Sunderland debutant Rade Prica climbed off the bench to help his new side seal a vital victory over fellow relegation strugglers Birmingham City.
Rade Prica (left) celebrates Sunderland's crucial second
In a typically hard-fought game, Daryl Murphy opened the scoring with a neat finish from Kenwyne Jones's knock-down.
Cameron Jerome should have equalised when his shot on the break was saved, but City offered little else in attack.
And Prica wrapped it up when he latched on to Liam Ridgewell's mistake, lifting the Black Cats out of the bottom three.
With both teams going into the match with 20 points from 23 games, it never promised to be an encounter for the purists.
However, there was little doubting either side's commitment, with the visitors doing their best to play on the break to counter Sunderland's early endeavours.
Still, there was not one shot on goal in the first 15 minutes, Birmingham going closest when only a timely intervention from impressive debutant Phil Bardsley prevented Ridgewell's knock-down in the box reaching Jerome.
Just as the game began to degenerate into an archetypal relegation scrap, though, Murphy made the breakthrough.
The midfielder did well to nip behind a static Birmingham defence to lash home from the angle after Jones had climbed highest to flick on Bardsley's long free-kick.
Black Cats boss Roy Keane had spoken before the game of his admiration of Jones.
And the striker was certainly at the centre of all that was good about the hosts, twice driving off-target from range and causing the Blues problems with his pace and power throughout.
But despite Jones's quality, Birmingham should still have been level at half-time, Fabrice Muamba sending Jerome clean through on goal on 38 minutes, only for the striker's scuffed shot to be well saved by Gordon.
Murphy, far left, lashes home a fine opener at the Stadium of Light
It was a similar story at the start of the second half, Olivier Kapo firing an effort past the post and debutant James McFadden pressing the Sunderland backline well.
There was no suggestion of Keane shutting up shop, though, with first new-boy Prica and then Roy O'Donovan both being introduced.
And it was the former that doubled the hosts' lead, the Sweden international latching onto Ridgewell's soft back-header to lift the ball over keeper Maik Taylor and home.
Suddenly the hosts were rampant, and Prica thought he had made it three when he bundled home only for the effort to be rightly ruled out for offside.
The introduction of strike duo Mikael Forssell and Mauro Zarate ensured Birmingham were able to launch some kind of late rally on the Sunderland goal.
But only a superb Taylor save kept Prica's header out late on as Sunderland comfortably saw the game home to leapfrog their rivals, who are now without a win in six matches.
Sunderland manager Roy Keane:
"It was a big result for us to get a victory against one of the teams battling around us in the league.
"We felt before the game we had been in decent form and even though the performance wasn't the best, once we'd got the first goal I never felt like we'd lose.
"Phil Bardsley and Rade Prica were outstanding for us - I'm delighted for both - and I'm happy that this squad of players can do well for us."
Birmingham boss Alex McLeish:
"It's a very disappointing result. They came at us early and I thought we'd weathered the storm until we conceded a poor goal.
"The second goal also came from an error from us. We shouldn't lost our discipline like that and Sunderland deserved to win.
"We've been inconsistent all season and all I can ask from the players is a little extra bit of quality on an individual basis, because that will make us better as a team."
Sunderland: Gordon, Bardsley, Nosworthy, Evans, Collins, Whitehead, Miller, Yorke (Prica 46), Murphy, Stokes (O'Donovan 63), Jones.
Subs Not Used: Fulop, McShane, Waghorn.
Goals: Murphy 15, Prica 65.
Birmingham: Maik Taylor, Kelly, Ridgewell, Schmitz, Queudrue, Larsson (Forssell 66), Johnson, Muamba, Kapo, Jerome (Zarate 66), McFadden.
Subs Not Used: Doyle, O'Connor, Parnaby.
Booked: Kapo, Schmitz, Ridgewell.
Ref: Mark Halsey (Lancashire).
BBC Sport Player Rater man of the match: Sunderland's Kenwyne Jones 7.89 (on 90 minutes).
Please note that you can still give the players marks out of 10 on BBC Sport's Player Rater after the match has finished.