An inspired Ayoze Perez helped Newcastle United put any lingering Premier League relegation fears to bed with a hat-trick in a 3-1 win over Southampton at St James’ Park on Saturday.
The Spaniard scored twice before halftime to put the hosts in command and killed off Southampton late on after Mario Lemina’s goal had revived the Saints.
Victory lifted Newcastle 10 points above third-bottom Cardiff City who face title-chasing Liverpool on Sunday. Southampton remained five points clear of the drop zone.
The home crowd were still moaning about a James Ward-Prowse body-check on Miguel Almiron when Perez scored twice in three minutes to fuel a jubilant mood in the Easter sunshine.
First he turned beautifully before firing right-footed past Angus Gunn in the 27th minute and with Southampton still reeling he slid in to meet Salomon Rondon's low cross.
When Ki Sung-yueng was denied a third for Newcastle shortly after halftime, his shot thudding against the post, the hosts were in complete control, but Southampton were not done and Mario Lemina halved the deficit just before the hour mark with a clinical finish from Stuart Armstrong's cross.
In a frantic end-to-end finale, Almiron went off with a hamstring injury and Gunn made a superb save to keep out Isaac Hayden’s deflected volley before Perez touched home in the 86th minute to calm the home crowd’s jitters.