Scott McDonald earned Middlesbrough a quarter-final place in a hard-fought Capital One Cup fourth round Wear-Tees derby at the Stadium of Light.
The striker, who was handed a start by Boro manager Tony Mowbray after he scored both of the goals in last weekend’s 2-1 Championship win over Bolton from the bench, scrambled the ball home from six yards at the near post late in the first half.
The loss ends the Black Cats’ dominance in this fixture as, until last night, they were undefeated against Boro in six games stretching back to January 2006.
Sunderland boss Martin O’Neill started Louis Saha up front with Steven Fletcher, and it looked to be working as they started on the front foot. Boro goalkeeper Jason Steele was tested early on through Adam Johnson’s inswinging corner and Saha’s subsequent blaze over the bar.
As the game settled, it was Boro who looked to be taking the initiative as Sunderland played with a lack of urgency in their game.
Middlesbrough’s McDonald tried his luck with a 25-yard strike but his effort went just wide of Keiren Westwood’s goal before Grant Leadbitter’s blast also flew past the target.
Boro then almost unlocked the Black Cats defence on the counter-attack when George Friend raced down the left and fired a cross into the Sunderland box, but Ishmael Miller could only scuff his shot, allowing Westwood to easily tidy up.
Saha had a shot on target blocked by Seb Hines before McDonald hit the crossbar at the other end with a dipping strike from 25 yards before Boro eventually broke the deadlock through McDonald in the 39th minute.
The striker ghosted in front of the Sunderland defence to score his third goal in two games after he got on to the end of Miller’s cross.
After the break, Sunderland visibly stepped it up and tried to wrestle a grip on the game.
Sessegnon went close with a powerful strike from just outside of the box on the hour mark which just veered right of Steele’s goal, before Johnson tested the Boro defence with a series of crosses from the right wing.
The Boro defence held firm and calmly played the ball out when Sessegnon tried to work it past them, before Steele coolly dealt with substitute James McClean’s run and shot in the box in the 78th minute.
The home side looked increasingly desperate as the clock ticked down, but despite the four minutes of added time, they were unable to score and take the match into extra time.