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NEWCASTLE United hauled themselves out of the Premier League relegation zone with a 3-0 win over fellow strugglers Cardiff City at St James’ Park.
A brace from defender Fabian Schar, including an excellent solo effort in the first half, was added to late on by Ayoze Perez. The home supporters didn’t shirk the opportunity to make their feelings known to unpopular owner Mike Ashley, who was in the stands amid reports he is contemplating pulling the plug on a potential takeover.
Rafael Benitez was pleased to see his side build on their FA Cup victory over Blackburn on Tuesday and says performances like that should see Newcastle survive.
“We played with confidence, energy and intensity. After scoring four goals in the FA Cup, it was great to score three today,” he said.
“Everybody said today was important, but we will have a lot of games against teams close to us in the table. These are crucial.
“It was important to see the team fighting. In these games you can always get something, maybe a win or maybe a draw. We will have plenty of opportunities to stay up.”
Both sides made a cautious start to the game, which was understandable given what was at stake. Perez had the first chance of the game 12 minutes in when he saw a header from Matt Ritchie’s corner tipped over by Neil Etheridge.
Moments later, Perez was involved again; this time, he saw a penalty appeal waved away by referee Stuart Atwell despite claims the ball had struck Joe Bennett’s arm inside the area. The visitors, meanwhile, were restricted to threatening from set pieces.
Just six minutes before the half-hour mark, the pressure lifted. Schar picked the ball up and entered the Cardiff half and, with the defence standing off him, he saw the space and moved forward with more purpose before unleashing a perfect curling effort into the bottom left-hand corner from 12 yards.
On 63 minutes, Newcastle cemented their dominance and it came through Schar again. He tapped home from a Ritchie corner after Jamaal Lascelles’ flick on.
Smelling blood, the hosts pushed for a third, and they almost got it when Salomon Rondon struck inside the box. Schar almost completed his hat-trick from the resulting corner, but his header went just over the bar.
Cardiff continued to struggle going forward; though they enjoyed long spells of possession in the second half, Martin Dubravka was never really troubled in the home goal.
Their afternoon was a summed up when Nathaniel Mendez-Laing tripped over his own feet while attempting stepovers on the right-hand side.
Newcastle wrapped it up through Perez’s close-range finish in stoppage time, clinching a first win since December 15.
Neil Warnock was frustrated that his side couldn’t capitalise on the nerves in the stadium, particularly in the first half, as they dropped into the bottom three.
“It was a disappointment for us, we wanted to put pressure on,” he said.
“In the first half, it was there. They were nervous and we grew into the game. But we were in the bottom three earlier in the season and you can never write our lads off.”
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