Milan Djuric emerged from the bench to power Bristol City into the play-off places by sealing a 2-1 victory at struggling Sunderland.
While the Black Cats' misery continues as their winless run at the Stadium of Light was extended to 18 matches, the Robins managed to get the job done after the long trip to the north east.
It looked like Bristol City, who had taken the lead in the 28th minute through Bobby Reid, might not clinch victory when Lewis Grabban forced in a scrappy equaliser for Sunderland at the end of the first half.
But after a pretty uneventful second half, Lee Johnson's side, who have only lost once since August, managed to seal the points courtesy of Djuric's first league goal of the season with 17 minutes remaining.
It is a sign of the times at Sunderland, staring at a relegation fight rather than a promotion charge, that there were more than 20,000 empty seats inside the 48,000 capacity venue.
Yet the men from Wearside, who now face a bottom two tussle with Bolton on Tuesday, still started reasonably brightly, causing a few problems for the visitors and they might have been first to score before the opener did arrive.
Left-back Bryan Oviedo had seen an effort held by goalkeeper Frank Fielding and John O'Shea had a strike at the back post deflect over the bar. The best of Sunderland's early chances fell to Grabban when he lobbed just over after brilliantly bringing down Duncan Watmore's ball over the top.
But Bristol City are not in the thick of the promotion mix for nothing and kept plugging away. They were rewarded with the lead when Reid was allowed far too much space at the back post to nod down Callum O'Dowda's corner and beyond goalkeeper Jason Steele.
At that point the frustration in the stands was clear and Sunderland lost more confidence. They did, though find their feet just in time before the half-time whistle went.
Simon Grayson's side had already seen Fielding dive to stop a deflected shot from Darron Gibson, recalled for the rested Lee Cattermole, before hitting the equaliser with the last attack of the first half.
Aiden McGeady, looking to impress Ireland's number two Roy Keane in the stands, saw his initial cross-shot palmed away by Fielding but only as far as the crowded box. Billy Jones tried next, followed by Watmore before Grabban was hand to find the net.
Rather than build on that after the restart, the quality of the play deteriorated for a long period from both teams. Bristol City looked more for the counter-attacks, while Sunderland struggled to create something.
O'Dowda looked like he might win it for the visitors when he charged through on goal after a weak Billy Jones header, only to waste his effort by firing over.
And then O'Dowda soon made up for it. After getting to the line he sent in a fine centre for the towering Djuric to nod into the empty net. After that Sunderland did not cause the Robins anywhere near as many problems as they needed to and the visitors stayed solid to move up to fourth.
Simon Grayson: "I am disappointed with the players and what they have done today. I will continue to work as hard as I can and hopefully we will get results and it will change very quickly. After 12 years and 600-odd games in management, I know what can happen if you win games.
"I am under no illusion we need to start winning very quickly. We need to get some positivity before the next two games. I will be here to fight on, without a shadow of doubt. I have to lift them but we have to do basics right. I am saying the same things after every defeat. We are still making bad decisions, not taking responsibility and gifting our opponents opportunities to win games.
Lee Johnson: "I'm delighted with the second half. Sunderland were the better team in the first half. Their goal was a good wake-up call. It was about grit and determination and the inches. Callum O'Dowda was brilliant. He works hard, set up two and he will be delighted.
"It was probably one of the most aggressive half-time talks I have had to give. We had to rile them up and go old school. It was almost like Wacko from Mike Bassett when he hit the wall! Two or three needed to be more aggressive in their play and they did. I'm delighted. The conditions were so blustery it was not about football it was grit and determination and winning the inches. We made positive tactical changes and it paid off. We'd been too soft."