Sunderland 2 Wigan 0
Sunderland gave their Premier League survival campaign a major boost as they left Wigan in the mire.
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Goals from Dickson Etuhu - his first for the club - and Daryl Murphy, who blasted a 75th-minute piledriver past Chris Kirkland as the visitors made their final push, were enough to claim three precious points.
However, Wigan boss Steve Bruce headed away from the Stadium of Light wondering how his side was doing so empty-handed efforts on an afternoon when they twice hit the woodwork and had another effort cleared off the line.
But opposite number Roy Keane will not have been at all bothered that his team had to ride its luck at times after suffering football's vagaries too often for his liking at times this season.
Geordie Bruce arrived on Wearside determined to get one over on his former Manchester United team-mate for the second time this season.
The Latics won 3-0 at the Stadium of Light in the FA Cup third round last month to add to their league win over the Black Cats by the same score at the JJB Stadium before Bruce's arrival earlier in the season.
Both sides had collected 23 points before kick-off to leave them firmly in the fight for top flight survival and knowing a win could have major implications.
By the time the whistle sounded at the end of the opening 45 minutes, both managers headed for the dressing rooms experiencing mixed emotions.
Keane left with his side 1-0 to the good and knowing they perhaps could have been even better off despite having to play second fiddle for much of the first half.
Bruce will have been happy with much of his side's football as they dominated in the middle of the park and stretched their hosts at the back.
However, he was left to rue a glorious missed chance as the half drew to a close, and the defending which allowed the Black Cats to take the lead.
The game only really exploded into life in the last few minutes, although Roy O'Donovan had clipped the outside of a post with a header and Paul Scharner and Wilson Palacios had both just missed the target from distance.
Sunderland were growing increasingly frustrated when full-back Phil Bardsley surged forward and sent a right-foot shot flying past Kirkland's right-hand post.
That seemed to spark the home side, and they took the lead eight minutes later after Michael Brown, much to his annoyance, was penalised for a foul on Bardsley.
Dean Whitehead curled the resulting free-kick invitingly to the far post when Etuhu met it with a bullet header to put his side ahead.
Emile Heskey perhaps should have cancelled out the Nigerian's strike within seconds, but shot just wide of the far post as he fell backwards.
Had substitute Rade Prica been quicker to react, he might have made it 2-0 on 44 minutes when the ball was taken off strike-partner Kenwyne Jones toe and fell perfectly for him, but he could only stub his effort harmlessly at Kirkland.
Keane has had cause to bemoan his misfortune on more than one occasion this season, but fate smiled upon him twice in quick succession seconds into the second half.
Bruce replaced skipper Mario Melchiot with midfielder Jason Koumas at the break, but it was striker Marlon King who sparked panic at the back for the home side.
Keeper Craig Gordon managed to block his shot, but could not hang on to it and Brown stabbed the loose ball towards the empty net only for Dean Whitehead to hack his effort clear.
Sunderland could not clear their lines and old boy Kevin Kilbane very nearly made them pay when he drilled a low shot against the foot of the post.
Keane's men were in disarray, and they were fortunate to escape again on 52 minutes when Heskey climbed to meet a Koumas cross but saw his header cannon back off the crossbar with Gordon beaten.
Murphy perhaps should have done better when he ran on to a long ball and dragged a 55th-minute shot well wide with the home fans growing more anxious by the minute.
Heskey made way for Marcus Bent with 22 minutes remaining, but it was Scharner who went close with a 71st-minute glancing header which dropped just wide of the far post.
But Sunderland wrapped up a priceless victory with 15 minutes remaining when debutant Andy Reid, on as a replacement for Michael Chopra, drilled the ball across the field for Murphy to cut inside and hammer a left-foot shot past Kirkland's despairing dive and into the top corner.
Gordon had to save from Kilbane and team-mate Bardsley as the clock ran down, but there was no way back for Wigan.
Sunderland Gordon, Bardsley, Nosworthy, Evans, Collins, O'Donovan (Prica 26), Etuhu (Leadbitter 84), Whitehead, Murphy, Jones, Chopra (Reid 74).
Subs Not Used: Fulop, McShane.
Goals: Etuhu 42, Murphy 75.
Wigan Kirkland, Melchiot (Koumas 46), Boyce, Scharner, Kilbane, Valencia, Palacios, Brown, Taylor (Olembe 56), Heskey (Bent 68), King.
Subs Not Used: Pollitt, Granqvist.
Ref: Mike Dean (Wirral).