Issam Ben Khemis’ first-team goal in a Rovers shirt was enough to secure progression to the knockout stages of the Checkatrade Trophy.
Midfielder Ben Khemis curled home the winning strike with 20 minutes to go at the Keepmoat Stadium, ensuring Rovers will finish at least second in Group H.
There were changes aplenty for this fixture, with Jacob Fletcher and Tyler Walker making their first starts for the home side, with the Rovers’ bench made up of youth team players.
Rovers started the game well, and controlled much of the early stages against a Sunderland under-21 side with some Premier League experience in their ranks - not least midfielder Jack Rodwell, who once cost Manchester City £12million and moved to the Black Cats for £10m in 2014.
Harry Toffolo had the game’s first chance of note, striking a free kick just over Mika’s bar in the visitors’ goal.
Ben Khemis was next to try his luck, hitting a half volley from just outside the area after picking up the ball from a Liam Mandeville corner.
The Frenchman could only fire well over Mika’s goal, but once again it was an effort that showed Rovers meant business in the early stages.
Fletcher, making his first professional start, tried yet another effort from distance shortly afterwards, however his drive from 30 yards out was well held by Mika who was being tested in the opening exchanges.
Andy Williams, captain for the night, should then have opened the scoring as the game passed the half hour mark.
Tyler Garratt’s ball over the top was controlled well by Williams, and as he turned he was through on goal, but he spurned the chance to hand the home side the lead, firing well over from inside the area.
Sunderland’s young side did eventually have their first attempt on goal, and against the run of play, they very nearly took the lead.
A free-kick on the right-hand touchline was struck by Ethan Robson and almost curled all the way in, and Marko Marosi had to be on his toes to tip the ball around the post for a corner.
Mandeville had the final chance of the half, stepping up to take a free-kick from just outside the box, but his effort struck the post and the scores remained level going into the break.
The young Black Cats came out the quicker of the two sides after the interval, and they went close to taking the lead quickly into the second half.
A ball through from Rees Greenwood split the Rovers’ defence open, giving Robson a clean shot on goal, albeit from a tight angle.
The Sunderland midfielder could only fire just wide of Marosi’s far post, but that provided a warning to Rovers that they couldn’t switch off.
Another Rovers debutant next went closest, as substitute James Morris tested Mika from distance.
His strike from 25 yards was well hit, but Mika got a hand behind the ball to tip it around a post for a corner.
The impressive Fletcher tried giving the home side the lead just a minute later, as another effort from distance saw the young man curl just wide of the far post.
Eventually though, the goal that Rovers were pressing for did come, and it was well worth the wait.
Sunderland lost the ball in their defensive third, and the ball was picked up by Ben Khemis.
Ben Khemis found himself plenty of time and space in front of goal, and curled a delightful effort from 20 yards out and into the top left corner and give the hosts the lead.
Rovers dominated the closing stages, and could have doubled their lead in the last couple of minutes.
From a Sunderland corner, Ben Khemis broke away and fed Morris, sending the young forward one-on-one with Mika.
Morris got a shot away, but Mika stood up well and prevented the striker from extending the lead.
Sunderland’s young side had one last chance themselves to equalise, with former Manchester United man Donald Love crossing in for Luke Molyneux, however he could only direct his header straight at Marosi who ensured that Rovers remained in front.