PUTTING the decline of Sunderland to one side, the positive vibes are re-emerging from their North-East neighbours. Middlesbrough are moving in the right direction, and a teenager with a rapidly rising reputation is a new Tees-Wear derby hero at the Riverside Stadium.

Eighteen-year-old Marcus Tavernier pounced in the area to deliver the crucial blow to lift Boro up to fifth in the Championship with a winning goal that sealed a third successive win –leaving Sunderland wondering if there will ever be a glimmer of light at end of an extremely long and dark tunnel.

Tavernier moved from Newcastle’s academy to Middlesbrough’s when he was 14 and he repaid the faith Garry Monk has shown in him by producing the goods when it has mattered – capped off by this predatory sixth minute strike against the Black Cats.

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Sunderland fans probably will not have even heard of the youngster before this latest meeting, but they certainly do now after watching him coast in front of Billy Jones to turn Martin Braithwaite’s delivery to the near post beyond goalkeeper Robbin Ruiter.

Middlesbrough were far from free-flowing and yet still managed to make it four in a row against the men from Wearside for the first time since 2003; climbing into the Championship’s top six for the first time since early September.

As for Sunderland, ask Ellis Short what comes next. Around 2,500 of the club’s fans still made the trip down the A19 in the hope of watching the team they follow climb off the bottom of the table.

Instead Sunderland remain in the 24th spot they dropped to over the weekend for the first time since Niall Quinn’s brief time in charge in August 2006.

And given the depressive mood in the dressing room and the stands, the new Sunderland manager who eventually comes into take over from caretakers Robbie Stockdale and Billy McKinlay will have the unenviable task of trying to prevent a slip into the third tier of English football for the first time in 30 years.

The temporary management team, appointed after Simon Grayson’s departure, oversaw a group of players that actually turned in a decent performance for them, albeit even if they did come up short. It is now one win from 16 games since leaving the top-flight behind.

Middlesbrough, on the other hand, followed up consecutive away wins by ending the wait for a home victory after a failure to secure three points in their previous three Riverside dates.

Two of those were defeats, to Norwich and Cardiff, but Middlesbrough have ironed out a few of the teething problems that prevented them from getting off to a stronger start under Monk.

But Monk’s problems are insignificant when you consider what Sunderland have endured on and off the pitch – although the visitors could quite easily have been ahead before the early opener at the other end.

With the sun shining and causing problems for Darren Randolph, he still somehow managed to recover to turn behind Lewis Grabban’s close-range effort after the keeper had not dealt with Didier Ndong’s initial effort from range.

Randolph also had to charge to his left to prevent Lee Cattermole’s 22-yard curler from finding his bottom corner and he made a staggering one-handed stop to turn Jones’ point-blank header over, although offside was ruled.

Had it not been for Tavernier’s first league goal being recorded then it could easily have been argued that Sunderland had actually created more clear cut chances, without making the most of them.

But that is not to say Middlesbrough didn’t have their moments too and the opening goal was cleverly crafted from start to finish. A number of passes had already been exchanged before Stewart Downing found himself in possession again.

Spotting the run of Braithwaite behind the defence, Downing slid a perfectly weighted pass for him to run onto which took the defence completely off guard. Braithwaite sent over a first time delivery where Tavernier arrived ahead of Jones to turn inside Ruiter’s near post.

Like April’s last meeting between the two, when Marten de Roon’s eighth minute strike separated the two, Middlesbrough had gained an early lead and looked comfortable with it for the most part, despite plenty of probing from Aiden McGeady and Ndong.

Stockdale and McKinlay, often seen together in the technical area, had every reason to be encouraged at the break though, even if Sunderland’s frustrations were summed up before the half hour mark when Jones had to be withdrawn after a heavy tackle from team-mate Darron Gibson.

Sunderland’s team – including three changes, with Ndong asked to play on the right and Paddy McNair starting for the first time in almost a year – under Stockdale and McKinlay battled away and looked tighter than they have. They were unable to maintain the first half tempo though.

And after Ruiter was forced into a low save from the impressive Braithwaite following lay-off from Assombalonga in his direction, Sunderland pressed briefly and raised hope of an equaliser.

The problem they found was that Middlesbrough continued to defend strongly. Ben Gibson popped up everywhere to prevent a Sunderland player from getting in behind, and a lack of urgency from the home side led to a pretty uninspiring finish.

Sunderland’s Marc Wilson was fortunate to stay on the pitch when he was caught out by the sharpness of a Braithwaite turn; and from the free-kick he conceded on the edge of the area Ruiter had to be equal to Downing’s low strike.

On the one occasion Sunderland did create an opening in the closing stages McGeady, who had been Sunderland’s most creative player, flashed an effort well wide from a really good position in the area when he was picked out by Bryan Oviedo.

Rather than that leading to a frantic finish, Sunderland struggled to get going and Middlesbrough were happy enough to just let the clock tick down and collect the three points that strengthens the promotion claims. The misery, meanwhile, continues for Sunderland.