Sunderland 1 West Ham United 2
Sunderland edged ever-closer to the Premier League trapdoor as they lost a make-or-break game against West Ham at the Stadium of Light.
Set-piece goals early in each half – one from former Newcastle man Andy Carroll, and the other from Mohamed Diame – put the Hammers firmly in the driving seat.
There was controversy, though, as referee Howard Webb failed to award Sunderland a penalty towards the end of the first half despite having an unimpeded view of Kevin Nolan's deliberate handball inside the area.
Sunderland sub Adam Johnson pulled a goal back midway through the second half to set up a frantic final 25 minutes, but the Black Cats could not force an equaliser.
And that leaves Sunderland four points from safety with only eight games to go – and with their next four matches pitting them against top six sides Spurs, Everton, Manchester City and Chelsea.
Sunderland boss Gus Poyet stuck with the same 5-3-2 formation he used at Liverpool in midweek, but made three personnel changes.
Marcos Alonso returned from suspension, Fabio Borini – who was ineligible at Anfield – was also back in the side, while Ki Sung-Yueng started. They replaced Andrea Dossena, Emanuele Giaccherini and Jozy Altidore.
Hammers boss Sam Allardyce made one change to the side that beat Hull on Wednesday, with Guy Demel replacing James Collins.
Sunderland made a positive start, with defender Phil Bardsley – on the day he made his club-record 171 Premier League appearance – swerving a shot just wide of the far post from a tight angle on the right inside the first two minutes.
But the Black Cats were undone by West Ham in what was the Londoners' first spell of sustained pressure.
The Hammers won two corners in quick succession, and from the second they took the lead.
Mark Noble delivered the flag-kick from the left, and Carroll managed to get above both John O'Shea and Wes Brown at the far post to nod home from five yards out.
Sunderland should have been back on level terms four minutes later after Connor Wickham fed the ball to Ki in the left-hand channel and he played it to his right for Lee Cattermole, but the midfielder's left-foot shot was weak and was parried by Adrian, with Cattermole then putting his follow-up over the bar.
West Ham's Matt Taylor fired a shot just wide of the left-hand post on the 20 minute mark, and then 10 minutes before the break Liam Bridcutt fired over the bar from long range.
Three minutes after that came Webb's blunder, as he somehow missed Nolan's handball just inside the area.
The ex-Newcastle midfielder intentionally used his arm to knock the ball away from O'Shea and, despite Webb looking straight at the incident from only six yards away, the official failed to point to the spot.
West Ham doubled their lead five minutes into the second period, and again it was a set-piece that proved Sunderland's undoing.
A long free-kick into the penalty area was chested down by Carroll, and Diame's deflected shot from the edge of the box beat Mannone and found the bottom left-hand corner.
Poyet sent on Johnson and Craig Gardner and switched to 4-4-2 in a bid to get back into the game, and the move paid dividends – but only after Mannone had made a brilliant fingertip save from one-time Sunderland loanee Stewart Downing, when he found himself through on goal on the hour.
In the 65 minute though, subs Gardner and Johnson combined with the former teeing up the latter inside the penalty area, and the England winger curled his left-foot shot over Adrian into the top left-hand corner.
That goal sparked Sunderland into life, and the Black Cats pushed hard for an equaliser.
Borini fired into the sidenetting 20 minutes from time and in the final few minutes sub Nacho Scocco got on the end of an Alonso cross, but his bullet-header flew over the bar.
And Johnson shot wide with almost the last kick of the game.
SUNDERLAND: Mannone, Bardsley, O'Shea (Gardner 60), Vergini, Brown, Alonso, Cattermole (Johnson 54), Bridcutt, Ki (Scocco 80), Wickham, Borini. Subs not used: Colback, Altidore, Cuellar, Ustari
BOOKED: Alonso, Wickham
WEST HAM UNITED: Adrian, Demel, Tomkins, Reid, McCartney (Armero 46), Downing, Noble, Taylor, Diame (Johnson 79), Nolan (Nocerino 84), Carroll. Subs not used: Jaaskelainen, J Cole, C Cole, Jarvis
BOOKED: Noble, Nolan, Demel, Adrian
REFEREE: Howard Webb (South Yorkshire) 1/10