Six-goal thriller ends in home defeat.
In-form West Bromwich Albion won their fourth straight game despite two Sunderland comebacks at the Stadium of Light.
The Black Cats found themselves two goals down at the break following strikes from Zoltan Gera and Shane Long.
Craig Gardner reduced the deficit with a fine free-kick only for Albion to reply again through a Romelu Lukaku penalty.
However, Sunderland weren’t bowed and pulled within one goal again a minute from time as Stephane Sessegnon smashed home his second goal in as many games.
Sub Marc-Antoine Fortune gave the scoreline a sheen for the Albion when he fired home from close range deep into stoppage time with Sunderland pushing men forward looking for an equaliser.
Martin O’Neill’s men battled away and will have been scratching their heads at 2-0 down at half time following a good first-half display.
The Sunderland chief's frustration will have deepened after he lost captain Lee Cattermole to injury in the first period, shortly followed by key defender John O'Shea.
The Black Cats pressed again in the second 45 minutes but were caught on the counter-attack by an Albion side who have enjoyed an excellent start to the season.
Steve Clarke’s outfit went into the game with 23 points to their name from 12 games following an impressive home win over Chelsea.
However, it was Sunderland who created the game's first opening five minutes in.
Sessegnon had the Albion defence on the back foot with a driving run from deep and found Johnson, who drilled in a low shot which was well fielded by Boaz Myhill at his near post.
Peter Odemwingie then saw an effort from distance deflected straight to Simon Mignolet, but it was Sunderland making much of the early attacking headway.
Myhill was called into action again 18 minutes in to foil a superb attacking move.
Johnson deftly rolled Danny Rose's pass round the corner for the onrushing Sessegnon, who lifted the ball delightfully over a defender's head before arrowing a volley towards the bottom corner, forcing Myhill to tip the ball behind.
Sessegnon, with confidence bubbling once more, threatened once more 25 minutes in, forcing Myhill to block a close-range header from Seb Larsson's curling free-kick.
The rebound ran agonisingly loose on the edge of the six-yard box, with no Sunderland player able to capitalise before Gareth McAuley stabbed the ball behind.
And the miss proved key as Albion opened the scoring against the run of play on the half-hour.
Gera created space with an angled run across the face of the penalty area and beat Mignolet with a curling snapshot which nestled in the corner despite the Sunderland keeper getting a hand to the ball.
Back came Sunderland with O'Shea curling just off-target before Sessegnon saw a deflected low drive saved following a strong run down the left.
But despite a strong first half Sunderland found themselves two goals down at the break as Long doubled the visitors' lead when Mignolet came to collect down low only to spill the ball to the striker, who rolled it into the empty net.
The keeper more than made up for his mistake just after the break, though, advancing well to pull off a fine block after Long raced through.
Johnson came close to reducing the arrears, drifting in off the right wing before testing Myhill with a blast from distance which the Albion keeper did well to turn away.
Fletcher also came close with a header from Larsson's fine cross, while Chris Brunt came close at the other end with a cross-shot which fizzed across the face of goal and wide.
Sunderland were desperately searching for a break and they got it with 17 minutes to go. Gardner's free-kick clipped Fortune in the defensive wall and flew past Myhill, who got a touch but couldn't prevent the ball from going in.
Sessegnon then came close, blasting just past the post, but the comeback was derailed nine minutes from time when Johnson fouled Liam Ridgewell for a penalty, which was blasted home by Lukaku.
The on-loan Chelsea man almost grabbed another goal when he screwed the ball across goal from a tight angle, but Sunderland were back in it again three minutes from time.
A left-wing corner was headed goalwards by Gardner, and although Myhill made the save, there was Sessegnon to scoop the loose ball into the roof of the net for his second goal in as many games.
The game became increasingly frantic, with Sunderland desperately seeking an equaliser and West Brom equally willing on the counter.
Lukaku struck the post with a powerful shot, while Carlos Cuellar saw a close-range header well saved by Myhill at the other end.
But the fightback was just a bridge too far for Sunderland in the end and the Baggies made sure of the points as Fortune broke beyond Phil Bardsley to curl the ball home with almost the last kick of the game.
- Yellow O'Shea (McClean)
- Cattermole (Gardner)
- Colback (Saha)
- Yellow Larsson
- Ridgewell Yellow
- Morrison (Tamas) Yellow
- Odemwingie (Fortuné)
- Long (Lukaku) Yellow
- Yellow Gardner