Marten de Roon’s goal earned Middlesbrough their first win of 2017 and left Sunderland on the brink of relegation from the Premier League.
“We’re going down with the Boro,” chanted Sunderland supporters, who have accepted their fate after picking up just two points from their last nine games.
And they could be right in thinking that their neighbours from Teesside will join them in the Championship because this was an equally uninspired performance by Steve Agnew’s team.
De Roon scored early in the derby and Stewart Downing failed to take another opportunity to give Middlesbrough a comfortable cushion before the interval.
Downing’s failure enabled Sunderland to live in hope during a second-half when they pinned back Middlesbrough for long periods, but - as always this season - they lacked a goal threat and failed to score for the fourth successive away game.
However, it had started with some promise for Sunderland as they threatened twice in the opening stages.
Darron Gibson fired wide in the fifth minute and Jermain Defoe, responsible for the vast majority of their goals, brought an eighth minute save from Brad Guzan.
But that was alamost as good as it got for Sunderland and, within a minute, they were behind against a Middlesbrough team that has also found goals elusive in recent months.
Fans at the Riverside had witnessed only 13 by their team, who had featured in seven 0-0 draws in the league. De Roon ensured this would not be an eighth goalless affair in the ninth minute.
Sunderland’s defenders with the experience of John O’Shea and Billy Jones should have dealt routinely with Adam Clayton’s pass from just inside his own half.
But the pair allowed de Roon to find space between them before he chested down the ball and beat the advancing Jordan Pickford, who, for once, was slow to close him down.
Pickford was far more alert in the 20th minute when he blocked a shot from Downing, who had again exposed uncertainty in front of the keeper.
Sunderland’s 3,000 fans, who travelled 30 miles down the A19, had already seen enough and, before the first-half reached the halfway stage, they were chanting “We want Moyes out”.
They had every right to be annoyed because Sunderland were a team clearly lacking passion and confidence after going behind so early in a game where defeat would surely sentence them to a future in the Championship.
They did produce an isolated threat in the 34th minute when Jones headed over, but Middlesbrough remained in control without further problems for Pickford apart from a Calum Chambers shot that was narrowly off-target.
It had been a fruitless 45 minutes for Sunderland and their frustration surfaced in the final seconds when Darron Gibson was booked for an ugly challenge on Cristhian Stuani.
Moyes’s side did improve marginally after the interval and, while they spent far more time in the Middlesbrough half, again struggled to carve out chances.
Wahbi Khazri’s free-kick in the 48th minute did force Guzan to make his second save of the match, but it was a straightforward one as he pushed the ball away.
Moyes’s waited only 20 minutes before making a chance. He sent on Fabio Borini in place of Gibson, but the Italian was soon engulfed by the mediocrity around him.
Borini did find space for a header soon after his arrival, but he placed it far too close to Guzan, who was left with an easy save.
Middlesbrough waited until stoppage time to create a second-half chance when Downing fired into the side-netting, but de Roon’s goal was enough to move them within six points of safety.
It is a gap they are unlikely to bridge based on this performance against players who are heading out of the Premier League and on the receiving end of a hostile reaction from some of their fans they went to applaud them after the final whistle.
Sunderland are 12 points from safety and could go down if they lose at home to Bournemouth on Saturday, but David Moyes refused to throw in the towel. “While there’s a chance we’ve got to keep going,” he said.
“This is a tough one to take. We played quite well at times but didn’t create enough chances.
“The players performed well and we gave them very few opportunities. We did a lot of good things without making chances at the end of it.
“We just came up short and gave away a poor goal when we on top at the start. I thought the players fought for the jersey. I couldn’t name one that didn’t.”
Fans were calling for the sacking of Moyes, but he vowed to stay. He said: "I’m here, I’m the manager and I will take it on the chin.”
Middlesbrough manager Steve Agnew said: “We haven’t won since December , so it was important to win a game. The players are very, very pleased.
“When you go 1-0 up - and I can’t remember the last time we did - it’s about trying to get the second goal.
“But the players haven’t won for a while and sometimes there was a bit of anxiety in their play.
“The second-half was not as fluent and eye-catching as we would have like, but they showed great determination and the spirit we needed to get through.”
Middlesbrough are six points adrift of safety, but Agnew still believes they can survive. “Now the next game is the most important and, if it goes our way, who knows what might happen,” he said.