Two minutes either side of the break that sealed three massive points for Jack Ross and his team.
Just before the half time whistle Doncaster should have made their superiority count.
They had been the better side but presented with two glorious openings, they were denied by the outstanding Jon McLaughlin.
Having rode their luck, Chris Maguire netted a precious winner just moments into the second half.
It was feisty, challenging game in which Sunderland had to absorb immense pressure. They were not always convincing but delivered a third consecutive away win in the league.
Sunderland began brightly, Lynden Gooch twice getting free in space as he returned to the starting XI.
On the first occasion he cut his effort wide of goal, but on the second he presented Chris Maguire with a gilt-edged opportunity. The forward was free at the back post but could only loop his header over the bar.
Doncaster quickly found their feet, moving the ball crisply and showing the threat that has made them one of the league's most potent teams on home turf.
Mallik Wilks fired into the side-netting shortly after Maguiure's miss, and they quickly established superiority in midfield.
By 35 minutes all three of Sunderland's central midfield players had been booked. As had Doncaster's Ben Whiteman, who cleaned Cattermole out when arriving late for a challenge. That summed up a game of real intensity.
Openings for the visitors were limited, though Jerome Sinclair ran the channels well and crossed well, where Maguire again couldn't make a good connection.
On the stroke of half time McLaughlin made his pivotal intervention.
First, a stray Lee Cattermole pass released Mallik Wilks. The winger ran through on goal but McLaughlin capitalised on a slight moment of hesistation from the forward, narrowing the angle and blocked his low effort. The ball crept towards the line but Jack Baldwin was able to make the clearance.
Doncaster were one-on-one again almost immediately, Matty Blair this time the player seemingly certain to score.
But again McLaughlin's judgement was superb, picking the right moment to come off his line and make the save.
Within moments of the second half Sunderland had made the hosts pay.
A fine piece of individual skill from Gooch left him free near the Doncaster goal. He hit the post with an excellent effort, but Adam Matthews was quickest to react. he fired the ball across goal, where Maguire was on hand to stab it into the roof of the net.
Doncaster responded strongly, and McLaughlin had to be sharp again to turn an effort from John Marquis wide.
The Black Cats did have the ball in the net with 20 minutes to go, but it was quickly disallowed. Chris Maguire played the ball across the box, where the advancing Tom Flanagan forced a save from Marko Marosi. Substitute Luke O'Nien was first to the ball but the flag was raised as he turned the ball home.
Doncaster continued to push for an equaliser but McLaughlin was not tested again as the away side sealed three vital points.
Sunderland XI: McLaughlin; Matthews, Flanagan, Baldwin, James; McGeouch, Cattermole (O'Nien, 64), Honeyman; Maguire, Gooch (McGeady, 84), Sinclair
Subs: Ruiter, Ozturk, Love, Mumba, Kimpiola
Doncaster Rovers XI: Marosi; Mason, Butler, Andrew, Wright; Kane, Whiteman, Blair (Anderson, J, 83); Coppinger (May, 78), Wilks (Taylor, 89), Marquis
Subs: Lawlor, Anderson, Crawford, Taylor, May, Amos
Attendance: 11,881 (3,793 away)
Bookings: McGeouch, 14 Cattermole, 16 Wilks, 29 Whiteman, 29 Honeyman, 34 James, 49 Mason, 59 Wright, 90 Butler, 90