Sunderland are a step closer to League One after losing 3-1 at the Stadium of Light to Sheffield Wednesday after a frantic second half.
It was goalless at the break but once Owls’ striker Lucas Joao hit his ninth goal of the season in the 59th minute the goals started to flow.
George Honeyman equalised less than two minutes later for Sunderland but then Wednesday took command by making the most of the home side’s defensive weaknesses.
Visiting skipper Tom Lees volleyed in the second with 22 minutes remaining and seven minutes later the points were safe when Atdhe Nuhiu scored from close range.
It is a defeat that leaves Sunderland five points adrift of safety and that could become eight with six games to go should Birmingham beat Bolton on Tuesday night.
Wednesday have started to find some rhythm under Jos Luhukay with little to play for except for pride in the middle of the table. This was a third win in a row.
From one early move Wednesday were within inches of the lead when wing-back George Boyd’s delivery from the left had just too much on it for Adam Reach to convert.
There was another fantastic chance for them too when Joao was picked out brilliantly by the boot of goalkeeper Joe Wildsmith after he came to gather a corner. Joao led the charge into the Sunderland half but rather than roll in the unmarked Boyd on the far side the forward decided to go it alone and he was blocked.
There was plenty of desire in Sunderland’s performance and their movement created a couple of half chances; the best two arrived in quick succession.
Full-back Donald Love was allowed the space in front of him to run and direct an effort a yard over the bar, while Lynden Gooch cut inside from the right and fired another drive wide.
Sunderland had the best - and only - serious effort on target with five minutes remaining of the half. After Honeyman was tripped on the edge of the box by Barry Bannan, Aiden McGeady’s floating free-kick was saved by Wildsmith in his top corner.
A frenetic second half followed. Sunderland had started the brighter but Joao was on hand just before the hour to power Nuhiu’s knock down from Bannan’s cross beyond Lee Camp.
Sunderland’s response was immediate. Gooch turned his man near the touchline and delivered to the back post two minutes later for Honeyman to nod down and inside the near post.
Their defensive problems were exposed again soon after. Gooch gave away a needless free-kick, Joey Pelupessy’s delivery was not dealt with and Lees was allowed to volley into the centre of the net.
Sunderland kept plugging away. Lee Cattermole struck the inside of the post and from the rebound there were strong claims for a penalty waved away when Gooch was brought down by Bannan.
Then it was game over with quarter of an hour remaining. Reach’s delivery was headed on by Joao and even though Camp saved it Nuhiu was on hand to force the rebound over the line.
Sunderland: Camp, Love, O’Shea, Wilson, Oviedo (Matthews 64), Cattermole, Gooch (Asoro 83), McNair, Honeyman (Ejaria 83), McGeady, Fletcher. Subs Not Used: Steele, LuaLua, McManaman, Maja.
Sheffield Wednesday: Wildsmith, Frederico Venancio, Lees, Fox (Thorniley 8), Hunt, Pelupessy, Bannan (Jones 83), Boyd, Reach, Lucas Joao (Forestieri 90), Nuhiu. Subs Not Used: Rhodes, Butterfield, Marco Matias, Dawson.
Referee: Simon Hooper (Wiltshire).