Fletcher comes up trumps again at St Mary's.
There was Christmas cheer all round as Sunderland set themselves up for the festive period with a fine win at Southampton.
Another goal from leading marksman Steven Fletcher proved the difference as the Black Cats downed a Saints side who had taken 11 points from their previous five games.
The decided strike was brilliantly crafted and Martin O'Neill's side showed their steel at the other end too with a superb defensive performance.
Fletcher was a willing runner all afternoon and showcased his natural attacking instinct with a real poacher's finish to cap his afternoon with a goal.
He stole in to drive the ball home after Stephane Sessegnon had redirected Adam Johnson's low cross into his path.
And the goal was no more than Sunderland deserved as they picked up a second win in three games.
O'Neill had called on his side to build on the recent victory over Reading and his side responded, comfortably holding Nigel Adkins' side at bay.
The Black Cats were backed by almost 2,000 fans on the south coast – an amazing effort just three days before Christmas.
And they almost had the lead inside the first minute as Saints keeper – and former Sunderland man – Kelvin Davis was tested with some supporters barely in their seats.
Sessegnon turned brilliantly away from his marker when receiving a pass from Danny Rose and arrowed a shot goalwards which Davis did brilliantly to tip behind.
But the hosts soon settled and came close themselves after nine minutes – Rickie Lambert firing an awkward free-kick through a crowd of players and seeing the ball deflected narrowly beyond the far post.
A greasy surface made life difficult for the players, but both teams continued to generate chances in an open game.
Seb Larsson and James McClean both tested Davis with low drives, while Fletcher touched a Craig Gardner cross wide at the front post after making an excellent run across his marker.
At the other end the dangerous Gaston Ramirez drove through the middle and let fly only to see Simon Mignolet get down to parry the ball out.
That was Southampton's best chance of the game and Mignolet not significantly troubled again for the remainder of the 90 minutes.
The pace dropped after the early flurry with defences on top, although Carlos Cuellar had to produce a superb sliding tackle to prevent Lambert running clear on goal 10 minutes before the break.
Southampton pushed and probed, but Sunderland hit back and delighted the away contingent by fashioning a fine opening goal three minutes before the break.
Johnson scampered to the by-line, his cross was brilliantly touched on by Sessegnon and the deadly Fletcher popped up to sweep the ball into the back of the net.
It was an ideal way for Sunderland to end the half – and they came close again in the early stages of the second period after Lambert had curled a speculative shot off-target for the visitors.
Craig Gardner whipped in a lovely low ball from the right which spun off the greasy surface and just beyond the desperate lunges of both Sessegnon and Fletcher.
At the other end Saints skipper Jose Fonte gave the Sunderland defence a moment of concern when he met a corner from sub Steve de Ridder just after the hour, but fortunately for the visitors his powerful header was off-target.
The home fans had little to cheer in the final stages although Adkins' men did mount a late rally in an attempt to snatch a point.
Sub Guly Do Prado fired wide in a scramble during four minutes of added time, but Sunderland held on comfortably to kick off the Christmas period with three excellent points.
- Puncheon (Do Prado)
- Schneiderlin (Davis)
- Mayuka (De Ridder)
- Johnson (Campbell) Yellow
- Larsson (Bardsley) Yellow
- Sessegnon (Vaughan)
- De Ridder
- Do Prado
- Bardsley Yellow