PAOLO Di Canio hailed the power and the passion of a full-hearted 44,000-plus crowd at the Stadium of Light for cheering their team over the line on Saturday.
The weekend victory over Everton was a vital one in terms of Premier League survival, leaving Sunderland within touching distance of safety, with games against Aston Villa, Stoke, Southampton and Spurs remaining.
And, as well as praising his players, Di Canio made a point of paying tribute to the vociferous supporters for cheering the side on every step of the way.
“The crowd were incredible,” he said.
“They kept the players going; they pushed them – it was crucial.
“In the last 20 minutes of a game like that, you can feel the tiredness and the exhaustion, you can feel like you haven’t the energy to go on, but then you hear the crowd roaring for you and it carries you.
“They were magnificent at that and, in the future, the Stadium of Light must become our fortress.
“We have to absorb the energy from the fans – but we also have to give our best in order to get that energy from them in the first place.”
Di Canio paid tribute to that support when he walked into the centre circle after the game and acknowledged each of the four stands in turn, as they sang his name.
It was an amazing scene and the head coach admitted: “The emotion at the end was one of the best moments in my whole sporting life, for many reasons.
“We gave something special to our fans and they gave us something special back.
“I have been in football for many, many years, but that game, and the fans after the game was over, was one of the best moments of my life in football.
“It is great for me – I feel no pressure at all at Sunderland, but I do feel great responsibility.
“We want to make the people happy.”
There was personal appreciation too of owner Ellis Short – seeing his first Sunderland game since Di Canio took charge.
At the game’s end, the Italian pointed up to the American and pounded his chest.
“For me, it was a gesture of respect to the people who took me on because I knew it wasn’t easy,” said Di Canio.
“The fact the owner came to this game, we dedicate the win to him, because it was fantastic all round from the team.
“We delivered a good effort for him and it was great for the fans too.
“I am grateful to him for the opportunity – even if I was sacked tomorrow – because he has given me a chance to manage a Premier League club.”
H Sunderland Under-21s are away to Everton tonight (7pm).