Sunderland’s second league win of the season, after conceding 10 goals with no reply in their previous two matches, lifted them out of the relegation zone to 15th place with 11 points from 10 matches and left Palace 17th with nine.
The visitors went ahead after half an hour when Fletcher rose to direct a header into Julian Speroni’s bottom right hand corner from Patrick van Aanholt’s cross after the left back was fed out wide by midfielder Jordi Gomez.
Palace equalised thanks to an own goal by substitute Wes Brown in the 55th but Gomez put Sunderland back in front against the run of play by rifling a low shot from the left into the bottom far corner in the 78th minute as Palace chased victory.
Fletcher scored the third on a breakaway in added time to wrap up the points and ease the pressure on manager Gus Poyet.
“I am pleased because it was a day that was all about winning, fighting, playing ugly when you have to and pass when you have to,” Poyet told the BBC. “We scored three goals but Julian Speroni made a couple of good saves as well.”
Palace boss Neil Warnock added: “It is a cruel game football. We have ended up losing 3-1 which on paper looks a poor defeat but I can’t fault the lads tonight but decisions change games.”
PENALTY APPEALSPalace had two penalty appeals turned down in the first half, one in the opening minute when Frazier Campbell ran onto a headed pass by Marouane Chamakh and went down when challenged by Santiago Vergini, though the Argentine did not appear to make contact.
The second appeal came in Palace’s first attack after they had conceded the opening goal to Fletcher when Van Aanholt looked to have brought down Wilfried Zaha on the right edge of the box though the challenge appeared to be just outside.
Van Aanholt hurt his shoulder in the tackle and was carried off on a stretcher after three minutes of medical attention on the pitch with central defender Brown replacing him in a reshuffled back four that had Vergini moving out to the right.
Towards the end of the first half Vergini almost put Sunderland further ahead when striker Connor Wickham pulled the ball back to the edge of the box where the Argentine volleyed a stinging shot that brought a reflex diving save from Speroni.
Palace’s equaliser 10 minutes into the second half came from Sunderland’s fourth own goal of the season, an indication of their defensive problems.
Goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon made a brilliant save on the line from Marouane Chamakh’s header but Frazier Campbell backheeled the ball into the middle and the unfortunate Brown turned it into the net.
“I couldn’t believe we scored another own goal,” said Poyet. “Wes Brown could not believe it himself. I don’t know if you can train that out of players but we need to get back to basics.”
Sunderland’s Vergini powered another effort at goal close to the hour only for compatriot Speroni again to make the save but there was little the keeper could do to keep out Gomez’s precise finish and Fletcher’s last-gasp goal that sealed the points.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)