Defeat for Di Canio as Chelsea go third and Spurs draw with Everton
New Sunderland boss Paolo Di Canio was left to curse his luck after a narrow defeat at Chelsea and Queens Park Rangers suffered late heartache at home to Wigan Athletic.
Tottenham Hotspur dropped down to fourth in the table after fighting back to salvage a draw at home to top-four rivals Everton.
Newcastle United took a giant stride towards securing their Premier League survival and West Ham United also inched closer to the 40-point mark after holding Liverpool.
Di Canio's first match as Sunderland manager ended in a luckless defeat at Stamford Bridge as Chelsea moved into third position on the back of a 2-1 win.
Stephane Sessegnon and Adam Johnson both had good chances for the Black Cats before the visitors took the lead on the stroke of half-time when John O'Shea flicked on a corner and Cesar Azpilicueta turned the ball into his own net.
But good fortune went Chelsea's way two minutes into the second half when Oscar mis-controlled Fernando Torres' pass and the ball ricocheted off keeper Simon Mignolet and then Matt Kilgallon before trickling over the line.
And there was more than an element of luck about Chelsea's winner on 55 minutes when David Luiz's shot was heading wide before taking a deflection off Branislav Ivanovic which wrong-footed Mignolet.
Shaun Maloney's injury-time free-kick earned Wigan a potentially priceless 1-1 draw at Loftus Road after Loic Remy's stunning goal had looked likely to give QPR a vital win.
QPR came close to taking the lead after just nine minutes when Remy's volley came back off the post, but the hosts were reduced to 10 men before the midway point of the first half.
Bobby Zamora's high boot caught Jordi Gomez in the head and he was shown a straight red card after referee Phil Dowd had consulted his assistant.
With five minutes to go, QPR appeared set to breathe life into their survival bid when Stephane Mbia broke from the edge of his own penalty area following a Wigan free-kick. He fed Remy, whose first-time side-footed shot rocketed past Joel Robles.
But in the fourth minute of stoppage-time, QPR were left deflated when Maloney curled a free-kick over the wall and beyond Julio Cesar.
Gylfi Sigurdsson scored a late equaliser to keep Tottenham's UEFA Champions League qualification hopes ticking over after a 2-2 draw with Everton at White Hart Lane.
Spurs enjoyed a dream start by taking the lead inside the opening minute when Jan Vertonghen curled in a delicious cross for Emmanuel Adebayor to score his first Premier League goal since New Year's Day as he stretched to divert the ball beyond Tim Howard.
Everton responded quickly and were level on 15 minutes when Leighton Baines' corner to the far post was headed down and through Hugo Lloris' legs by Phil Jagielka.
The home side's penalty appeal for handball by Darron Gibson was waved away and Spurs were cursing again on 53 minutes when Everton took the lead through Kevin Mirallas' low finish following an excellent run by the Belgian.
But Everton's own hopes of sneaking into the top four were dealt a blow with three minutes to go when Sigurdsson turned home the loose ball after Adebayor's shot had crashed back off the post.
Papiss Cisse scored a superb injury-time winner as Newcastle moved five points clear of the bottom three after a 1-0 home success over Fulham.
For much of the game, it appeared Newcastle would be out of luck as Vurnon Anita, Yoan Gouffran and Cisse all saw attempts strike the woodwork.
However, in the third minute of stoppage-time, Cisse took an intuitive touch to flick Yohan Cabaye's shot into the air and he swivelled sharply to steer the ball beyond Mark Schwarzer.
Liverpool's quest to qualify for the Europa League suffered a dent after a frustrating 0-0 draw at home with West Ham.
The visitors, who have not won at Anfield for nearly 50 years, came close in the first half following a mazy dribble by Mohamed Diame before James Tomkins cleared Steven Gerrard's shot off the line early in the second period.
Gerrard then wanted a penalty after tumbling over Tomkins, but the West Ham defender got a faint touch to the ball, before Sam Allardyce's side almost pinched a winner when Lucas blocked Jack Collison's header on the line.