Fabian Schar scored the first goals of his Newcastle career to drag Rafael Benitez’s men out of the Premier League relegation zone with a 3-0 victory over Cardiff.
The Switzerland defender, a £3million summer signing from Deportivo la Coruna, produced an accomplished first half finish to put the Magpies on the road to just a second league win in 10 attempts which was completed by Ayoze Perez in stoppage time.
On an afternoon when things might have turned ugly with any other result as hopes of a takeover fade, under-fire owner Mike Ashley was back among a crowd of 49,864 at St James’ Park for the first time since November 10.
He was treated to resounding choruses of “Stand up if you hate Ashley” and “We want Ashley out”, but saw his team produce a committed performance which deservedly yielded the three points they desperately needed.
If Ashley and Benitez headed for home with smiles on their faces, Cardiff boss Neil Warnock saw his club, who had loan signing Oumar Niasse on show for the first time, drop back into the relegation zone.
Unsurprisingly in a game between two struggling sides, the opening exchanges were conducted at high intensity and with little real quality, and it was not until Perez prompted a fine fingertip save from Neil Etheridge with a glancing header from Matt Ritchie’s 13th-minute corner that either set of fans had anything meaningful to cheer.
Referee Stuart Attwell waved away penalty appeals four minutes later after Perez had played the ball against Joe Bennett’s hand with Newcastle looking the more likely to score despite Cardiff seeing plenty of the ball.
It was they who took the lead in spectacular style with 24 minutes gone when Schar darted into space and kept going as the blue shirts backed off before steadying himself and side-footing expertly into the bottom corner.
Bennett was perhaps fortunate as the half-time whistle approach when he appeared to slip to allow Perez a free run into the box, but to the astonishment of Benitez on the sideline, Attwell spotted a foul few others had noticed.
The visitors might have taken advantage within seconds when Victor Camarasa sent in a shot from distance which only just cleared Martin Dubravka’s crossbar.
Proceedings became increasingly scrappy as Newcastle attempted to stamp their authority after the restart, but were repeatedly let down by misplaced passes, and they were almost caught when Camarasa played Nathaniel Mendez-Laing in behind wing-back Ritchie, forcing Florian Lejeune to make a vital interception.
Perez and Rondon both might have doubled their side’s advantage within seconds but for the efforts of Etheridge and Bennett with 57 minutes gone, but the respite proved to be temporary as Jamaal Lascelles rose to flick on Ritchie’s corner and Schar arrived to slot home at the far post.
The visitors rallied as they attempted to find a way back into the game, but Perez ended their hopes at the death as he rounded off a pacy counter-attack.