A Jake Hackett goal wasn’t enough for Sunderland as Middlesbrough came from behind with three second half goals at the Hetton Centre on Monday night.

Hackett’s freekick gave Sunderland the lead 31 minutes into the game, but Boro were level midway through the second half, with Connor Malley equalising.

Daniel Ward put Middlesbrough ahead with 15 minutes to go and Stephen Walker added a third four minutes later.

The game marked Duncan Watmore’s return to the pitch after over a year out and the Sunderland forward was given an early chance to put his mark on the game.

Sunderland were awarded a penalty 22 minutes into the game when trialist Sam Smart was brought down in the box by Jack Robinson.

Watmore stepped up, but his effort hard and low into the bottom left corner, was saved by Boro keeper Brad James.

Boro’s first real chance of the first half came in the 29th minute, Ben Liddle fired a fierce volley from 25 yards, which Max Johnstone did well to turn over.

From the following corner, Sunderland couldn’t fully clear, with the ball falling to Malley who fired another fierce effort from range, which again needed Johnstone to be alert.

Sunderland went straight up the other end, with Bali Mumba winning a freekick wide on the right-hand side. Hackett curled the freekick over the wall and into the top left-hand corner to put Sunderland ahead.

Hackett came close to adding a second just after half-time, but James got down well to keep his shot out.

Middlesbrough were awarded a penalty in the 50th minute when Jordan Hunter halted Billal Brahimi’s run into the box.

Liddle’s penalty was hit low to the right but smashed off the post and Sunderland cleared.

Boro were level with the game’s next real chance, a Liddle corner in the 67th minute was met by Malley, who headed past Johnstone to bring the visitors level.

Boro then came close to taking the lead, Walker forced a save out of Johnstone, who parried the ball into the path of Brahimi, but Johnstone got down well to keep it out.

Middlesbrough did take the lead in the 74th minute after a brilliant team move ended with Walker laying the ball off to Ward, who drilled an effort into the bottom right-hand corner from the edge of the box.

It was 3-1 just four minutes later when Walker curled a shot from outside the box into the bottom left-hand corner to put the game beyond doubt.

Sunderland XI: Johnstone; Hunter, Young, Taylor, Bainbridge (C); Mumba, Hackett; Smart (Diamond 58’), Neil (Connelly 76’), Kimpioka; Watmore (Nelson 58’)

Unused subs: Storey, Cameron

Middlesbrough XI: James, Spence, Robinson, Liddle, Stubbs (C), Wood-Gordon, Malley, Ward, McGill (Spence 58’), Walker, Brahimi

Unused subs: Hood, Balde, Hackney, Hemming

Attendance: 444