Scott McDonald has given Middlesbrough a deserved lead late in the second half as Sunderland's stuttering start to the season continues, and a place in the quarter finals of the Capital One Cup slips further away.
A competitive start to the game saw chances for both sides inside the opening ten minutes. Faris Haroun drilled one low and well wide for the visitors inside the opening five, but Sunderland's attacking threat down the wings was proving very troublesome for the 'Boro defenders, and it nearly lead to a penalty for the hosts.
Stephane Sessegnon - who started on the right-wing tonight - saw his dangerous cross into the area knocked out of play. From the resulting corner, Nicky Bailey seemed to fall and land on the ball, playing it away from danger with his arm but Phil Dowd simply wasn't interested.
As things wore on 'Boro seemed to find some confidence. David Vaughan lost possession in midfield to Ishmael Miller. Miller in turn set up forgotten man Scott McDonald who's fizzing drive was as close as anyone came to opening the scoring.
Returning local lad Grant Leadbitter was next to take his chances but saw his effort also go narrowly wide. Thankfully there wasn't as much worry about that one flying in as we all know Leadbitter well enough to know that only happens once a season at best for him.
The visitors should have had the lead shortly after the 20 minute mark. A sweeping counter attack in which Leadbitter and George Friend combined to play in Miller who somehow managed to trickle a shot towards goal rather than bursting the net as he really ought to have. A let off.
Finally with the half hour looming, a decent effort from ourselves. Lee Cattermole imposed himself (we'll say) on Leadbitter to rob him of possession, and bearing down on goal opted to play in Louis Saha. Unfortunately the Frenchman saw a relatively tame effort deflected wide, with the resulting corner of no consequence.
'Boro seemed to be playing with a shoot-on-sight mentality, and with half an hour gone McDonald once again went close to breaking the deadlock as his effort from distance curled and swerved but only onto the top of the crossbar and over. With the bar still shaking, we could thank our lucky stars that things remained goalless.
Things just rumbled on for a while after that, almost sending everyone into a deep sleep - if it hadn't been for the visitors attacking intent anyway making us all nervous. And we had reason to be as the deadlock was broken on 39-minutes...
Haroun - really pulling the strings in midfield - played the ball out wide to Miller who zipped the ball across goal for McDonald to just dink the ball high over Keiren Westwood, giving the Irishman no chance at the near post.
Despite the long range efforts, all they needed to do was get a little closer. It was very poor from our perspective though. We'd not looked at the races at all, and it was hard to argue that 'Boro, our lower league opponents for the night, didn't deserve it. They did. They'd threatened on goal and we hadn't. A shocking state of affairs.
Steven Fletcher did his level best to get involved and get us back into the game when he nodded towards goal, but found Jason Steele equal to his powerful downward effort.
Overall it has to be said though it was a poor half from us. Still lacking in any conviction, and the boos which greeted the half time whistle were quite possibly deserved. There's still time to turn things around though...
Join us for coverage of the second half HERE, plus plenty of reaction after the match.