JORDI GOMEZ’S penalty double gave Sunderland a survival lifeline after a 2-1 victory over 10-man Southampton.
Sunderland remain a point adrift of safety, but after relegation rivals Leicester and Aston Villa both recorded wins, the Black Cats got the result they needed to record only their sixth Premier League victory of the campaign and close the gap on free-falling Newcastle United to just two points.
Gomez gave Sunderland the lead midway through the first half after the superb Danny Graham won a spot-kick following a high boot from Saints skipper Jose Fonte.
But the advantage lasted just two minutes before a defensive calamity between Costel Pantilimon and Sebastian Coates saw Sadio Mane capitalise.
Sunderland went close on a couple of occasions on the stroke of half-time, but were awarded a second penalty 10 minutes into the second half when Jermain Defoe was brought down by James Ward-Prowse, with the Southampton midfielder sent off.
Gomez regained the advantage, with Sunderland nervily seeing the game through to its conclusion, albeit they required a superb save from Pantilimon in stoppage time.
Danny Graham took the place of Will Buckley to make his first start under Dick Advocaat, as one of two changes to the starting XI.
Seb Larsson returned to the side after his two-game ban, with the Swedish international taking the place of Jack Rodwell.
There was also a place on the bench for Adam Johnson - his first appearance in the squad since being charged for three offences of sexual activity with a child under 16 years old, plus one offence of grooming.
Southampton made two changes, with Victor Wanyama and Shane Long coming in for Steven Davis and the injured Morgan Schneiderlin.
Sunderland produced the first effort on target in the sixth minute when Billy Jones met Larsson’s inswinging free-kick from the left at the back post, but headed straight at Kelvin Davis.
That came during a tepid opening to the game from both sides, with neither mustering any genuine momentum.
Graham lashed a shot high and wide of the near post in the 15th minute after beating the offside trap to Jones’ through-ball.
But it was Graham who won the penalty that saw Sunderland take the lead six minutes later.
Sebastian Coates’ long-ball up to Jermain Defoe looped into the air off Maya Yoshida and as Graham went for the header, he was caught by a high boot from Jose Fonte.
Gomez kept his cool from the penalty spot, slotting it beyond the dive of Davis into the bottom right-hand corner.
However, Sunderland’s lead lasted just two minutes after a shocking lack of communication between Coates and Costel Pantilimon saw the Saints equalise.
Pantilimon came to claim Fonte’s hoofed ball forwards, but Coates collided with the Romanian, who dropped it, allowing Sadio Mane to tuck it into the empty net.
Sunderland were forced into an early change when John O’Shea - clattered into twice during the opening half-hour - succumbed to those knocks.
Connor Wickham was a whisker away from regaining the lead six minutes before the interval when Patrick van Aanholt pulled it back to the striker 15 yards out.
Wickham had time and space to take a touch, but elected to hit a first-time shot which cleared the bar by inches, when he should have at least hit the target.
Sunderland then somehow failed to find the net a minute before the interval when Wickham drove at the Southampton area and played a one-two with Jermain Defoe.
Wickham’s cross from the right-hand side of the area was glanced on by the head of Defoe, pushed away by Davis, but Graham was tackled at the far post as he tried to tuck in the rebound.
Larsson’s free-kick from the far left-hand side of the area was then pushed away by Davis in stoppage time.
HALF-TIME Sunderland 1 Southampton 1
Coates had an escape in the 52nd minute when he inexplicably passed straight to Southampton substitute Filip Djuricic on the edge of the Sunderland box.
Luckily for the on-loan Liverpool man, Djuricic’s shot was awful - a couple of yards wide of Pantilimon’s post.
Sunderland took the lead through a second Gomez penalty three minutes later, with the Saints also reduced to 10 men.
Lee Cattermole played a lovely through-ball down the right-hand channel and Graham did excellently to lay the ball back into the path of Defoe.
Defoe’s first touch was dreadful, but as he went for a second touch, he was clattered into from behind by James Ward-Prowse, with referee Mike Jones immediately awarding a penalty and a red card.
Gomez again kept his composure immaculately, slotting it past the static Davis into the bottom right-hand corner.
With that winning margin, nerves increasingly began to creep into Sunderland’s play, although with a man advantage, Southampton didn’t push hard to get back on level terms.
Substitute Jack Rodwell came close to sealing it in the 87th minute when he hit the outside of the near post after a surging run down the right.
Then with a minute to go, Djuricic saw his shot from 12 yards deflect into the arms of Pantilimon.
Deep in stoppage time, Pantilimon came to Sunderland’s rescue when he blocked Steven Davis’ shot after the Black Cats had made a mess of clearing their lines.
FULL-TIME Sunderland 2 Southampton 1
SUNDERLAND: Pantilimon, Jones, O’Shea (Vergini 31), Coates, van Aanholt, Cattermole, Larsson (Rodwell 82), Gomez, Wickham, Defoe (Johnson 82), Graham. Subs: Mannone, Bridcutt, Reveillere, Buckley. Booked; Jones (32), Cattermole (60)
SOUTHAMPTON: K Davis, Clyne, Yoshida, Fonte, Bertrand, Alderweireld, Wanyama (S Davis 66), Ward-Prowse, Long (Djuricic 46), Mane (Elia 70), Pelle. Subs: Gazzaniga, Gardos, Reed, Targett. Sent off: Ward-Prowse (54). Booked: Wanyama (63)