Martin O’Neill’s men looked to be cruising home at the break after they had replied to David Vaughan’s early own goal with a Craig Gardner penalty followed by Steven Fletcher’s impressive one-two before Angelo Henriquez’s header set up a tense finish.
The early signs were not good for Sunderland, who went behind after just four minutes thanks to Vaughan’s own-goal. Ronnie Stam could barely have met Jean Beausejour’s dangerous cross with any less conviction, drilling a weak shot straight into the ground.
Sunderland should have escaped but, when James McCarthy flicked the ball into Vaughan, the midfielder could only prod it past Simon Mignolet and over the line.
O’Neill’s men soon shrugged off the disappointment, although it required a slice of good luck to help them on their way.
For, had Stam not slipped under no pressure deep inside his own half, Emmerson Boyce would not have needed to foul Adam Johnson. From the resulting free-kick, Sebastian Larsson’s shot was blocked by McCarthy’s elbow and a penalty was awarded.
Gardner kept his cool to send Ali Al Habsi the wrong way and, within three minutes, the visitors were in front.
New boy Alfred N’Diaye was the architect, peeling out to the left flank before crossing deep to Fletcher, who quickly volleyed home from close range after Al Habsi had repelled his initial header.
Then, getting the slightest of touches to Gardner’s deep free-kick, Fletcher was on hand three minutes before half-time when Johnson knocked it back to curl home a first-time shot in magnificent fashion as Al Habsi remained rooted to the spot.
It was Fletcher’s sixth in seven games against Wigan and was exactly what Sunderland’s dominance deserved and triggered a chorus of boos for the hosts at the break, plus the introduction of Honduran new-boy Roger Espinoza.
Wigan returned in more positive mood and Shaun Maloney drew an excellent save out of Mignolet after racing onto James McArthur’s flick.
As it was, the hosts still had hope when Henriquez was introduced and the on-loan Manchester United man quickly netted his first goal in English football as Maloney seized on some slack Sunderland defending and delivered a perfect far post cross.
Wigan piled forward in search of an equaliser, with Espinoza particularly impressive but, for all their hard work, it would not come, with Mauro Boselli nodding their best chance over.