Early goal sets up victory over Royals.
James McClean marked the anniversary of his stunning Sunderland debut with an early goal to set his side on the road to victory over Reading.
McClean first entered the fray in red and white exactly a year previous and he terrorised the Royals from the first whistle.
The Irish winger opened the scoring after just three minutes with his first goal of the season, firing in on the turn after after Adam Johnson's corner was only half-cleared.
McClean's strike was the ideal platform on which Sunderland built an important win.
They went on to double the lead through a sublime back-heel from leading marksman Steven Fletcher just before the half-hour.
Sunderland were grateful to two excellent second-half saves from Simon Mignolet to preserve the clean sheet, but the hosts hit back in decisive fashion as Stephane Sessegnon swept away to slot home a well-taken – and well deserved – third goal in addded time.
And the performance and result will come as a huge boost to Martin O'Neill, who admitted the fixture – Sunderland's game in hand – was “massive” in his pre-match analysis.
O'Neill was able to name star Fletcher in his starting line-up following a one-game absence through injury, and he could barely have written a better start.
Some supporters were barely in their seats when Adam Federici punched Johnson's corner out as far as McClean, who steadied himself before steering a firm low shot back through a pack of players and beyond the keeper's despairing dive.
The midfielder celebrated by sliding on his knees in the direction of his manager while the Stadium of Light roared its approval.
Those roars were nearly intensified just three minutes later when Seb Larsson streaked clear after playing a neat one-two with Fletcher only to see Federici tip his shot behind.
And Johnson, the architect of the opening goal, almost added a second himself when he drove low into the side-netting after Sessegnon's deflected shot looped into his path.
All good for the hosts – but Reading served up a warning shot nine minutes in through defender Alex Pearce, who popped up completely unmarked to turn a clever free-kick past the post.
The chance gave heart to a Reading side who have taken just two points on the road this season, but it was Sunderland creating the bulk of the opportunities with their front four enjoying plenty of room.
Sessegnon deserved a goal purely for the quality of a lightning turn on the edge of the box as he received a ball into feet, whipped beyond a defender and cracked a shot inches wide.
But the second breakthrough the hosts were seeking did eventually arrive just before the half-hour thanks to dual moments of quality from Rose and Fletcher.
The former burst into crossing position down the left and delivered a mouth-watering low ball which Fletcher cheekily back-heeled into the net for his seventh goal of the season.
The Scottish hitman could have rounded out the first half with another goal just before the break, but headed just over under pressure after meeting a Johnson corner six yards out.
Johnson, meanwhile, was forced to withdraw with an injury at the break having been clattered by a heavy challenge from Reading captain Jobi McAnuff.
And the visitors came out fighting at the start of the second period, with only a fine save from Mignolet preventing them from halving the deficit just before the hour.
Nicky Shorey's curling free-kick looked set to find the top corner, but Mignolet flung himself across to touch the ball behind.
But the action was soon back up at the other end as the lively Sessegnon drew a good save from Federici with just over 20 minutes to go, pulling down Fletcher's flick before blasting goalwards.
The excellent Rose was given a standing ovation when he was replaced by David Vaughan shortly afterwards, while Titus Bramble joined the fray after fellow sub Phil Bardsley – Johnson's replacement – pulled up injured.
Sunderland added some defensive steel to their earlier attacking flair as they rode out a late push from Reading, with Mignolet somehow keeping out a point-blank header from Noel Hunt with a fine reaction save.
But the hosts hadn't finished at the other end as they added some extra sheen to the scoreline deep into added time.
A clipped ball forward by Carlos Cuellar sent Sessegnon racing away, and the man from Benin shimmied his way around a sprawling Federici to side-foot the ball into the empty net amidst the roars of an ecstatic home crowd.
- Yellow Rose (Vaughan)
- Johnson (Bardsley)
- Yellow Fletcher
- Mariappa Yellow
- McCleary (Samuel)
- Le Fondre
- Bardsley (Bramble)