Sunderland 0-1 Middlesbrough
SUNDERLAND WERE denied a place in the Capital One Cup Quarter Finals by regional rivals Middlesbrough, who ran out comfortable winners at the Stadium of Light.
A 39th minute strike from Scott McDonald settled this tie as Sunderland huffed and puffed but showed very little guile or attacking threat.
Martin O`Neill`s side read five changes from the side which held Stoke City to a 0-0 draw at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday.
Kieren Westwood, Phil Bardsley, Stephane Sessegnon, David Vaughan and Louis Saha all came in, replacing Simon Mignolet, Craig Gardner, James McClean, Danny Rose and Seb Larsson.
James McFadden was amongst the substitutes for the first time since signing on a free transfer.
Tony Mowbray, his squad depleted by injury, selected a strong side all the same with Ishmael Miller and McDonald starting up front. Chelsea loanee Josh McEachran was ineligible under the terms of his loan deal.
Sunderland struggled to assert their divisional superiority on the Teessiders in the first half, and registered just a couple of notable attempts on goal.
Middlesbrough midfielder Faris Haroun nearly opened the scoring when his speculative distance strike flashed wide, before 'Boro hit the bar, again from distance.
John O`Shea had Sunderland`s first presentable opportunity, nodding wide at the near-post from a corner.
Fletcher then saw his header back across the face of goal caught with ease by Jason Steele.
Six minutes before half-time, 'Boro got the opener, McDonald prodding home from close range as he met Miller`s low centre from the right.
O`Neill`s side began the second period with renewed vigour and initially took the game to Middlesbrough, without every troubling England U21 stopper Steele.
Eventually James McClean was introduced and Sunderland reverted to the 4-4-1-1 which has been utilised more frequently than a flat 4-4-2, the system deployed by O`Neill in the first half.
That meant a return to the right flank for Adam Johnson who was still unable to find his best form.
A driving run and shot from distance was the best that Sessegnon had to show for his efforts, the Benin international seeing his effort fly narrowly wide.
Fletcher could have snatched an undeserved leveller in the dying minutes, narrowly failing to get the crucial touch on a hopeful ball flung into the box to take the game into extra-time.
A poor performance from the Black Cats who never seriously tested Steele between the sticks. In the first half the lads lost the midfield battle, leaving Cattermole and Vaughan too deep to get on the ball and dictate play.
The second period saw a marked improvement and a five to 10 minute period where it looked like they might force an equaliser. However the same frailties were exposed as ever and the final ball proved elusive in the crucial third of the pitch.
Sunderland: Westwood 6; Bardsley 6, O`Shea 5, Cuellar 6, Colback 5; Sessegnon 6, Cattermole (c) 7, Vaughan 6, Johnson 6 (Campbell N/A); Saha 5 (McClean 5) & Fletcher 5.
Subs not used: Mignolet (GK), Kilgallon, Meyler, McFadden & Wickham.
Middlesbrough: Steele; Hoyte, Amougou, Hines (Parnaby), Friend; Ledesma (Reach), Bailey, Leadbitter, Haroun; Miller (Smallwood) & McDonald.
Subs not used: Leutwiler (GK), Zemmama, Halliday & Park.
Attendance: 32 535
Referee: Mr P Dowd.