Marten de Roon's goal proved decisive as Middlesbrough boosted their faint Premier League survival hopes with a 1-0 victory over bottom side Sunderland in the Tees-Wear derby, though relegation looms large for both.
De Roon made the most of lacklustre defending to guide what transpired to be the winner between the legs of Jordan Pickford in the eighth minute, ending Boro's 16-match streak without a victory in the top flight and putting them six points from safety.
However, with Manchester City visiting the Riverside for their next fixture and a trip to Chelsea following, as well as a match against Champions League-chasing Liverpool on the final day, Steve Agnew's side face a sizeable challenge to retain their Premier League status.
It was yet another largely listless showing from Sunderland, who were unchanged from the 2-2 draw with West Ham and once again unable to rely upon the usually dependable goal threat of Jermain Defoe – his barren run extending to nine matches.
Despite an improved second-half display from the visitors, defeat compounded a miserable day for manager David Moyes, who was charged by the Football Association for commenting that he would slap a female reporter following a post-match interview last month.
Sunderland's relegation to the Championship will be confirmed this weekend if Hull avoid defeat at Southampton and they do not at least match their result at home to Bournemouth, with a trip to the Tigers next on the list.
Agnew sent on striker Rudy Gestede in place of Alvaro Negredo in the 76th minute, a move that ended the Benin international's run of 44 Premier League appearances without being on the winning side, as well as handing the head coach his first victory since replacing Aitor Karanka.
Defoe had an opportunity to end a club scoring drought that runs back to February 4 when he was picked out by Didier Ndong in the seventh minute, but he could only lash his volley straight at Brad Guzan.
It proved a costly miss as 95 seconds later De Roon raced into a gaping hole between John O'Shea and Billy Jones to stab Adam Clayton's long pass underneath the onrushing Pickford.
2 - Marten de Roon has scored two goals in his last four Premier League appearances, as many as in his previous 26 combined. Utility. — OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 26, 2017
Boro should have doubled their lead in the 20th minute when Jason Denayer and Jones failed to stop Stewart Downing getting a one-on-one chance with Pickford, who pulled off an impressive save with his left leg.
Sunderland were evidently vulnerable, but Agnew's side struggled to be more assertive and Ndong was kept out from 20 yards by Guzan.
Boro supporters paid tribute to the late Ugo Ehiogu with applause and banners when the game clock showed 44 minutes – the age at which their former centre-back died last week.
Guzan was forced into action again within three minutes of the restart, leaping to his right to push Wahbi Khazri's curling free-kick away from the top-left corner.
Boro lost Daniel Ayala to injury and the introduction of Fabio resulted in the reshuffling of their defence amid increasing pressure from Sunderland.
Moyes' side controlled possession during the second half, but struggled to create more meaningful chances, Defoe handling the ball when played in behind the defence.
Downing flashed a stoppage-time effort wide from just outside the box as Boro held on to three important points, though they still face a huge task to avoid playing in the second tier next season.
Key Opta Facts:
- Middlesbrough have completed a league double over Sunderland for the first time since the 2002-03 season.
- Marten de Roon has scored twice in his last four Premier League appearances, as many as in his previous 26 combined.
- De Roon's goal was Middlesbrough’s first shot of the match.
- Although they were beaten, Sunderland had more shots than an opponent in an away Premier League game for the first time since April 2016 against Stoke City.
- Sunderland have now failed to score in 17 Premier League games this season, more than any other side.