Kenwyne Jones and substitute David Healy secured the points for the home side in the second half after Matthew Etherington had been dismissed for violent behaviour on 65 minutes. The former West Ham winger aimed a kick at Danny Collins after what he felt was an unfair challenge from the Black Cats' defender and referee Rob Styles wasted no time in producing the red card.
The visitors had already enjoyed a lucky escape after Styles missed a handball from Danny Pugh on the goal-line to deny a Steed Malbranque header in the first-half.
Andy Reid pulled all the strings after the interval and his cross in the 78th-minute found Jones who rose above everyone to send a downwards header into the bottom corner of Thomas Sorensen's goal.
Northern Ireland international Healy came on as a substitute in the 85th-minute and sealed the victory with the last kick of the game - a low shot underneath the body of the Stoke goalkeeper.