Adam Johnson strikes again as Sunderland claim crucial win
Adam Johnson continued his mission to single-handedly fire Sunderland to Barclays Premier League safety as 10-man Stoke were dragged back into the mix.
The £10million England midfielder's sixth goal in as many games secured a 1-0 win - the Black Cats' first in the league in six attempts at the Stadium of Light - and in the process eased them out of the relegation zone for the first time since August.
Johnson struck from close range with 17 minutes gone after Potters keeper Asmir Begovic had spilled Fabio Borini's effort, to the delight of the bulk of a crowd of 34,745.
Stoke, who handed a debut to new signing Peter Odemwingie, were simply not in the game during the opening stages and found themselves defending for dear life.
However, they gradually eased their way into it and would have gone in at half-time level had Sunderland keeper Vito Mannone not pulled off a stunning 39th-minute save to keep out Ryan Shawcross' point-blank header.
But their hopes of mounting a fightback were dealt a fatal blow within eight minutes of the restart when midfielder Steven Nzonzi was sent off for a second bookable offence, although Shawcross looped a header against the bar with six minutes remaining.
Stoke manager Mark Hughes, who saw Glenn Whelan and Marc Wilson dismissed in a 5-1 drubbing at Newcastle on Boxing Day, was less than impressed by referee Robert Madley's decision, but his protests counted for nothing.
Gus Poyet's men have now lost just two of their last 13 games, and will head into Saturday's derby trip to Newcastle brimming with confidence.
By contrast, Stoke have now gone six league games without a win and have been dragged firmly into the fight for survival.
Lee Cattermole's absence from the 18 caused raised eyebrows on Wearside after days of speculation that he is a transfer target for Stoke, although injury was later cited as the cause.