Stephane Sessegnon's second goal in a week secured a deserved 1-0 win over high-flying Everton as the Black Cats claimed back-to-back triumphs to edge themselves six points clear of the scrap for survival with just four games remaining.
The Benin international's decisive intervention came in first-half stoppage time as he drilled in a low shot. Toffees goalkeeper Tim Howard got a hand to it, but could not keep it out of his bottom corner.
A delighted Di Canio said: "The little one is big. He's a big player. We all know he is capable of scoring a goal like that.
"I want to point attention to the job they did once again up front. Both Stephane and Danny [Graham] - they left all their energy on the ground, and then obviously the goal made all the difference. It was a fantastic goal."
Di Canio's first game at the Stadium of Light could hardly have unfolded in much more pleasing style as his players collected a second successive clean sheet while causing far more problems than the visitors.
Sebastian Larsson had already gone increasingly close with three free-kicks when he laid the ball in to Sessegnon and watched him beat Howard.
Sunderland looked like a different team to the one which was slipping inexorably into the mire during the latter days of Martin O'Neill's reign.
Di Canio said: "It was a massive win and a massive win last week. We were struggling a bit to get that win.
"But the performance against Chelsea was decent. It gave us the confidence to go to Newcastle, and obviously the confidence that gave us was massive coming into this game. We played well and deserved the win."