The central defender came through the second 45 minutes of Boro's 2-1 at the Stadium of Light, and Head Coach Aitor Karanka was pleased to welcome Ayala back to action.
"Dani did well," said Karanka, who has been without the services of Ayala since the 1-1 draw with Blackburn at the Riverside almost two months ago.
"He's an important player for us and he needs confidence.
"Now with that 45 minutes and another week on the training ground he's going to be more confident so I'm really pleased for him."
REPORT: Jordan Rhodes and Kike Sola score in 2-1 win at Sunderland
VERDICT: Aitor Karanka's verdict on the Stadium of Light game