Sunderland were defeated on Teesside thanks to Marcus Tavernier's first league goal as their wait for a win goes on.
Tavernier tucked home a cross at the near post in the sixth minute and that was enough to settle the contest – marking the first time Sunderland have failed to score away from home in the league since August.
Lewis Grabban had earlier had a great chance to put the visitors ahead only to be denied by Darren Randolph, while his counterpart Robbin Ruiter saved brilliantly from Martin Braithwaite in the second half to keep the arrears to a single goal.
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Caretaker managers Robbie Stockdale and Billy McKinlay made three changes, with Lee Cattermole and Billy Jones recalled at the expense of Adam Matthews and Jonny Williams, while Paddy McNair made his first start in nearly a year after impressing – and scoring – as a substitute against Bolton. Callum McManaman dropped to the bench, while Duncan Watmore and Lamine Kone missed out entirely.
The visitors had a great chance to take the lead after just three minutes, but failed to make the hosts pay. Didier Ndong's shot was pushed out by Randolph straight into the path of Lewis Grabban, but the keeper recovered to somehow turn the follow-up behind for a corner.
It was a key save as the hosts took the lead soon afterwards. Stewart Downing's deft reverse pass caught the Sunderland defence out, and Braithwaite's resulting cross was tucked in by Tavernier at the near post.
Definitely not the start Sunderland wanted.
However, the away side were keen to shoot from range, as Randolph was struggling with the low autumn sun shining directly into his eyes. Nevertheless, the Boro stopper managed to tip away an effort from Cattermole and brilliantly get a piece of a Jones header, though the offside flag was up anyway.
LITTLE TO CHOOSE
Both Cattermole and Ndong were impressing in the Sunderland midfield as the visitors moved the ball well, though a potent Boro attack were proving a threat with the hosts supplying them quickly and often. However, there was precious little for the home side to show, barring a wayward shot from Grant Leadbitter over the top.
At the other end, a muted penalty appeal against Britt Assombalonga was turned away – the striker had his arms down by his sides – while Aiden McGeady brushed the top of the net with a fierce effort after stepping away from a challenge 18 yards out. Assombalonga claimed the final chance of the half, testing Ruiter down low with a snapshot from just outside the box.
Stockdale and McKinlay were forced into a second change just 10 minutes into the second half as Ndong, who had been doing well in midfield, hurt his knee and was replaced by George Honeyman. The pair would have seen their side further behind soon afterwards only for Ruiter to come to the rescue – the Dutchman getting his hand to a Braithwaite shot from point-blank range, diverting the ball into the air before catching the rebound cleanly. Ruiter came to the rescue again with a fine stop from a Stewart Downing free-kick as Boro took a firm grip on the game.
NO WAY BACK
A late Sunderland rally didn't materialise in the end, despite the introduction of Williams off the bench in place of the tiring McNair. A McGeady shot into the side-netting was the closest the visitors came as a disappointing afternoon ended in defeat.
Sunderland: Ruiter, Jones (Matthews, 26), Oviedo, O'Shea (c), Wilson, Cattermole, Gibson, Ndong (Honeyman, 54), McNair (Williams, 77), McGeady, Grabban.
Subs not used: Rodwell, McManaman, Gooch, Steele.
Middlesbrough: Randolph, Christie, Friend, Ayala, Gibson, Leadbitter (c) (Forshaw, 85), Howson, Tavernier (Johnson, 63), Downing, Assombalonga (Fletcher, 81), Braithwaite.
Subs not used: Fabio, Shotton, Traore, Dimi.
Attendance: 29,277 (2,458 away)