A Mikael Mandron brace helped Sunderland Under-21s beat neighbours Middlesbrough 3-2 to keep their title challenge alive.
It was the first victory of 2016 for the Black Cats, with Carl Lawson also on the scoresheet at a bitterly cold Stadium of Light.
Before kick-off there was a minute’s silence in memory of BBC Tees commentator Ali Brownlee.
Sunderland’s young guns proved too strong for neighbours Boro and the win ensured Andy Welsh’s side remain firmly on the coattails of league leaders Manchester United.
United beat Reading 1-0 to maintain a two-point gap over Sunderland.
Both George Honeyman and Rees Greenwood stood out for the hosts, as Welsh’s side ran out deserved winners despite a nervy end to the game thanks to a late Boro penalty.
Before kick-off there was a minute’s silence in memory of BBC Tees commentator Ali Brownlee - the ‘Voice of Boro’ - who sadly passed away aged 56 after a short cancer battle.
Sunderland started well and took the lead just five minutes in.
Mandron, who had an unsuccessful loan spell at Hartlepool United earlier in the season, connected well with Honeyman’s cross to nod the ball into the corner of the net.
It was almost 2-0 moments later, tricky Greenwood shooting wide from a good position.
Boro, who had named experienced duo Alex Baptiste and Rhys Williams in their side, were on the ropes.
And Mandron should have doubled his tally in the 10th minute, Honeyman again with the cross but the Cats frontman couldn’t get enough on his header to trouble Joe Fryer in goal.
Boro, whose players wore black armbands in memory of Brownlee, slowly fought their way back into the contest, with highly-sought after Harry Chapman seeing more of the ball.
Their best chance came via striker Arnel Jakupovic, who saw a fine effort dip just over the Sunderland crossbar.
That just seemed to spur Sunderland on again though, with the under-fire Boro defence facing wave after wave of attacks.
Lawson saw a header pushed wide before then shooting wide, while there were last-ditch tackles to deny both Mandron and Honeyman from extending the lead.
Baptiste and Williams, both returning from long-term injuries, were having to withstand an intense amount of pressure from the hosts.
Ten minutes before the break Boro had a strong claim for a penalty, Jordan Jones felled by Joshua Robson inside the area but the claims were waved away.
Up the other end, Cats captain Liam Agnew saw a well-struck effort palmed away by Fryer, easily the busy of the two goalkeeper’s on a bitterly cold Wearside night.
Sunderland fully deserved their slender lead at the break, with the Cats dominating their neighbours in all areas of the pitch.
Half Time: Sunderland U21 1 Boro U21 0
Middlesbrough started the second half with far more attacking intent, pushing Sunderland back into their final third with dangerman Chapman starting to see more of the ball.
Clear cut chances were few and far between in the opening stages of the second half, with Fyer comfortably gathering a tame Greenwood effort after the winger had jinked his way into the area.
The game suddenly broke back into life on the hour mark, with Lawson - who’d had two good attempts at the end of the first half - finally rewarded for his persistence.
Greenwood played him in, Lawson beating one man on the edge of the area before curling the ball past Fryer to double Sunderland’s lead.
Boro pulled one back six minutes later through Jakupovic after a swift break upfield.
Chapman played the Boro No 9 in with a perfectly weighted pass and he placed his effort first time past the outstretched leg of Maksymillian Stryjek.
Boro were threatening to pull level with Chapman, in particular, looking dangerous on the break.
But Mandron added his second of the match on 81 minutes, a clinical finish inside the six-yard box to put Sunderland firmly in command.
There was a nervy end to proceedings though as Jakupovic scored an 88th minute penalty for Boro after being fouled by Thomas Beadling, the youngster booked for the challenge.
Sunderland held on for an important win.
Full Time: Sunderland U21 3 Boro U21 2
Sunderland Under-21s (4-2-3-1): Stryjek, J.Robson, T.Robson, Agnew (C), Brady, Beadling, Lawson (E. Robson, 73), Smith, Mandron, Honeyman, Greenwood (McEvoy, 90).
Subs Not Used: Talbot (gk), Blinco, Casey.
Goal: Mandron (5, 81), Lawson (61)
Booked: Brady (32), Beadling (88)
Middlesbrough Under-21s (4-2-3-1): Fryer, Johnson, Baptiste, Burn (C), Kitching, Tinkler, Williams (Pattison, 68), Cooke, Jakupovic, Chapman, Jones, (McAloon, 81).
Subs Not Used: McGinley, Jowers, Dawson.
Goal: Jakupovic (67, 88)