Steven Fletcher's second-half double ruined new Sunderland manager Martin O'Neill's first look at his team.
O'Neill was in the directors' box as Sunderland looked on course to welcome him with only their third Premier League win on the season after Kieran Richardson put them ahead early in the second half.
The game then changed in a matter of seconds as Wolves were revived with growing anxiety sweeping around Molineux after a sequence of eight defeats in their last 10 Premier League games.
Sunderland were awarded a controversial penalty with 18 minutes remaining when Sebastian Larsson tumbled threatrically under minimal contact from Jody Craddock, giving the Swede the opportunity to effectively seal the win.
Larsson's spot-kick was saved by Wolves keeper Wayne Hennessey as justice was done - and Wolves took advantage to level inside 30 seconds as Fletcher's header beat Kieren Westwood.
The momentum was with Wolves and Mick McCarthy's men confirmed only their fourth league win this term as Fletcher fired low past Westwood with nine minutes left as Sunderland appealed for handball against Jamie O'Hara.
O'Neill starts work at the Stadium of Light in earnest on Monday after succeeding sacked Steve Bruce - and Sunderland's brittle nature under pressure will have already drawn his attention.
And yet O'Neill, who left Bruce's right-hand man Eric Black in charge of team affairs, will also know that Sunderland wasted a perfect opportunity to start his reign with a win, only to squander the chance after Larsson had missed the crucial penalty.
Wolves boss McCarthy admitted he was under pressure to get a result after the recent dismal sequence and rain-soaked Molineux celebrated in style following a real show of character in the closing stages to fashion the win.
O'Neill made a low-key entrance moments before kick-off, flanked by long-time backroom colleague Steve Walford and goalkeeping coach Seamus McDonagh.
DID YOU KNOW?
- Wolves have won back-to-back Premier League home matches for the first time since February
And they will have both been impressed by the first-half contribution of Sunderland keeper Westwood, who made two crucial interventions to keep O'Neill's new side on terms.
Westwood was alert to clutch Fletcher's early header after a goalmouth scramble which had Wolves appealing for a penalty as Lee Cattermole appeared to drag down David Edwards.
He made an even more vital contribution as the interval approached, miraculously clawing away Stephen Hunt's point-blank shot as the Republic of Ireland midfield midfield man looked certain to turn in an inviting cross from Matt Jarvis.
Sunderland had moments of their own in a first period short on quality, notably when Ward was forced to scramble Stephane Sessegnon's effort off the line at the conclusion of a sweeping counter attack.
A move of similar quality saw Sunderland go ahead after 52 minutes. Wolves were caught cold on the break as Sessegnon fed Richardson, whose powerful finish deceived Hennessey as it flew in a high at his near post.
O'Neill, sitting high in the stand, barely registered any emotion at Sunderland's first goal since his appointment on Saturday.
Sunderland threatened to punish Wolves further as they pushed forward in search of an equaliser - prompting McCarthy to make a double change by sending on Sylvain Ebanks-Blake and Adam Hammill for Hunt and Kevin Doyle.
Hennessey was called into action when Ji Dong-Won sent in a glancing header. It was the South Korean's final involvement as he was then replaced by Ahmed Elmohamady.
Sunderland were then handed an unexpected chance to wrap up the points in dubious fashion in the 72nd minute. Larsson fell spectacularly with Craddock in close attendance. There was little or no meaningful contact and Molineux erupted in fury as referee Phil Dowd pointed to the spot.
Hennessey provided a measure of justice by saving Larsson's poor penalty - and the scale of the reprieve was emphasised as Wolves equalised within seconds.
Westwood got a hand to Fletcher's header from another fine Jarvis cross, but could not keep it out.
Sunderland, from scenting victory, were now on the retreat and Wolves completed the turnaround with Fletcher's second nine minutes later. The Black Cats claimed handball against O'Hara as the striker took control in the area, but he did not waste time as he shoot low past Westwood.
Wolves now had a precious lead to protect and they did so successfully to ensure O'Neill's takes over a side on the back of a defeat.
Live Text Commentary
Full Time The referee brings the game to a close.90:00 +4:41
The offside flag is raised against Ahmed Elmohamady. Wayne Hennessey takes the free kick.90:00 +4:08
Keiren Westwood takes the free kick.90:00 +4:08 Booking
Booking Sylvan Ebanks-Blake receives a yellow card.90:00 +3:57
Unfair challenge on Wes Brown by Adam Hammill results in a free kick.89:27
Christophe Berra fouled by Ryan Noble, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick taken by Wayne Hennessey.85:45
Wayne Hennessey takes the direct free kick.85:45 Substitution
Substitution (Sunderland) makes a substitution, with Ryan Noble coming on for Stephane Sessegnon.85:45 Booking
Booking Nicklas Bendtner is given a yellow card.85:39
Nicklas Bendtner concedes a free kick for a foul on Adam Hammill.85:29
Nicklas Bendtner takes a shot. Roger Johnson gets a block in.84:11
Corner taken by Adam Hammill from the right by-line, Nicklas Bendtner makes a clearance. Stephen Ward has an effort at goal from 25 yards. Blocked by John O'Shea.84:00
Sylvan Ebanks-Blake takes a shot. Blocked by Wes Brown.81:49
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Kieran Richardson by Sylvan Ebanks-Blake. Kieran Richardson takes the free kick.80:41
Jamie O'Hara provided the assist for the goal.80:41 Goal scored
Goal! - Steven Fletcher - Wolves 2 - 1 Sunderland Steven Fletcher fires in a goal from inside the box to the bottom right corner of the goal. Wolverhampton 2-1 Sunderland.79:58
Nicklas Bendtner takes a shot. Save by Wayne Hennessey.78:22
Corner from the right by-line taken by Sebastian Larsson, clearance made by Roger Johnson.77:23
Sylvan Ebanks-Blake takes a shot. Jack Colback gets a block in.76:35
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Phillip Bardsley by Sylvan Ebanks-Blake. Keiren Westwood restarts play with the free kick.
Unfair challenge on Sylvan Ebanks-Blake by John O'Shea results in a free kick. Adam Hammill crosses the ball in from the free kick.75:10
Ahmed Elmohamady has an effort at goal from outside the penalty area which goes wide right of the goal.73:56 Substitution
Substitution (Wolverhampton) makes a substitution, with Roger Johnson coming on for Jody Craddock.72:45
Matthew Jarvis provided the assist for the goal.72:45 Goal scored
Goal! - Steven Fletcher - Wolves 1 - 1 Sunderland Steven Fletcher scores a headed goal from close in. Wolverhampton 1-1 Sunderland.72:35 Penalty
A save by Wayne Hennessey from penalty by Sebastian Larsson. Wolverhampton 0-1 Sunderland.71:04
Jody Craddock gives away a Penalty for an unfair challenge on Sebastian Larsson.69:23 Substitution
Substitution Ahmed Elmohamady on for Dong-Won Ji.68:03
Dong-Won Ji takes a shot. Wayne Hennessey makes a save.66:50
Free kick awarded for an unfair challenge on Jack Colback by Sylvan Ebanks-Blake. Phillip Bardsley restarts play with the free kick.66:08
Outswinging corner taken by Adam Hammill from the right by-line played to the near post, clearance made by Lee Cattermole.65:21 Substitution
Substitution Sylvan Ebanks-Blake joins the action as a substitute, replacing Kevin Doyle.65:08 Substitution
Substitution Adam Hammill comes on in place of Stephen Hunt.62:08
Steven Fletcher is ruled offside. Free kick taken by Keiren Westwood.60:01
Direct free kick taken by Kieran Richardson.60:01 Booking
Booking Ronald Zubar receives a yellow card.59:51
Nicklas Bendtner fouled by Ronald Zubar, the ref awards a free kick.58:19
Kevin Doyle takes a shot. Save by Keiren Westwood.55:29
Long range shot from Phillip Bardsley misses to the left of the goal.54:39
Corner taken left-footed by Jamie O'Hara, Nicklas Bendtner makes a clearance.53:19
Dong-Won Ji concedes a free kick for a foul on Christophe Berra. Wayne Hennessey takes the direct free kick.52:51 Booking
Booking Kieran Richardson receives a caution.51:37
Assist on the goal came from Stephane Sessegnon.51:37 Goal scored
Goal! - Kieran Richardson - Wolves 0 - 1 Sunderland Kieran Richardson scores a goal from inside the penalty area to the top left corner of the goal. Wolverhampton 0-1 Sunderland.51:06
Floated corner taken left-footed by Kevin Doyle, clearance by Phillip Bardsley.48:29
Foul by Wes Brown on Kevin Doyle, free kick awarded. Jamie O'Hara has an effort direct from the free kick.47:35
Effort on goal by Nicklas Bendtner from inside the penalty box misses to the right of the target.46:59
Dong-Won Ji challenges Ronald Zubar unfairly and gives away a free kick. Wayne Hennessey restarts play with the free kick.45:01
The game restarts for the second half.45:00 +1:07 Half time
Half Time The players leave the pitch at half time.42:56
Shot from 20 yards from Stephane Sessegnon. Ronald Zubar gets a block in. Lee Cattermole has shot on goal from just outside the penalty box which goes wide of the right-hand upright.41:53
Stephane Sessegnon takes a shot. Stephen Ward manages to make a clearance.40:11
Direct free kick taken by Jamie O'Hara.40:11 Booking
Booking Lee Cattermole receives a caution.40:03
Foul by Lee Cattermole on Kevin Doyle, free kick awarded.39:24
Short corner taken by Jamie O'Hara, clearance made by John O'Shea.39:08
Stephen Hunt takes a shot. Keiren Westwood makes a brilliant save.37:45
Christophe Berra fouled by Dong-Won Ji, the ref awards a free kick. Free kick taken by Jody Craddock.37:03
Dong-Won Ji produces a right-footed shot from the edge of the box and misses to the left of the target.36:25
Corner taken by Jamie O'Hara, clearance made by Nicklas Bendtner.34:36
Jamie O'Hara takes a shot. Blocked by John O'Shea.31:08
Stephen Hunt takes a inswinging corner.30:38
David Edwards takes a shot. Save by Keiren Westwood.30:07
Stephane Sessegnon takes a shot. Blocked by Christophe Berra.28:10
Christophe Berra challenges Dong-Won Ji unfairly and gives away a free kick. Lee Cattermole restarts play with the free kick.26:17
Jamie O'Hara takes a shot. Save by Keiren Westwood.26:06
Foul by Jack Colback on David Edwards, free kick awarded. Stephen Hunt takes the direct free kick.25:02
Headed effort from deep inside the penalty area by Ronald Zubar misses to the left of the goal.21:30
Sebastian Larsson takes the inswinging corner, Ronald Zubar manages to make a clearance.19:43
Free kick awarded for a foul by Stephane Sessegnon on Stephen Hunt. Direct free kick taken by Jody Craddock.18:53
The offside flag is raised against Steven Fletcher. Indirect free kick taken by Keiren Westwood.18:05
Effort from outside the penalty box by Jamie O'Hara goes wide left of the target.17:11
Corner from the right by-line taken by Sebastian Larsson, Wes Brown takes a shot. Save by Wayne Hennessey.15:33
Free kick awarded for a foul by Wes Brown on Kevin Doyle. Free kick crossed by Jamie O'Hara, save by Keiren Westwood.15:23
Sebastian Larsson takes a shot. Save made by Wayne Hennessey.13:30
Matthew Jarvis is flagged offside by the assistant referee. Free kick taken by Keiren Westwood.11:30
Kevin Doyle challenges Wes Brown unfairly and gives away a free kick. Direct free kick taken by Kieran Richardson.10:52
Header by Nicklas Bendtner from deep inside the penalty area misses to the left of the goal.9:30
The assistant referee signals for offside against Dong-Won Ji. Wayne Hennessey takes the free kick.9:20
David Edwards concedes a free kick for a foul on Stephane Sessegnon. Lee Cattermole takes the direct free kick.7:53
Corner taken by Matthew Jarvis played to the near post, Jamie O'Hara has an effort at goal from 12 yards. Lee Cattermole gets a block in. Steven Fletcher takes a shot. Keiren Westwood makes a save. Nicklas Bendtner takes a shot. Jody Craddock gets a block in.4:43
Stephane Sessegnon takes a shot. Save made by Wayne Hennessey.3:41
Free kick awarded for a foul by John O'Shea on Kevin Doyle. Jamie O'Hara takes the direct free kick.1:12
John O'Shea takes a shot. Wayne Hennessey makes a save.0:36
Foul by David Edwards on Jack Colback, free kick awarded. Sebastian Larsson takes the direct free kick.0:00
The referee gets the game started.
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