FOR almost an hour at the Stadium of Light, it seemed one of this season's Championship's high-flyers would bring an end to their Premier League neighbours' Wembley wishes in an FA Cup tale the competition has become renowned for.
But then, with Middlesbrough leading their Wearside rivals, courtesy of Barry Robson's well taken first half volley, Sunderland found a way back in a fashion that will be cherished by the goalscorer forever.
After 17 months on the sidelines wondering when he would make his return from a cruciate knee ligament injury, Fraizer Campbell's reward for showing dedication during a lengthy rehabilitation was exactly what he had always hoped for.
After emerging as a half-time substitute for the injured Connor Wickham, Campbell pounced in the sort of manner Black Cats fans had become familiar with before his heartache in August, 2010.
The 24-year-old, who had been in the form of his career when disaster struck at the start of last season, struck powerfully, low and with precision to haul Sunderland level, which ultimately sealed an appetising Riverside replay a week tomorrow.
With more than 33,000 - 3,000 fans made the trip up the A19 - inside the Stadium of Light, the fourth round tie had a bit of everything which was made even more enthralling by a local rivalry which had been reunited for the first time in three years.
Sunderland's excellent recent form under Martin O'Neill suggested it would be a routine afternoon for his team against a Middlesbrough side whose excellent form had dipped since the turn of the year.
But Tony Mowbray, the former Hibernian manager who helped O'Neill's Celtic lose the Scottish Premier League title race in 2005, got his tactics spot on and it almost sealed a place in round five at the first attempt.
Even in the absence of midfielders Nicky Bailey, Julio Arca and Kevin Thomson, Mowbray's re-jig to use Scott McDonald, Marvin Emnes and Faris Haroun behind lone striker Lukas Jutkiewicz brought plenty of hard work and endeavour.
For a game unfortunately bereft of Lee Cattermole, there was still plenty of bite that clearly had more riding on it than just progression to the fifth round.
The feeling from within the Sunderland camp was that their Stockton-born skipper would recover from the hamstring problem he had been suffering with earlier in the week.
But the injury worsened during the final training session on the eve of the tie, meaning his - and O'Neill's - hopes of facing his former club had to be put on hold.
Undoubtedly the Cattermole factor was missing from Sunderland's midfield, although his replacement, Craig Gardner, was heavily involved and he thought he had scored the equaliser close to half-time.
But Middlesbrough, despite sitting a division below them in the Championship, had also shown enough quality and know-how to deserve to be ahead at the interval - even if Mowbray had made his own changes.
A change of system, mainly to accommodate new-boy Jutkiewicz and a shortage of midfielders, paid dividends. Middlesbrough worked tirelessly to track the Sunderland shirts, while occasionally creating great chances.
McDonald had already stung the palms of goalkeeper Simon Mignolet before Robson's sweetly struck opener; even if Seb Larsson and David Vaughan did miss the target with wayward efforts at the other end.
The Robson goal was the result of an effective counter- attack. The move, which started in the Boro half, ended when Haroun's delivery was not dealt with properly by John O'Shea.
O'Shea's first header went up then down before his second was only directed as far as Robson. The Scotland international watched it drop before executing the left foot volley across Mignolet and inside the far post.
O'Neill took off his overcoat and immediately started to bark out orders. Suddenly there was more promise in Sunderland's play, even if their North-East counterparts showed a determination to hold on to their slender lead.
Middlesbrough's stand-in goalkeeper, Danny Coyne, was solid when he was called upon and his first significant stop arrived when the aerial presence of Wickham was put to good use for the only time in the opening half.
A long ball was flicked in to the path of James McClean by Wickham and the young winger's instant half volley had to be well stopped by the knees of Coyne. Almost immediately the Welsh shot-stopper had to be alert to hold McClean's header from Vaughan's cross.
Sunderland also felt harshly done by six minutes before the interval when they had a goal ruled out for offside. On reflection, it was the fair outcome.
Gardner brought down Richardson's cross with both arms, which had gone unnoticed by the officials, then rolled his shot in off the far post with Wickham standing in an offside position.
Even then Middlesbrough should have added to their lead when Jutkiewicz somehow side-footed wide from eight yards, when his initial effort had been denied by Mignolet and turned back in to his path by Haroun.
It was to prove costly. After a relatively bright start to the second half by the visitors, Sunderland needed no second invitation when the best chance of levelling fell their way.
After Boro's attempt to be clever with a corner ended with Emnes firing tamely low in to the box, there was still little sign of what was to come.
But then Robson calamitously dropped a routine back pass towards Justin Hoyte short, McClean nipped in. It was the first time he had really got beyond the effective Tony McMahon and he was able to roll to Campbell, who struck low in to Coyne's bottom right.
After that there was plenty of pendulum football, with the ball going backwards and forwards, but Sunderland came the closest to finding that decisive second.
Courtesy of some never-say-die defending from the Middlesbrough backline, which included young goalkeeper Connor Ripley who replaced Coyne for the last ten, there was, though, no way through.
Even when McClean, the brightest of Sunderland's attacking players, did find space at the back post, his lowly drilled drive shaved the side-netting and Boro returned to Teesside with a replay date in tow.