Middlesbrough condemned Sunderland to another defeat and one step closer to official relegation with a 1-0 at the Riverside.
Marten de Roon made difference sliding home in the opening ten minutes, as Sunderland lost and failed to score yet again.
If Hull City win on Saturday David Moyes’ and Sunderland's fate could be sealed - they were comfortably beaten by a team that hadn't recorded a league win all year.
The gap is now six points between the teams, the same amount Middlesbrough need to make up for an unlikely escape from demotion. Bottom placed Sunderland look set for another last placed finish in the Premier League.
A lack of quality, confidence and general aggression cost the Black Cats who never recovered after conceding a soft early goal.
Sunderland started brightly winning three corners in the first five minutes, the third came when Billy Jones wasted a great crossing opportunity.
Jermain Defoe had the first notable effort of the contest, firing a a first time volley straight at Brad Guzan from a difficult angle for the striker.
The half turned when Middlesbrough broke the deadlock in the eighth minute. Under no pressure Adam Clayton deftly chipped in behind John O'Shea to pick out de Roon. The Dutchman chested and then slid the ball in between Jordan Pickford's legs for an easy goal.
The Black Cats didn't recover all half. Stewart Downing took advantage of embarrassing defending to race through on goal soon after. The former England man shot straight at Pickford who closed the angle well. However the Wearsiders were appalling in presenting the chance to him. Jason Denayer was guilty of committing himself in no man's land before Jones was weak and hapless in the tackle.
Growing in confidence the home side continued to dominate play Callum Chambers nearly found the top corner from a long range drive.
Didier Ndong who showed greater urgency and determination than many in the Sunderland side did have a long range effort parried wide by Guzan. The American failed to parry behind, but Sunderland couldn't capitalise. Victor Anichebe hung a cross up at the back post and Billy Jones headed harmlessly over.
Sunderland looked re-energised after half time, Wahbi Khazri forced Guzan into action immediately, but his curling free kick lacked power and was comfortably parried away.
Anichebe saw tame penalty claims waved away after a decent break from the visitors. The forward was unable to divert a brilliant Khazri cross goal-wards, he fell to ground optimistically trying to draw a foul from Guzan.
Sunderland showed urgency and intent through the first 20 minutes of the second half but as usual lacked the quality to generate quality chances, Defoe's blocked shot in a crowded penalty area the best the bottom side could manage, late into the second half.
One moment of quality saw a pinpoint ball over the top from Lee Cattermole release, Defoe through on goal. Defoe wasted the opportunity having to handle to take the ball in his stride. A crucial chance gone with ten minutes remaining.
A late free kick just inside the Boro half was harmlessly floated ten yards short of a queue Sunderland players desperate for one last chance to score. Substitute Adan Januzaj was guilty of the weak attempt, which lacked quality and conviction. It felt like a metaphor for Sunderland's dreadful season.
Downing fired wide narrowly in injury time showing greater quality than Sunderland had all half, despite Middlesbrough's conservative approach.
Anger and vitriol filled the away stand at full time. The players, Ellis Short and Moyes copping the blame for an unforgivably poor campaign.