Sunderland 0 Middlesbrough 1
SORRY Sunderland crashed out of the Capital One Cup after Championship neighbours Middlesbrough secured a deserved Stadium of Light victory.
Sunderland made a bright opening in the fourth round tie, yet it was Boro who found their feet after the opening 10 minutes and they held the ascendancy throughout the first half.
Scott McDonald, who had earlier struck the crossbar, grabbed the only goal of the game six minutes before the interval when he neatly converted the impressive Ishmael Miller’s cross.
Sunderland enjoyed plenty of possession after the break, but the lack of incision in the final third which has blighted their season continued and Boro always looking comfortable as they put men behind the ball in the second half, with goalkeeper Jason Steele never tested.
Martin O’Neill made five changes to his starting line-up, although three of those were enforced with Craig Gardner, Seb Larsson and Danny Rose all missing out through injury.
Louis Saha partnered Steven Fletcher in attack, with Stephane Sessegnon recalled in a wide position at the expense of James McClean.
Phil Bardsley made his first start of the season at right-back, with Jack Colback moving backwards to occupy the full-back slot on the opposite side – David Vaughan taking the Tynesider’s spot in central midfield.
Keiren Westwood continued as Sunderland’s stopper for Capital One Cup games, with first-choice Simon Mignolet left on the bench.
Former Sunderland duo Grant Leadbitter and Justin Hoyte were both included in the Boro starting line-up.
In a bright start, Sunderland inadvertently forced Boro keeper Jason Steele into a save within the opening 90 seconds when Adam Johnson’s corner from the right swung towards the near post and the stopper was forced to parry away.
Boro tested Westwood for the first time in the 11th minute when Scott McDonald threaded in Faris Haroun down the right-hand channel of the penalty area.
Haroun was left with a narrow angle to aim at, but struck a powerful right-foot shot towards the near post which Westwood blocked behind.
McDonald tried his luck himself five minutes later, with a 25-yard shot which just curled away from goal at the death.
Moments later, the ball rolled into Leadbitter’s path in a similar position and the midfielder wrapped his right foot around it with a shot that again curled the wrong side of Westwood’s post.
Only the woodwork denied Boro the opener in the 29th minute after the visitors broke quickly when Sessegnon was robbed midway inside the opposition half.
Nicky Bailey fed Leadbitter, who helped it on to Miller, tackled by Carlos Cuellar 30 yards from Sunderland’s goal.
But the ball rolled to McDonald who hit a first-time shot which sailed over Westwood and clipped the top of the crossbar on its way behind.
John O’Shea should have done better three minutes later when Johnson’s curled in a cross from the left and the Sunderland centre-half headed two yards wide after being picked out in space at the near post.
Boro’s impressive first half display was rewarded in the 39th minute though when Haroun burst away from Cattermole on halfway and fed Ishmael Miller down the right.
Miller got beyond Colback and pulled back a low cross which was met at the near post by McDonald, who flicked it beyond Westwood after the Sunderland keeper had gone to ground too early.
Sunderland almost grabbed an equaliser in the final minute of the half when Johnson showed quick feet to get away from George Friend before sending in an inswinging cross from the right which was met by the head of Fletcher at the far post, only for Steele to gather smartly in his midriff.
HALF-TIME Sunderland 0 Middlesbrough 1
Sunderland struggled to make any inroads into Boro’s defence at the start of the second half and with the home crowd becoming increasingly frustrated, O’Neill made his first change on the hour mark with McClean replacing Saha.
The substitution saw Sessegnon move into a more central role and he immediately went close with a low shot from 25 yards which just drifted wide of the post.
But Sunderland’s attacked continued to labour and Boro almost pinched a second in the 79th minute when Haroun collected Miller’s lay-off and let fly from 25 yards with a left-footed shot that just curled wide.
McDonald stung Westwood’s palms moments later with another long-range effort that the Sunderland keeper parried away two-handed, low to his right.
Haroun immediately let fly with another effort from distance, Westwood again forced into action as he pushed the dipping effort behind for a corner.
Sessegnon headed into the side netting from McClean’s corner in the 89th minute, yet Sunderland couldn’t find the equaliser which they ill-deserved.
FULL-TIME Sunderland 0 Middlesbrough 1
SUNDERLAND: Westwood, Bardsley, Cuellar, O’Shea, Colback, Sessegnon, Cattermole, Vaughan, Johnson (Campbell 82), Saha (McClean 60), Fletcher. Subs not used: Wickham, McFadden, Kilgallon, Meyler, Mignolet
MIDDLESBROUGH: Steele, Hoyte, Hines (Parnaby 65), Bikey, Friend, Ledesma (Reach 80), Bailey, Leadbitter, Haroun, McDonald, Miller (Smallwood 90). Subs not used: Leutwiler, Park, Halliday, Zemmama. Booked: McDonald (15)