A Marko Arnautovic masterclass took Sunderland to pieces at the Stadium of Light as Stoke City clinched their first league win on Wearside since 1994.
Two exceptional finishes from the Austrian set the tone at the SoL, with Peter Crouch scoring his 99th Premier League goal on 34 minutes to establish a comfortable 3-0 lead.
Jermain Defoe reduced the arrears before the break with a typically unerring finish and it should have been more than a false dawn as the Black Cats squandered a host of chances to punish the Potters.
In the end, though, Sunderland were made to rue what might have been as Jack Rodwell and Fabio Borini – both of which failed to take key opportunities – were led the charge in vain.
David Moyes made one change to the side who drew 0-0 with Burnley last time out in the Emirates FA Cup, with John O’Shea equalling a club record.
Replacing Javier Manquillo, the Irishman has now made more Premier League appearances for Sunderland than any other player, with visiting Potter Phil Bardsley tied with O’Shea on 174 appearances.
Donald Love retained his place dropping in at right-back as Jason Denayer moved into midfield.
In the build up to the game David Moyes urged his side to set the tempo and get the Sunderland supporters off their feet.
Talisman Defoe heeded that message and led from the front – along with Adnan Januzaj and Borini – chasing down every ball and putting immense pressure on the Stoke backline while out of possession.
But for all their grit and guile they were powerless to prevent Arnautovic from stealing the show.
The Austrian was simply unstoppable.
With 15 minutes on the clock he peeled off Love and used a fraction of space to work an opening and test Vito Mannone, with the Italian beaten at the second attempt as Arnautovic sent a venomous strike into the roof of the net.
And seven minutes later he demonstrated his ruthless finishing once again.
The Austrian exchanged passes with Joe Allen before playing a swift one-two with Crouch and powering into to the box, with Sunderland’s defence stood like statues as he slammed the ball in at the near post.
An inexplicable error from Papy Djilobodji almost gifted Stoke a third on the half-hour mark, with Xherdan Shaqiri gratefully accepting a free run at goal – albeit from a tight angle – as Mannone was again called upon.
Seconds later the Italian escaped an embarrassing moment of his own as Shaqiri’s 25-yard strike squirmed through his grasp and caressed the post before drifting wide.
And what followed wasn’t much better.
With 33 minutes played the Potters added a third and sparked an exodus at the Stadium of Light, with Crouch beating Mannone to a lofted ball forward to send a looping header into the empty net.
A flicker of hope followed as Lee Grant failed to hold Borini’s powerful strike after the forward broke into the box, but unlike Arnautovic the Italian couldn’t bury the rebound and it remained 3-0.
Defoe, however, made no such mistake.
With hope all but extinguished, the 34-year-old broke the offside trap before racing through on goal and sending a pinpoint finish beyond Grant to deliver a lifeline before the break.
Sunderland burst out of the blocks following the restart and wasted a great chance to further reduce the deficit when Borini broke into space and forced Grant into a flying save.
It was a good attempt by the Italian but the angle was tight and he should have looked to square the ball to Defoe, with Larsson firing high and wide moments later.
Charlie Adam mustered the Potters’ first attempt of the second period sending a free-kick inches wide of the post as Mannone scampered across his line.
And the end-to-end flow continued with Sunderland surging forward before Crouch failed to deliver a clean strike after the ball broke kindly in the box.
The Black Cats continued to rally and when the ball dropped to Rodwell inside the box – on side and unmarked – the rest should have been history, but the midfielder snatched at the chance and fired wastefully wide.
And with the moment gone, so were Sunderland’s hopes of an unlikely comeback as Stoke strolled to a comfortable win at the Stadium of Light.
Sunderland: Mannone, Love, O’Shea, Djilobodji, van Aanholt, Denayer, Rodwell, Larsson, Borini, Januzaj, Defoe.
Substitutes: Mika, Maja, Asoro, Embleton, Jones, Manquillo, Honeyman.
Stoke City: Grant, Johnson, Shawcross, Martins Indi, Pieters, Whelan, Adam (Afellay 66), Shaqiri (Ngoy 88), Allen, Arnautovic, Crouch.
Subs not used: Given, Bardsley, Muniesa, Imbula, Taylor.