SUNDERLAND moved six points clear of the relegation places after a comprehensive 3-0 win over West Ham United at the Stadium of Light.
Goals from Seb Larsson, Adam Johnson and James McClean earned the points for Martin O’Neill’s side, who stay 14th in the Premier League table.
It was as good as the Black Cats have been all season with strong performances throughout the team and they fully deserved the win against a West Ham side that looked void of ideas and creativity on Wearside.
With Danny Rose and Carlos Cuellar missing through injury, O’Neill was forced to make two changes to his starting XI. John O’Shea returned to captain the side, while Stephane Sessegnon partnered Steven Fletcher after missing last weekend’s FA Cup draw at Bolton.
The Benin international has suffered a lapse in form this season, but from the off he, and Sunderland, looked up for the test and quickly put the Hammers on the back foot.
Sessegnon, Larsson and Fletcher were combining well in particular with Adam Johnson also causing problems down the right.
The opening half an hour was dominated by the Black Cats, so it was little surprise to see them take a first half lead, and what a strike it was.
Alou Diarra could only clear Johnson’s low cross into the path of Larssson and he took a touch before unleashing a 22-yard screamer past Jussi Jaaskelainen.
It was a deserved lead for the Black Cats and they wasted no time pushing for a second.
The lively Sessegnon shimmied past James Collins and advanced into the area, but he could only direct a low shot wide of the near post.
Titus Bramble also went close to prodding in a Johnson free-kick, but even if he had finished the linesman had flagged for offside.
In a bid to get back into the game, Sam Allardyce introduced Ricardo Vaz Te for Jack Collison at half time, but less than two minutes into the second half, the Black Cats made it two.
Again, Sessegnon was involved, breaking down the right and squaring to James McClean, who was in acres of space. Jaaskelainen parried his shot into the path of Dan Potts, but he lost out to Fletcher and the ball eventually fell to Johnson, who finished from the back post.
It could have been three minutes later when Sessegnon played in Colback on the left but his initial shot was blocked with his follow-up clipping the crossbar.
Fletcher did have the ball in the back of the net, but he was flagged offside, which TV replays showed to be the right decision.
The Black Cats did make it three in the 74th minute when McClean sent a low shot into the far corner after Sessegnon’s shot fell to him.
O’Neill introduced £3.5million signing N’Diaye with six minutes left of normal time and the Frenchman almost scored with his first touch when he sent a low, sweeping drive inches wide of the post.
Sunderland (4-4-2): Mignolet; Gardner, O’Shea, Bramble, Colback; Johnson (N’Diaye 84), Vaughan, Larsson, McClean; Sessegnon (McFadden 88), Fletcher (Wickham 79).
Subs (not used): Westwood, Bardsley, Campbell, Kilgallon.
West Ham United (4-2-3-1): Jaaskelainen; Demel; Collins (Tomkins 34), Reid, Potts; Diarra, Collison (Vaz Te 46); Jarvis, Nolan, Cole; Cole (Chamakh 57).
Subs (not used): Spiegel, Taylor, Diame, O’Neil.