NORMALLY so meek going forward this season, Sunderland took full advantage after Fulham had Brede Hangeland sent off in the first half to secure victory at Craven Cottage.
Adam Johnson crafted all three goals – the perfect rejoinder to Roy Hodgson, who overlooked him in midweek.
Over the next few weeks, as he languishes on the sidelines waiting to return from suspension, Hangeland may well relive the moment when he decided to attempt a slide tackle on Lee Cattermole.
It was a decision with grave consequences – not just for this match, but perhaps for Fulham's season as well.
Not only did Hangeland fail to win the ball, he was sent off by referee Lee Probert for lunging in with both feet airborne.
That rules him out of the next three games, meaning Fulham will travel to Stoke and Chelsea and host Tottenham without their best defender, captain and rudder.
Hangeland was not entirely to blame, for Giorgos Karagounis' pass had sold him woefully short.
Cattermole was poised to reach the ball first before Hangeland desperately flew in, both feet leaving the ground.
His dismissal threw Fulham into chaos. By the end, they were shattered and exhausted, vulnerable to the lightning break, even from a Sunderland side distinctly lacking in lightning this season.
It was one of those breaks that led to Sunderland's opening goal early in the second half.
Johnson's cross was low and early. Steven Fletcher's control was exquisite, gathering the ball and pushing it past Mark Schwarzer.
Fulham equalised quickly. An unmarked Damien Duff gathered Hugo Rodallega's header and pulled the ball back to Mladen Petric, who tucked it in from four yards.
However, their joy was short-lived as three minutes later Carlos Cuellar drifted unchecked to the near post to meet Johnson's corner with a glancing header.
Stephane Sessegnon added a third, a magnificent curling shot, and thus was settled a fairly ordinary match.
Sunderland were by no means outstanding, but that will scarcely matter to their long-suffering fans who for the first time in nine months had an away win to toast on their long trek back up north.
"We became a bit sloppy, maybe because we hadn't won for some time," explained a delighted but relieved Martin O'Neill afterwards, "but we ended up with the win. It was just what we needed." (© Daily Telegraph, London)