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 boss Tony Mowbray after he scored both of the goals in last weekend's 2-1 npower Championship win over Bolton from the bench, scrambled the ball home from six yards at the near post late in the first half.
It was enough for Middlesbrough to progress as Sunderland lacked the cutting edge that has seen them draw six of their eight Barclays Premier League games so far this season.
The loss ends the Black Cats' dominance in this fixture as, until tonight, they were undefeated against Boro in six games stretching back to January 2006.
Middlesbrough's victory will no doubt go some way to compensating for the defeat by Sunderland in a FA Cup fourth-round replay last season, when Stephane Sessegnon's extra-time goal saw the Black Cats progress.
Last season's two FA Cup games meant tonight was the third time Sunderland and Middlesbrough have met this calendar year and Boro came into the game on a strong run of form having won their last four league outings to sit third in the Championship.
In contrast, Sunderland have struggled to find the winning formula so far this season with only one league win so far.
Sunderland boss Martin O'Neill set his stall out with a more attacking formation by starting Louis Saha up front with Steven Fletcher, and it looked to be working as they started on the front foot.
Boro keeper Jason Steele was tested early on through Adam Johnson's inswinging corner and Saha's subsequent blaze over the bar.
The home side had a speculative penalty shout turned down when Johnson's shot hit Nicky Bailey in the midriff after he had fallen over in the area from clearing a Sessegnon's attempt.
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.