This was just what Sunderland had been waiting for. For the first time this season, their talented attackers all played well in combination. For the first time since he arrived, Adam Johnson showed why he is an England international. And for the first time since 4 February, Sunderland won an away league game.
Sunderland finally looked like the side they were meant to be, scoring three goals within 20 minutes to win the game. Steven Fletcher, Johnson and Stephane Sessègnon combined and attacked with the imagination and precision Sunderland have lacked all season.
Despite a poor first half, the only incident of which was Fulham's Brede Hangeland being sent off for a two-footed tackle on Lee Cattermole, the visitors were far better after the break. Five minutes in, Johnson produced his single finest moment of quality in a Sunderland shirt so far. Breaking after a Fulham corner, Johnson had the ball near the half-way line on the left and bent a wonderful diagonal pass around the back of Philippe Senderos and into the path of Fletcher, who scored.
Mladen Petric equalised before Johnson helped restore Sunderland's lead, perfectly finding Carlos Cuellar's forehead from a corner.
With an advantage of numbers and goals, Sunderland continued to push for a third. It came with 20 minutes left when Fletcher broke down the left and found Sessègnon, who spun inside and shot into the far top corner.
"Sessègnon has been searching for that confidence all season," Martin O'Neill said afterwards. "He can strike the ball. You wouldn't have thought that from the first six of seven games of the season but he's taking it onto the pitch now."
O'Neill felt his side should have scored one or two more against the hosts who threw caution to the wind. "We became a bit sloppy, maybe because we hadn't won for some time," explained a delighted but relieved O'Neill afterwards, "but we ended up with the win. It was just what we needed."