Chelsea’s victory, in a game that witnessed two own goals, saw them climb above both Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur into third place, while Sunderland remain just a point above the relegation zone.
Appointed as the successor to Martin O’Neill amid a whirlwind of controversy over his alleged fascist sympathies, Di Canio had dominated the British sporting headlines in the build-up to the game.
The Italian, who this week denied he was a fascist, saw his side take the lead on the stroke of half-time when Chelsea defender Cesar Azpilicueta inadvertently hooked John O’Shea’s header into his own goal.
Di Canio had drafted Matthew Kilgallon into his starting line-up but the centre-back accidentally gifted Chelsea an equaliser in the 47th minute when he diverted Oscar’s pass past visiting goalkeeper Simon Mignolet.
Branislav Ivanovic completed the Chelsea comeback 10 minutes into the second half but his strike was similarly fortuitous, David Luiz’s strike cannoning off him and trundling into the bottom-right corner.
Earlier, Gylfi Sigurdsson snatched a late equaliser as Tottenham denied Champions League qualification rivals Everton victory in a 2-2 draw at White Hart Lane.
Spurs went into the game aiming to tighten their grip on third place and they took the lead after just 34 seconds when a stretching Emmanuel Adebayor toed Jan Vertonghen’s cross past Tim Howard.
However, Phil Jagielka equalised in the 15th minute, rising to nod Leighton Baines’ corner between the legs of Spurs goalkeeper Hugo Lloris.
Kevin Mirallas then put the visitors in front eight minutes into the second half with a goal to rival his strike in last weekend’s 1-0 win at Stoke City.
The Belgian picked up the ball in the inside-right channel and weaved past three opposing players before planting a shot in the bottom-left corner.
David Moyes’ side were within sight of a fourth straight league win, only for Sigurdsson to tap home an equaliser in the 87th minute after Adebayor’s shot came back off the post.
Tottenham finish the weekend in the fourth and final Champions League qualifying place, but although they are two points above Arsenal and six points clear of Everton, both their pursuers have games in hand.
Liverpool’s bid for a European berth faltered as they were held to a frustrating 0-0 draw at home to West Ham United.
Brendan Rodgers’ side lost Stewart Downing to injury in the first half at Anfield and their best chance saw a Steven Gerrard effort blocked on the line by James Tomkins.
West Ham might even have snatched victory at the death, but Jack Collison’s header was kneed off the line by Lucas Leiva.
The result meant Liverpool remained in seventh place, but they are now seven points outside the European qualifying places having played a game more than both fifth-place Arsenal and sixth-place Everton.
Elsewhere, Papiss Cisse struck in injury time to earn Newcastle United a 1-0 win at home to Fulham that lifted Alan Pardew’s side six points clear of the bottom three.
Later on Sunday, second-bottom Queens Park Rangers host third-bottom Wigan Athletic in a game that could prove pivotal to both sides’ chances of escaping the drop.