David Moyes saluted his players for their "best performance" of the season after seeing Sunderland clinch their second successive home win, against Leicester City.
The deserved 2-1 victory at the Stadium of Light moves the Black Cats to within a point of safety and only two from the reigning champions.
A Robert Huth own goal and Jermain Defoe's eighth strike of the campaign put them in charge although sub Shinji Okazaki's 80th-minute replay ensured a nervy finish.
"I thought it was a good performance, probably the best we've played, certainly in that first 20 or 30 minutes," said Moyes.
"We just didn't make our good opportunities into goal-scoring chances.
"To be fair to Leicester they made a lot of blocks and I was always wary about Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez on the break, you could never feel totally comfortable given the quality of those players."
Sunderland dominated the opening stages of the contest but had to wait until the 64th minute to go ahead - and rely on a little good fortune.
Half-time subs Seb Larsson and Kirchhoff combined with the goal proving German affair, Larsson's corner met by the head of Kirchhoff whose attempt
was deflected in by countryman Huth.
Sunderland seemed to have the points tied up 13 minutes from time when Defoe slotted in his eighth goal of the season after Duncan Watmore had
a shot blocked following good work by the excellent Victor Anichebe.
Okazaki scored from close range to give Leicester hope and in the sixth-minute of added time, Jordan Pickford made a breathtaking save from Foxes skipper Wes Morgan who then blazed the rebound into the stand.
"You have to say we have a wonderful keeper," said the manager.
"He didn't have a lot to do and I thought he looked more jittery than I'd seen him.
"But when it came to the moment we needed him he produced a top save.
"We should never have been in that place because we were in control at 2-0, and ~I thought we might o on to get a third goal.
"We put ourselves in jeopardy, but that came from a wrong decision, Papy was pulled up for a foul and booked but I've seen it again and he won the ball."
Unfortunately for Sunderland, the critical win came at a cost, with Watmore stretchered off late on with a knee injury after being brought down by Christian Fuchs.
"The team is getting better but unfortunately we've picked up up another injury with Duncan," said Moyes. "It doesn't look great.
"Duncan has been playing well.
"I'd love to say the two changes I made at half-time were tactical genius, but they were both enforced - Steven's eye close over and he had blurred vision and Jason felt ill."