Duncan Watmore answered Sunderland boss Sam Allardyce’s plea for an end product with a sweet strike to cement a 2-0 victory over 10-man Stoke.
The England Under-21 international rounded off a tense win five minutes from time and just three minutes after full-back Patrick van Aanholt had blasted the home side into the lead with a 25-yard piledriver.
Ryan Shawcross’ controversial 47th-minute dismissal for a second bookable offence had opened the door for Allardyce’s men, but they left it late to secure their first back-to-back victories of the campaign as City keeper Jack Butland provided stubborn resistance.
The win lifted Sunderland out of the Barclays Premier League’s bottom three in front of a delighted crowd of 41,516, who eventually saw their patience rewarded in fine style.
The first half proved a tight affair as both sides defended deep and in numbers. Steven Fletcher led the Black Cats’ line with some intent and Xherdan Shaqiri, Charlie Adam and Bojan Krkic buzzed about in midfield for the visitors but chances were few and far between.
Fletcher scuffed an eighth-minute shot into the arms of Butland after turning smartly on to Van Aanholt’s cross and strike partner Jermain Defoe fired just wide 10 minutes later after neat footwork by Sebastian Larsson had played him into space.
Stoke started to make more of an impression as the half wore on, with Costel Pantilimon having to get down to collect the ball after Larsson’s intervention had sent Shaqiri’s cross towards the Sunderland goal while Bojan skied a long-range effort high and wide.
However, the game changed 14 minutes before the break when Defoe, who had earlier needed extensive treatment on the pitch, limped off to be replaced by livewire Watmore, who immediately started to put the Potters’ defence under pressure as he ran at defenders at every opportunity.
But it took a fine reaction save from Pantilimon 12 minutes before the break to deny Jonathan Walters the opening goal when he met Erik Pieters’ cross, but could not beat the Romanian from point-blank range.
Stoke suffered a major blow just two minutes after the restart when Shawcross, who had been booked before the break for a foul on Fletcher having earlier got away with a talking-to for felling Watmore, was cautioned for a second time for bringing down the Englishman, although replays suggested he was unfortunate.
Allardyce’s response was to send on Jeremain Lens for Larsson , and he very nearly made the difference twice within seconds as he crossed for Yann M’Vila to force Butland into a 55th-minute block with his legs and repeated the dose for defender Sebastian Coates to draw a fingertip save with a firm header.
Central defender O’Shea was replaced by winger Adam Johnson and after being fouled by Pieters, the newcomer squared the resulting 82nd-minute free-kick to Van Aanholt who blasted it past the helpless Butland from 25 yards.
And there was better to come for Allardyce when Watmore broke free down the right with five minutes remaining and drilled a low shot past the keeper and inside the far post.