Fulham 2 Sunderland 1
Sunderland took the lead through a stunning Liam Lawrence volley, but had Stephen Caldwell sent off midway through the second half and headed back to the north east with nothing to show for their efforts.
The Black Cats started full of confidence, and a block from Fulham's Zat Knight stopped a vicious effort from Jon Stead after just three minutes.
Chris Coleman had been forced to play Papa Bouba Diop, Sylvain Legwinski, John and Dean Leacock with slight knocks, such is the extent of Fulham's current injury crisis. And Mick McCarthy's side could sense a chance to notch their second win of the season.
On seven minutes Sunderland gave themselves the perfect start, as Lawrence scored an absolute belter. Knight half-headed clear a cross from Danny Collins, and midfielder Lawrence unleashed an unstoppable left-footed volley into the top corner.
The home side's first sight of goal came on 18 minutes as Diop fired wide, and four minutes later the Senegal international was denied a tap in at the far post as Tommy Miller slid in to divert a good cross from Luis Boa Morte.
Stead saw an effort saved by Tony Warner on 27 minutes, and then Fulham came close with a well-worked free-kick which allowed Diop a shot on goal, but his fierce drive was bravely blocked by the head of Sunderland defender Gary Breen.
The shot proved to be Diop's final contribution, as he limped off seven minutes before the interval and could now be missing for some time as he prepares to head off to the African Nations Cup.
Two minutes before half-time Fulham found an equaliser through John. Legwinski's cross was flicked on by Brian McBride and John planted a diving header over Kelvin Davis and into the net.
The goal gave the hosts a new sense of belief and immediately after the break they should have taken the lead. Collins mis-kicked in his own area but Knight lashed out at the loose ball and sent it high and wide.
The game turned in the 58th minute when Caldwell was sent off for the visitors. The defender clumsily brought down Heidar Helguson on the edge of the area and referee Dermot Gallagher did not hesitate in reaching for his red card.
McBride's set-piece came to nothing - but four minutes later Coleman's men stole the lead.
Boa Morte found Helguson wide on the left and the Icelandic forward produced a superb cross with the outside of his boot. John reacted quickest six yards out and nodded the ball past Davis to put Fulham in front.
Sunderland were rocking and McCarthy reacted by making a triple substitution. Nyron Nosworthy, Andy Gray and Daryl Murphy were all thrown into the fray and within three minutes the latter saw a close-range bicycle kick fly inches over.
Lawrence then came close to levelling with a super curling shot, which whistled just wide.
The numbers on each side were made even on 76 minutes, as substitute Steed Malbranque was forced out of the action after a foul by Miller.
The Frenchman had been on the pitch just eight minutes and as Fulham had already made all three substitutions it led to a tense 10 versus 10 finale to the game.
Murphy had a shot saved in injury-time but Sunderland could not find an equaliser as Fulham held on for three valuable points.