Callum Wilson scored twice as Newcastle relieved the pressure on manager Steve Bruce with a much-needed win at Everton.
Bruce has endured intense criticism from Newcastle’s fan base as his team lost their past five Premier League games to slip towards the relegation zone.
But after switching to a 4-4-2 diamond formation they secured their first win in 12 games, with Wilson’s 50th and 51st Premier League goals helping to beat a passive Everton.
Wilson, who had drawn a classy save from Jordan Pickford in the first half and shot wide after the break, ended a seven-game goal drought by heading in Jonjo Shelvey’s corner.
Newcastle’s top scorer then hit the post before scoring in stoppage time.
Bruce was understandably delighted at the final whistle as his team moved nine points clear of the relegation zone.
Everton, who tested keeper Karl Darlow in the first half, could not find a way through Newcastle’s defence and missed out on a chance to draw level on points with Liverpool.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side remain seventh, four points off the top four.
Bruce has borne the brunt of fans’ frustrations for the past two months as Newcastle dwindled towards what looked like a scrap for survival.
But he has always maintained his side are capable of turning the corner once they got Allan Saint-Maximin and Jamaal Lascelles back from coronavirus problems, and Ryan Fraser from injury.
There has been criticism of his formations and team selection too, but, in a week when Bruce added Bournemouth coach Graeme Jones to his staff, Wilson’s return to form and a new formation offered supporters much-needed hope.
There were signs of improvement in the second half of their midweek defeat by Leeds, but, with Miguel Almiron at the tip of the diamond and Wilson and Fraser further forward, this was Newcastle’s best display for months.
Wilson, often isolated in previous matches, got better support and, although starting slightly to the right, he looked dangerous from the outset.
Shelvey had already gone close with a deflected shot when Wilson drew a fine stop from Pickford with a header from Fraser’s corner. Further good link-up play from Wilson led to a free-kick where Shelvey could not hit the target.
But with a better balance in midfield and a firm defence, Bruce bellowed at his players from the sidelines as he sensed a positive result.
That came when Wilson nodded in his ninth of the season to give the visitors a deserved lead.
Although he wasted a great chance to make it 2-0 when he rounded Pickford and hit a post, he made up for that error with a 10th goal of the season by firing in unmarked.
Ancelotti spoke on Friday about how his team are playing to their strengths this season by being solid in defence and combining the passing range of James Rodriguez with their aerial prowess.
But their more direct approach and a lack of midfield control showed against an often superior Newcastle side, even if Abdoulaye Doucoure, Alex Iwobi and Gylfi Sigurdsson, on his 300th Premier League appearance, were back in the side.
Everton took advantage of their best assets early on when Yerry Mina headed over from Rodriguez’s cross, with Darlow taking out the Colombia defender as he struggled to meet the centre.
Although there were chances for Rodriguez, who had a shot saved by Darlow despite suspicions of a handball by Dominic Calvert-Lewin in the build-up, and Richarlison skewed wide, having hit the target with an earlier effort, they failed to dominate their opponents.
Pickford, who stayed in the side following his error against Leicester, repaid the faith Ancelotti had shown in him by keeping out Wilson’s first-half header.
But he could do little about the opening goal as it sailed to Wilson, who was unchallenged at the back post.
Everton began to leave gaps as they searched for an equaliser, but Wilson, who was supported well by Fraser and his replacement Saint-Maximin, continued to cause problems for a Everton defence who had been resolute in recent matches.
A second defeat in nine league games is not terminal, but it leaves Ancelotti with much to consider as he attempts to mount a European challenge which has stuttered this week.