Depleted Cardiff beaten in relegation 6 pointer
Newcastle lifted themselves out of the relegation zone and leapfrogged Cardiff as they secured a much-needed win over Neil Warnock’s side.
Fabian Schar proved the difference as his first Newcastle goals lifted the gloom around St James’ Park where Rafael Benitez’s team have already lost eight times in the league this season.
The Swiss defender was only in the side to replace the injured Ciaran Clark but he took full advantage midway through the first when he was allowed to run from the right touchline before curling left-footed into the bottom corner.
As fine a goal as it was, the Cardiff defending was non-existent.
Schar’s second was more straightforward as he found himself in the right spot to bundle in Matt Ritchie’s corner, becoming the first Newcastle defender to score two goals in a game since Philippe Albert in 1996.
Ayoze Perez added gloss in injury time from Salomon Rondon’s low cross as Newcastle scored three goals for the first time in the league this season.
Victory ended a five-game winless run for the Magpies and lifted them two points clear of their opponents, who only have Fulham and Huddersfield beneath them.
Benitez targeted this game against one of their relegation rivals as a crucial one and his team seemed to rise to the occasion with stellar performances all over the pitch.
This was a seventh game unbeaten against teams from the bottom seven.
Schar’s goals were as well taken as they were unexpected, but there were fine displays from the likes of academy graduate Sean Longstaff in midfield and Rondon, who was a true workhorse in attack.
The Magpies also added a threat down the flanks that Cardiff struggled to deal with as Ritchie and Christian Atsu combined down the left, with DeAndre Yedlin offering a constant outlet on the right.
Schar’s opener also came from that flank as he operated on the right side of a back three and was willing to break forward before calmly slotting past Neil Etheridge.
Fresh from a midweek FA Cup replay win at Blackburn, the home fans knew they were witnessing something special in the context of this season when Schar added his second. It was only the second time Newcastle had scored two home goals in a match this season.
The players, too, seemed to be lifted as they found an extra yard of pace and defended superbly as Cardiff finally stirred.
And when Perez popped up with a third, his fourth of the season, it gave them hope that despite ongoing issues around the ownership of the club, they might yet see Premier League football again next season.
Cardiff came into the game in better form than their opponents, having lost only once in the past four games, with three clean sheets in the process.
They were also boosted by the loan signing of striker Oumar Niasse, who joined the club from Everton on Friday.
But with only 10 minutes in the Premier League since September, he struggled to fit into the team, which was perhaps understandable.
The Bluebirds, who had not won a league game at St James’ Park since 1963, were also without captain Sean Morrison, who suffered a burst appendix earlier in the week.
His omission was important as the defence struggled to marshal the impressive Rondon.
Only Victor Camarasa managed a shot on goal in the first half, as he fizzed the ball over from 25 yards just before the break.
And it was only after Newcastle went 2-0 up that the visitors attacked with any urgency. Bobby Reid skewed wide late on, but Warnock’s team did not look very threatening in attack and were met with some stubborn resistance.
Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez: “We did good. We scored three goals so everyone has to be happy.
“The main thing is the commitment of the players and then it was about trying to manage the game against a tough team, a physical team.
“Fabian Schar has quality on the ball. It [his first goal] was a great goal. The team were giving everything and this kind of game you know you have to work hard.
“I said before we would still have to win a lot of games to stay up.”
Cardiff boss Neil Warnock: “I didn’t think it was a 3-0 game. I couldn’t see them breaking through until the first goal which was poor from our point of view. We started the second half well and were dangerous and then conceded the second that killed us. We didn’t have anything drop for us and they were better than us in the final third.
“Nine of the lads that played today were in the Championship last year. While we are disappointed it is not the end of the world. We looked a half decent side. I didn’t think in the last third we did enough.”