Barnsley knew that this would be a proper test of their League One credentials, but 13 minutes of first-half madness cost them the chance of passing it.
They were blown away at the Stadium of Light, 4-2, as promotion rivals Sunderland blasted three quickfire goals that, despite a strong rally, made it impossible for the Reds to recover from.
Aiden McGeady, Josh Maja and Lynden Gooch all found the net for the rampant Black Cats, who now move five points clear of Daniel Stendel's men and are on a 14-game unbeaten run.
As damaging as those 13 minutes were, whenever you have got Kieffer Moore in your side you have a chance and two more goals from the prolific striker either side of half-time gave the visitors the unlikeliest of chances of a comeback.
Ultimately, Luke O'Nien's late fourth for Sunderland killed the game off and left the Reds to ponder a third away defeat from four games.
It was all going okay on a drenched Wearside until Ethan Pinnock fouled McGeady in the area in the 19th minute and the former Sheffield Wednesday loanee stepped up to convert from the spot.
The visitors had no time to compose themselves as less than 60 seconds later they were contemplating a two-goal deficit.
Pinnock again was exposed as Maja turned him superbly and then curled a sumptuous effort into the right-hand post for his 12th goal of the season.
It appeared game over just after the half-hour and the Reds will have felt hard done to as Gooch's effort was cruelly deflected over the helpless Adam Davies.
In Moore, though, the Reds have a man who can score at any moment and he delivered his 10th of the campaign shortly before half-time, drilling in a low effort.
It could have been an even better team-talk for Stendel, but Cauley Woodrow rattled the post in first-half injury time.
They had another chance early after the restart from a corner as Cameron McGeehan saw an effort blocked on the line and there was a sense that it was only a matter of time.
And Moore did eventually reduce the deficit further on the hour with a trademark header from a corner, leaving the Reds with 30 minutes to somehow find a leveller.
As they pushed hard and committed bodies forward, they were beginning to be exposed on the break and Sunderland had the chance to wrap the game up, but Davies did brilliantly to deny Chris Maguire with from a one-on-one effort.
There was nothing Davies could do in the final 10 minutes, though, with O'Nien tapping home from McGeady's centre in the final 10 minutes.