No fewer than nine bookings were dished out by referee Jeremy Simpson but the only stat that will matter was Chris Maguire’s 47th-minute goal for the visitors.
Sunderland, backed by a vocal following from Wearside, started the brighter and former Rovers loanee Lynden Gooch flashed a shot wide inside the first minute.
Maguire, formerly of both Sheffield Wednesday and Rotherham, then nodded over for the Black Cats before Rovers made a signal of their intent when Mallik Wilks flashed an effort into the side-netting.
Simpson was quick to clamp down on a flurry of tasty challenges and duly cautioned Sunderland pair Dylan McGeouch and Lee Cattermole.
Maguire somehow nodded wide after being put through in a great position whilst down the other end John Marquis couldn’t get a shot out of his feet after a fine piece of control.
Rovers ended the half by wasting two golden chances.
First, Wilks was through on goal only to be kept out by the onrushing Jon McLaughlin.
Then, barely a minute later Matty Blair was put through on goal but when he looked destined to score he saw a similar chance spurned thanks to brilliant goalkeeping from McLaughlin.
That profligacy came back to haunt Grant McCann’s side as they soon found themselves behind just after the restart.
Gooch went on a mazy run and hit a speculative effort that came back off a post but Adam Matthews reacted the quickest and fed the ball to Maguire for a simple finish.
Herbie Kane whistled a shot over in response for the hosts before Wilks tried his luck from range but to no avail.
Marquis then drew a good save from McLaughlin after fine build-up play from the hosts.
Doncaster: Marosi, Mason, Butler, Wright, Andrew, Blair (J Anderson 73), Coppinger (May 78), Whiteman, Kane, Marquis, Wilks (Taylor 89). Unused substitutes: Lawlor, T Anderson, Amos, Crawford
Sunderland: McLaughlin, James, Flanagan, Baldwin, Matthews, Cattermole (O’Nien 64), Sinclair, Gooch (McGeady 84), Honeyman, McGeouch, Maguire. Unused substitutes: Ruiter, Ozturk, Love, Mumba, Mbunga-Kimpioka.
Referee: J Simpson.