Martin O'Neill joined the ever expanding ranks of the "Swanselona" fan club after seeing the Welsh team outplay Sunderland even when, or rather especially when, they were reduced to 10 men.

Swansea were at their handsome best after Chico Flores's daft dismissal in the 70th minute for the rashest of challenges and pressed forward relentlessly in search of the winner as if they were the ones with the numerical advantage. Victory would have taken them to the top of the Premier League, ahead of Chelsea on goal difference, and, while their new manager, Michael Laudrup, admits they are "not a top-three team", there is no sign of the second-season syndrome that afflicts many in their situation.

"Well played Swansea," O'Neil said. "It was a really tough afternoon for us. Even when they were down to 10 men they kept the ball really well and camped in and around our penalty area. I'm delighted with a point."

The Swans' progress this past decade, under a succession of shrewdly appointed managers, is one of the success stories of British football and should serve as an inspiration to such as Barnet and Bristol Rovers. Ten years ago, playing in a decrepit old ground in front of crowds of 3,000, they were bottom of the fourth tier,, with a team of cast offs who were losing every week to York, Wrexham, Boston et al. Today, in a lovely new stadium, they stand second among the elite, recruiting top players such as Pablo Hernández, Michu and Jonathan de Guzmán from La Liga. It is the sort of transformation beloved of romantics everywhere. Hernández, signed from Valencia for £5.5m last Friday, arrived too late to make his debut and it is not only the international break that could now delay it.

Bought to replace Scott Sinclair, he was here to see that done effectively by Wayne Routledge, who scored Swansea's first goal with a pulverising finish from eight yards. The winger equalised with a stunning strike Steven Fletcher had given Sunderland a 40th-minute lead and the former Scotland striker went on to steal the headlines from his hosts with a man-of-the-match league debut for the club that paid £12m to secure his services from relegatedWolves.

Fletcher, let in by a dreadfully under-hit back pass from Ashley Williams, administered punishment with the cool composure that is the hallmark of the born goalscorer. Oddly at 25 he has never managed more than 12 in a season for Hibernian, Burnley or Wolves.

He has made a flying start to improving on that after restoring Sunderland's advantage with a tap-in second that came courtesy of another defensive error, this time by Flores, whose dismal afternoon was complete when he was sent off for a high kick. Louis Saha, booted to the back of the head, was not impressed.

The second equaliser, which was the least Swansea deserved, came midway through the second half, Michu burying De Guzmán's long, diagonal pass with a towering header for his fourth goal in three league games. But the day belonged to Fletcher. He cost £10m more but it will be money well spent if he provides Sunderland with the cutting edge they have lacked since Darren Bent was sold to Aston Villa in January 2011. Their leading scorer last season was Nicklas Bendtner, with a paltry eight in the league.

"We didn't score enough goals last time," added O'Neill, "and obviously I'm hoping that, if Steven can stay clear of injury, he'll put that right."