that as he climbed above Sidwell to head Johnson's corner in off the post.
And Sunderland sent the visiting fans into raptures with a third goal 20 minutes from time – and what a fine one it was.
Fletcher found Sessegnon 25 yards from goal and the forward let fly with a shot which swerved deliciously in the air and seared past Schwarzer before crashing in off the far post.
The visitors thought they had a fourth goal when Fletcher slid in Johnson's cross from close range, but the celebrations were cut short by an offside flag.
Despite Sunderland's stranglehold, Fulham continued to press but found the visiting defence in unforgiving mood.
And when the rearguard was breached, goalkeeper Mignolet was unbeatable as he produced key blocks at vital times to deny Sidwell and Petric.
A Fulham goal at that juncture would have given the London club a real shot in the arm, but twice Mignolet advanced off his line to block brilliantly.
Sensing the points, Sunderland counter-attacked incisively into the spaces left as hosts pushed on and could have had a fourth goal when sub James McClean burst forward only to shoot straight at Schwarzer.
Petric blasted wide at the other end in injury time while Mignolet made sure there would be no late riposte with a useful save to deny Aaron Hughes at point-blank range.
A huge three points for Sunderland – and well deserved following a battling performance.
- Red Hangeland
- Yellow Sidwell
- Kacaniklic (Rodallega)
- Karagounis (Senderos)
- Ruiz (Petric)
- O'Shea Yellow
- Larsson (McClean)
- Cattermole Yellow
- Colback (Vaughan)
- Johnson Yellow