STEVEN Fletcher grabbed the only goal as 10-man Latics tasted defeat on Wearside.
The visitors were by far the better side in the first half, but they failed to take any of a number of decent chances.
James McCarthy, the stand-out performer on the pitch, forced goalkeeper Simon Mignolet into a good save and saw another shot fly just wide of the post.
And Arouna Kone was also denied by Mignolet in a first half dominated by Wigan.
But Jordi Gomez was given a straight red card at the start of the second half for a sliding challenge on Danny Rose - which turned the game on its head.
Within three minutes Fletcher had turned in a mis-hit shot from James McClean and, despite some concerted pressure, Latics were unable to pull it back.
Sunderland: Mignolet; Gardner, Bramble, O’Shea, Rose; Johnson, Larsson, Colback, McClean; Sessegnon, Fletcher.
Subs: Westwood, Kilgallon, Vaughan (for Johnson, 79), Campbell, Meyler, Saha, Wickham.
Latics: Al Habsi; Ramis, Caldwell, Figueroa; Boyce, McCarthy, McArthur, Beausejour; Maloney, Gomez; Kone.
Subs: Pollitt, Watson, Jones, Miyaichi (for McArthur, 85), McManaman (for Boyce, 85), Boselli, Di Santo (for Maloney, 60).
Referee: Howard Webb
Star Man: James McCarthy