Ryan Noble scored four times for a side containing several first-teamers but the Reds took the lead and threatened to make a remarkable comeback at one stage, only for the North-East side to come out well on top in gale-force wind up on Wearside.
United edged in front when Michele Fornasier's sweeping pass allowed Marnick Vermijl to control beautifully and cut inside onto his left foot before burying a finish past Trevor Carson and in off a post. Will Keane nearly doubled the lead when lashing a left-footed shot against Carson after a deft touch took him past Matt Kilgallon and Sean McGinty's header also worked the home keeper.
But the Black Cats felt they should have had a penalty when Jordan Cook tumbled under Scott Wootton's challenge and their pressure paid off when David Meyler bundled the ball home at the second attempt. Just before half-time, a generous free-kick, awarded when Vermijl was harshly penalised, saw Craig Gardner's wind-assisted set-piece fly past a wrong-footed Tomasz Kuszczak.
The game went goal crazy in the second period with prolific marksman Noble turning sharply to fire home after a mistake by Wootton and then supplying a sharp finish to a Gardner through ball to make it 4-1. However, John Cofie made a swift impact after coming off the bench, displaying great skill on the right to prod through to Michael Keane and the defender drilled a precise shot past Carson.
Showing real spirit, the Reds pulled another goal back when Cofie released Will Keane and the