Marten de Roon’s early strike earned Middlesbrough a 1-0 win over Premier League basement club Sunderland on Wednesday that kept their faint hopes of survival flickering.
The Dutch midfielder scored for the second time in four appearances to earn Boro their first win in 17 games, since a 3-0 victory over Swansea City on December 17.
It took Steve Agnew’s side to within six points of safety with four games of the season remaining.
But Boro remain second from bottom and host Manchester City on Sunday before visiting league leaders Chelsea the following weekend.
Defeat completed a wretched day for Sunderland manager David Moyes, who has been charged by England’s Football Association for telling a female reporter she might “get a slap”.
His side remain 12 points adrift of safety at the foot of the standings and in need of a sporting miracle to avoid slipping into the Championship.
Sunderland were unchanged from their 2-2 draw at home to West Ham United and made a positive start, but Boro went in front from their first attack in the eighth minute.
Adam Clayton’s long ball found De Roon, who stabbed a shot between the legs of visiting goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.
Pickford was called into action again in the 20th minute, saving with his feet after Stewart Downing had been invited to shoot.
Short of a parry from Didier N’Dong’s powerful shot, Boro goalkeeper Brad Guzan was a virtual spectator at the other end.
There was a touching moment in the 44th minute as fans of both teams united for a standing ovation in memory of former Boro defender Ugo Ehiogu, who died of a heart attack last week aged 44.
Sunderland upped their game in the second half, Wahbi Khazri working Guzan from a free-kick, but it was to prove yet another night when a major opportunity passed them by.