Super-sub Fabrice Pancrate blasted 10-man Newcastle 10 points clear of the chasing pack as they scrapped their way to a sixth successive victory with a 2-0 win over Watford.
The Frenchman struck with seven minutes remaining to kill off Watford's concerted fightback after the home side had Kevin Nolan sent off for a second bookable offence four minutes after the break.
Peter Lovenkrands had put the Magpies ahead with 20 minutes gone, but they rode their luck as Malky Mackay's men threatened to snatch some reward for their efforts until Pancrate's late contribution in front of a crowd of 43,050.
Just as they had done last week when they raced into a 3-0 lead over Swansea with just 28 minutes gone, the Magpies roared out of the blocks and Hornets goalkeeper Scott Loach had to make a third-minute save from Nolan after he played a neat one-two with Marlon Harewood.
Lovenkrands mishit a volley wide after full-back Jose Enrique's enterprising ninth-minute sprint down the left, but Steven Taylor had to clear Danny Graham's toe-poke off the line seconds later after Fabricio Coloccini failed to cut out Henri Lansbury's pass.
Newcastle started to lose their way as Watford grew in confidence in the middle of the field with Lansbury and John Eustace prominent, but they got their noses in front with 20 minutes gone, thanks to a helping hand from the visitors.
Defender Craig Cathcart left his back-pass to Loach woefully short to allow Harewood to get in a block which sent the ball into the path of Lovenkrands, who made no mistake with the goal at his mercy.
However, Magpies target Tom Cleverley, on loan from Manchester United, came within inches of an equaliser with a curling free-kick which just cleared the crossbar four minutes later.
Steve Harper was called upon for the first time four minutes before the break when striker Heidar Helguson ran clear on to full-back Lee Hudson's pass, but he could not beat the Newcastle goalkeeper.
Lovenkrands flicked a Jonas Gutierrez cross into the side-netting within seconds of the restart and Danny Guthrie forced a fine save from Loach with a 52nd-minute free-kick.
But in the meantime, Nolan, who had been booked before the break for a foul on Eustace, received a second yellow card for a nasty challenge on Lansbury.
The visitors sensed an opportunity and it took a fine block from Danny Simpson to keep out Danny Graham's 55th-minute shot on the turn.
Helguson twice fired in quick succession as the Magpies came under intense pressure, and Harper had to get down well to turn Cleverley's 66th-minute effort around the post.
But the nerves inside St James' Park were eased with seven minutes remaining when Pancrate produced a stunning left-footed finish to end Watford's hopes.
Copyright (c) PA Sport 2009, All Rights Reserved.