A tight, taut Cup tie, fuelled by deep-seated local rivalry and whipped to a pulsating crescendo by an enormous travelling army, was decided by a moment of cool-headed precision from Julio Arca.
He calmly put the ball away as Hartlepool played helter-skelter with it in their own box - but it was Phil Babb's desperate last-minute clearance that won the day.
The distance of a Football League division and 23 miles of dual carriageway divided the sides but they appeared closer than that. Sunderland hit the post twice but Hartlepool's impressive front line fully extended the Estonian goalkeeper Mart Poom, his fingers stretched to snapping point on three occasions.
Hartlepool brought 9,100 supporters - the most to descend on the Stadium of Light, making Sunderland's biggest crowd of the season and the largest audience in Hartlepool's 95-year existence - and they sang up a storm as their heroes hurled themselves at their North-east neighbours.
The swivel hips of Paul Robinson - a man once famously preferred to Alan Shearer by the then Newcastle manager Ruud Gullit for his suicidal Tyne-Wear derby - and the right wing scamper of Chris Shuker, on loan from Manchester City, looked dangerous in the opening frenzy.
But as the game progressed, it was the powerful shooting of Eifion Williams that called Poom into action. In the 34th minute the Welshman curled a delicious shot around a defender. It seemed destined for the net until Poom's fingertips intervened.
Just after half-time, Williams' shot with the outside of his foot forced Poom into an awkward back-pedalling tip-over and, naturally, it was Williams who all but secured a draw in the dying moments.
Poom came unsuccessfully to meet Gavin Strachan's long free-kick, Hartlepool's impressive centre-back Michael Nelson nodding it on and Williams volleyed it towards the empty net. Babb, though, slid in to clear it from the line.
"I was very proud from the word go," said the Hartlepool manager, Neale Cooper. "We stressed that the players had to enjoy the occasion. It might not happen again. In all my life in football, I have never experienced an away support like that. It was phenomenal."
Cooper starred in one of the great upsets when, as part of Alex Ferguson's Aberdeen, he stole the European Cup-Winners' Cup from mighty Real Madrid in 1983, and after half-time yesterday, as his team powered forward, he must have been prepared to create another shock.
Instead, his defenders gave a goal away. A ballooning kick from Poom bounced dangerously and Matty Robson's calamitous clearance hit his own defenders. It fell kindly to the only Sunderland player in the vicinity, Arca, who cruelly placed the ball beyond Jim Provett's reach.
"They have come and given a good account of themselves, put us under pressure in the last 10 minutes. But I think we shaded it and we deserved it," concluded the Sunderland manager, Mick McCarthy.
Sunderland 1 Hartlepool United 0
Half-time 0-0 Attendance: 40,816Reuse content