Johnson scores but Black Cats suffer home defeat.
Sunderland were denied by West Ham despite a superb goal from Adam Johnson at the Stadium of Light.
The Black Cats were 2-0 down when Johnson, off the bench, curled home his 10th goal of the season just after the hour.
Andy Carroll and Mohamed Diame scored goals in either half for United, who held out under significant pressure to take the three points.
Sunderland battled away throughout but just couldn’t fashion a breakthrough in the final third either side of Johnson's strike.
Gus Poyet welcomed back Fabio Borini and Marcos Alonso after both missed the defeat at Liverpool, with Andrea Dossena and Jozy Altidore dropping out.
Meanwhile Ki Sung-Yueng – Sunderland's scorer at Anfield – was preferred to Emanuele Giaccherini in midfield against a Hammers side looking for a second consecutive win.
The game saw Phil Bardsley become the club's all-time leading Premier League appearance-maker, and the defender nearly marked the occasion with a goal after just two minutes.
Liam Bridcutt's raking crossfield ball picked out the overlapping full-back, who went for goal from a tight angle only to see his rising effort flash just wide.
But Sunderland saw their good start turn into a deficit as West Ham took the lead with their first attack nine minutes in. Carroll, running in on goal, rose highest to head in Mark Noble's corner at the far post.
Vito Mannone got a touch on the ball but couldn't prevent it finding the back of the net.
The hosts had a chance to level immediately as Ki burst into the box to square the ball for Lee Cattermole in space, but the midfielder's shot was blocked by the legs of West Ham keeper Adrian.
But the Hammers were full of confidence after their early goal and nearly struck again on 19 minutes, working the ball well out on the right and finding Matt Taylor, who was off-balance when he let fly with a shot which narrowly missed the target.
Despite getting men forward, Sunderland found their opportunities mainly limited to shots from distance, with both Santiago Vergini and Bridcutt firing off-target from range.
The home side were looking for a penalty when they felt Kevin Nolan handled in the box just before the break, but referee Howard Webb waved away the appeals with captain John O'Shea leading the protests.
Connor Wickham created an opening for himself just a minute into the second half and fizzed a shot just past the post, but the Hammers doubled their lead in fortuitous circumstances soon afterwards.
Carroll's knock-down found Diame, whose shot deflected off the covering Vergini and past a wrong-footed Mannone.
Poyet responded by introducing Johnson off the bench in place of Cattermole, though the hosts almost fell three goals behind when Stewart Downing went clean through only to plant his low shot beyond the far post.
But Sunderland kept going and eventually got their breakthrough via a moment of brilliance from Johnson.
Striker Wickham and substitute Craig Gardner – on for O'Shea – combined well on the edge of the box, with the latter easing a through ball into the path of the winger, who curled superbly into the far corner.
Wickham then saw a good chance pass by just three minutes later. The frontman was in the right place to strike when Adrian spilled Ki's powerful shot, but the West Ham keeper did well to deny the forward with a flying block on the follow-up.
Sunderland were in the ascendancy and Borini got a sight of goal when he latched on to Wickham's incisive crossfield ball, but the loanee's rising effort flashed just the wrong side of the post and into the side-netting.
Carroll saw a shot well blocked by Bardsley at the other end, but it was all Sunderland in the closing stages as Johnson's dangerous cross was headed behind for a corner before Alonso's blast from the edge of the box cleared the crossbar.
Bridcutt's floated shot brushed the roof of the net late on after Mannone had advanced from goal to join the attack at a Sunderland corner.
And the Black Cats came desperately close during five minutes in stoppage time through sub Nacho Scocco, who had replaced Ki in the final minutes of normal time.
Alonso delivered a super cross from the left and the Argentinian met the ball with a firm header – but the effort flashed just over the bar as the Hammers held out for victory.
- O'Shea (Gardner)
- Yellow Alonso
- Cattermole (Johnson)
- Ki (Scocco)
- Yellow Wickham
- San Miguel del Castillo Yellow
- McCartney (Armero)
- Reid Yellow
- Nolan (Nocerino) Yellow
- Noble Yellow
- Diamé (Johnson)