Sunderland scored four goals in 22 second-half minutes
By Kevin Darling
Sunderland produced a stirring second-half comeback to sink Wigan and secure their first victory in 10 matches.
Mohamed Diame's sizzling 30-yard strike put the Latics ahead just after the break but Asamoah Gyan hit back instantly with a near-post header.
Jordan Henderson slammed the hosts in front from 12 yards before Stephane Sessegnon won and converted a penalty.
Sessegnon then teed up Henderson to slot home his second and make it 4-1, with Franco di Santo pulling one back.
The late Wigan strike could do nothing to take the gloss off a crucial win for Sunderland, who coped admirably with injuries to three key players during the game to produce their best football for months.
The victory ends a terrible run that had sucked Steve Bruce's side into a relegation battle after they gained only one point from their previous nine matches.
With 41 points now on the board, the Black Cats would appear to be safe but there is no such comfort for Wigan boss Roberto Martinez, who saw his side follow up last weekend's promising win at Blackpool with a grisly second-half capitulation.
Sunderland's afternoon got off to the worst of starts. In the first 20 minutes they were forced to replace Phil Bardsley, whose treatment for a head injury caused a six-minute stoppage, and Danny Welbeck, who suffered a hamstring strain.
Sunderland not safe yet - Bruce
Welbeck's scuffed shot in the first minute remained the hosts' only shot on target for the remainder of the half, while the Latics' sole effort was a 20-yard Hugo Rodallega strike, which was beaten away by Simon Mignolet.
The turgid fare served up in the opening 45 minutes gave little hint of what was to follow after the break.
The Black Cats began the second period in lively fashion, with Ali Al-Habsi forced to tip over Gyan's header, but their fragile confidence took a blow when Diame broke the deadlock with a spectacular strike.
After picking up Charles N'Zogbia's pass 30 yards from goal, the Senegalese midfielder spun away from Michael Turner and launched an unstoppable drive past Mignolet.
Sunderland fans, who had seen the last four home games end in defeat, no doubt feared the worst but they would have been pleasantly surprised to see their side hit back immediately
Steed Malbranque's inch-perfect cross was met by Gyan's powerful header at the near post, with Latics defenders calling in vain for offside.
Fate seemed to conspire against Sunderland once more when Gyan's afternoon was ended by yet another injury - and a second hamstring strain of the day - leaving the hosts with no recognised strikers on the pitch or the bench.
Martinez bemoans penalty award
Yet they responded by scoring three goals in 11 minutes.
Midfielder Henderson put his side ahead when he skipped into the penalty area after being fed by Sulley Muntari and hammered a superb left-footed effort into the roof of the net.
Emergency striker Sessegnon then won a penalty when he was barged over by Antolin Alcaraz in the box, and the Beninese player picked himself up to calmly stroke home the spot-kick.
As Wigan's defence proceeded to disintegrate, Sessegnon raced clear and picked out the unmarked Henderson, who took a touch and tucked away his second.
Di Santo converted a Victor Moses cross from close range in the 89th minute but it could not dampen the joy - or the relief - of the Sunderland fans celebrating their first home win since New Year's Day.
Sunderland manager Steve Bruce "We can't count our chickens yet, it wouldn't surprise me if other teams put two or three wins together and we may need a couple more points (to ensure safety).
"Today we had no strikers and we went and scored four goals. How can you analyse it? It's incredible.
"We showed spirit and determination and we did enough."
Wigan manager Roberto Martinez "It was a ridiculous decision for the penalty, they (Antolin Alcaraz and Stephane Sessegnon) were shoulder to shoulder.
"We were in control and then we went into a crazy period.
"After doing all the hard work and getting our noses in front, everything went their way."
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