Twelve months since making his senior debut for the Black Cats as a substitute in O'Neill's first game in charge, a 2-1 win over Blackburn, the Ireland international fired them into a third-minute lead which they were never in danger of relinquishing.
Striker Steven Fletcher, whose return from an ankle injury gave his team an all together more threatening appearance, increased the advantage with an audacious 28th-minute backheel, before Stephane Sessegnon rounded keeper Adam Federici at the death to secure just a third league win in 24 attempts and the first against 11 men since March.
The hosts took the lead inside three minutes. Adam Federici could only punch Adam Johnson's inswinging corner to McClean on the edge of the box and he lashed home.
Reading started to work their way into the game with Jobi McAnuff seeing plenty of the ball down the left, but all too often, they could not find the final ball to trouble the home defence. At the same time, they looked vulnerable to the break with Alex Pearce and Adrian Mariappa finding Fletcher a real handful.
But Reading's cause became all the more forlorn on 28 minutes when full-back Danny Rose surged forward and delivered a low cross to the near post, where Fletcher flicked it outrageously past the helpless Federici.
Johnson, who had earlier been felled by McAnuff with a crude challenge, failed to reappear after the break and was replaced by Phil Bardsley.
Fletcher could not climb high enough to make meaningful contact with an early McClean cross but it was Reading who began to threaten as the half wore on.
However, Sessegnon applied the required finish to Carlos Cuellar's long ball deep into injury time to secure the points.
- Sports & Recreation
- Steven Fletcher
- Adam Federici