Premier League - Controversial goal sees Wolves beat Sunderland
In an entertaining and open match, both sides were desperate for a win and attacked with vigour, although not always the greatest quality.
And, after Jamie O’Hara appeared to handle, Fletcher struck with nine minutes left to give Mick McCarthy’s side a much-needed win to move them four points away from the relegation zone.
Sunderland, meanwhile, are in a mini-crisis, one point and one place above the bottom three.
The match at Molineux was a cracker that, despite the result, would have pleased new Sunderland boss O’Neill, appointed this weekend following the sacking of Steve Bruce but starting work on Monday.
Both sides created plenty of chances in a first-half that somehow remained goalless, largely thanks to a remarkable point-blank save from Keiren Westwood when Stephen Hunt powered a finish off Matt Jarvis’s fine cross.
Westwood had also kept out efforts from Fletcher and David Edwards, but it was anything but one-way traffic as Wales keeper Wayne Hennessey kept out Stephane Sessegnon and Wes Brown, while Stephen Ward cleared off the line from Sessegnon.
The second half was even more frantic, an end-to-end affair as both teams threw caution to the wind.
Nicklas Bendtner sliced one effort wide after a fine move from Sunderland, and with his side in the ascent they took the lead in style.
After clearing a Wolves corner, the otherwise disappointing South Korea striker Ji Dong-won flicked the ball inside to Lee Cattermole, who unleashed a through ball to the advancing Bendtner.
The Dane, roundly jeered by the home fans, released Sessegnon with an audacious backheel chip, and the Benin midfielder slipped the ball wide to the overlapping left-back Richardson, who unleashed a vicious, swerving drive that conned Hennessey to fly inside the near post.
It was a wonderful goal and one that should have been added to by Larsson, who won and missed a contentious penalty.
The Sweden international, energetic and creative throughout, got past veteran defender Jody Craddock, who stuck out a leg to provoke a flamboyant swan-dive from the former Arsenal and Birmingham midfielder.
While his reaction was dubious, it was a foul - however it appeared that contact was made just outside the box, with Phil Dowd outraging Wolves by pointing to the spot.
Justice was done as Larsson skimmed a weak spot-kick into the arms of a grateful Hennessey, who launched the ball upfield to start a move from which Wolves equalised.
Jarvis, playing on the left, cut inside on to his preferred right foot and lofted a glorious cross that wrong-footed the otherwise excellent Brown and was met by a powerful header from Fletcher, one which squirmed off Westwood’s outstretched hand and into the net.
Wolves were fired up now as O’Hara, Sylvan Ebanks-Blake and Edwards all saw shots blocked by desperate defenders, while Sunderland fired a warning shot when a swerving Bendtner effort was parried by Hennessey.
Then came the moment of controversy. With nine minutes left a cross from Ward was met by Ebanks-Blake, his flick-on aimed at O’Hara. The ball struck the former Tottenham midfielder’s arm and, with Sunderland appealing for a free-kick, Fletcher capitalised on the freeze-frame to hammer a low volley past Westwood and inside the bottom right.
It was a clear handball, although it is debatable as to how easy it was for Dowd to see in a crowded area. Sunderland’s appeals were waved away and, with time running out, the visitors were unable to break Wolves down as their poor run continues.