The relegation battle is tighter than ever on Saturday evening as Newcastle thumped Swansea 3-0 to give their survival hopes a huge boost.
Sunderland had beaten Norwich in the lunchtime match to close up to within a point of the Canaries, making it all the more important for Rafa Benitez's men to win and thereby keep pace.
And they responded in fine style, with goals from Jamaal Lascelles, Moussa Sissoko and Andros Townsend giving them a comfortable victory - Benitez's first since taking over and on his birthday too.
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St James’ Park erupted when a rare headed Lascelles goal broke the deadlock just before the break.
Swansea then set nerves jangling for the home faithful as both Ashley Williams and Bafetimbi Gomis missed excellent chances before Sissoko fired home after the ball ricocheted to his feet from a corner.
And Andros Townsend settled matters a minute from time, sliding the ball under Lukasz Fabianski from substitute Aleksandar Mitrovic’s pass.
Newcastle remain in 19th place on 28 points, but are just two behind Sunderland and three behind Norwich, with both the north-eastern sides having a game in hand over the Canaries.

Newcastle United's Jack Colback in action with Swansea's Leroy Fer

Image credit: Reuters

TALKING POINT: Birthday boy Benitez keeps survival fight alive

It was the new boss’s first victory as Newcastle manager and it means they remain firmly on course for survival after a comprehensive victory.

Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez is planning for a long-term future at St James' Park

Image credit: PA Sport

MAN OF THE MATCH

Andros Townsend (Newcastle United) Full of running all afternoon and caped a fine performance with a deserved goal.

PLAYER RATINGS

Newcastle – Darlow 6, Anita 6, Mbemba 6, Lascelles 7, Dummett 6; Townsend 8, Tiote 6, Colback 7, Sissoko 7, Wijnaldum 6, Cisse 6. Subs: Shelvey 6, Perez 6, Mitrovic 7.
Swansea: Fabianski 5, Rangel 6, Fernandez 6, Williams 7, Taylor 6, Fer 6, Cork 6, Sigurdsson 7, Montero 6, Ayew 6, Paloschi 6. Subs: Routledge 6, Barrow 7, Gomis 7.

MATCH IN A TWEET

MATCHCAST: FULL STATS, TWEETS AND COMMENTARY

KEY MOMENTS

9’ – CROSSBAR! Townsend’s cross catches Fabianski unawares and it comes back off the bar before being cleared to safety.
41’ – GOAL! Newcastle United 1-0 Swansea: Lascelles nips in to head home off the chest of Fabianski from a corner kick to put the hosts ahead.
71’ – CHANCE SWANSEA: Mbemba heads Sigurdsson’s cross straight into the path of Mbemba but he fizzes his shot over.
76’ – CHANCE SWANSEA: Gomis plays in Montero but he lifts his shot over Darlow and wide of the far post.
78’ – CHANCE SWANSEA: Barrow crosses into the path of Gomis but he pokes his shot over the bar.
81’ – GOAL! Newcastle United 2-0 Swansea: It’s pinball in the box as Mitrovic’s header rebounds to the feet of Sissoko, who fires home.
89’ – GOAL! Newcastle United 3-0 Swansea: Townsend completes the job, slotting his shot under Fabianski from Mitrovic’s pass.

KEY STATS

Andros Townsend has already assisted as many Premier League goals for Newcastle (2) in eight apps as he did for Spurs (50 apps).
Moussa Sissoko scored his first Premier League goal since the final day of last season.
Townsend has been involved in four goals in his last three Premier League games (two goals, two assists).
Swansea lost an away Premier League game by a three goal margin for the first time since December 2014 at Liverpool (1-4).
Newcastle kept only their second clean sheet in their last 18 Premier League games.
The Swans failed to score in an away Premier League game for the first time in 2016.
Rafa Benitez became the second Premier League manager to win on his birthday on two occasions, along with Arsene Wenger.
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