Fletcher double tees up win at Wigan.
Sunderland chalked up a fine away win as top scorer Steven Fletcher led the way at Wigan.
The Black Cats roared back following an early own goal from the unfortunate David Vaughan as Craig Gardner fired home a composed penalty before Fletcher grabbed centre stage.
Two well-taken goals from the dangerous Scot had Wigan reeling as Sunderland built a strong lead they would never relinquish.
Fletcher had missed training through illness earlier in the week but certainly wasn't off-colour on this occasion as he lit up the DW Stadium.
The home side, led by the industrious Shaun Maloney, improved after the break and sub Angelo Henriquez set up a grandstand finish when he reduced the arrears with 10 minutes to go.
But Sunderland held out to make it four wins from their last six Barclays Premier League outings.
Almost 5,000 fans made their way through the wintry conditions to the DW Stadium hoping to see their side make further inroads in their battle to crack the top 10.
Boss Martin O'Neill handed Alfred N'Diaye his first start for the club, while John O'Shea, Seb Larsson and Fletcher also returned to duty.
However, the visitors' afternoon got off to the worst possible start as Wigan grabbed the lead with their first forward foray of the game.
Jean Beausejour's cross from the left was hit weakly goalwards by Ronnie Stam, and the shot appeared to be bobbling off-target before striking the unfortunate Vaughan and flashing past a helpless Simon Mignolet.
It was a cruel piece of misfortune for the visitors, who nonetheless regained their composure and twice almost levelled before ten minutes had elapsed.
Debutant N'Diaye couldn't convert an early chance, stealing in to flick the ball over the bar from four yards after Larsson's free-kick was nodded on.
The visitors had the Wigan defence worried as O'Shea nodded wide at the near post before Fletcher just failed to reach a deliciously incisive ball from Adam Johnson.
But another free-kick in a dangerous position did pay off just after the quarter-hour as Larsson's delivery was handballed by a member of Wigan's defensive wall, with referee Mr Taylor pointing immediately and decisively to the penalty spot.
Gardner – also a scorer on this ground during the 2011-12 season – stepped up and obliged with a great finish, sending Ali Al Habsi the wrong way and tucking the ball into the net off the foot of the post.
It was Sunderland's first spot kick in 33 games - a run stretching back to March 2012.
And the visiting masses had only just finished celebrating when their side roared into the lead on the 20-minute mark.
New boy N'Diaye was heavily influential, arrowing in a superb cross from the left in the direction of Fletcher, stealing in between a defender and the goalkeeper.
Fletcher saw his initial effort parried by Al Habsi, but the ball rode up perfectly for the super Scot to ram a second shot into the corner of the goal.
It was no more than Sunderland deserved.
The game then settled following the breathless start, with Jordi Gomez testing Mignolet with a speculative effort from distance before Vaughan drove a low shot into the side netting at the other end after Stephane Sessegnon crossed well from the right.
Sunderland were on top and surged further ahead three minutes before the break with a goal stamped with all the hallmarks of real class.
Gardner's floated free-kick was nodded on by Fletcher to Johnson, who laid the ball off neatly for the Scot to showcase all his striking elan, smashing a delightful shot into the top corner and reducing Al Habsi to a mere spectator's role.
At the other end, Mignolet gathered Emmerson Boyce's close-range header just before the break and, as expected, the Latics came out all guns blazing at the start of the second period having been booed off by the home fans at half time.
James McArthur tested Mignolet with a low drive from distance, while the Belgian made a great save soon afterwards to preserve Sunderland's two-goal advantage.
A clipped ball into the box found Maloney, who turned and fired goalwards from just inside the box only for Mignolet to dive to his left and turn the ball away. It was a lesson in reactions from the visiting goalkeeper.
The save almost fashioned a fourth goal for Sunderland – Larsson blasting under Al Habsi but inches beyond the far post after being released by a lovely ball from Sessegnon on the break.
However, Wigan continued to apply the pressure, forcing Sunderland back inside their own half as they looked to reduce the arrears.
Winger Maloney was at the fulcrum of everything they produced, giving Jack Colback a tough time down the Wigan right.
He fired narrowly high and wide just after the hour and was denied again when his free-kick deflected off Fletcher, looped up in the air and bounced off the crossbar and behind for a let-off for Sunderland.
The visitors could have put the game to bed with 20 minutes to play when Sessegnon found himself clean through, but the little forward took one touch too many and Al Habsi was able to claim.
Wigan continued to push at the other end with Gomez and Maloney both firing free-kicks wide, but they finally reduced the arrears 10 minutes from time when sub Henriquez nipped in to head home a left-wing cross from close range.
Roared on by the home fans, the Latics laid siege to the Sunderland goal as Maynor Figueroa blasted wide, while a deft clearing header from Colback prevented Henriquez from netting another back-post header.
Nerves were fraying as waves of pressure crashed down on Mignolet's goal, but the visitors' back line held firm as the final whistle was greeted with full-throated joy by the travelling hordes.
- Yellow Boyce (Henriquez)
- Yellow Beausejour
- Stam (Espinoza)
- Di Santo (Boselli)
- Gómez García-Penche
- Bramble Yellow
- Colback Yellow
- Johnson (McClean)
- Sessegnon (Bardsley)
- Vaughan (Elmohamady)
- Yellow Henriquez