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Newcastle United eased their relegation fears with a 2-0 home win over Fulham on Saturday as attention focused on the battle to stay in the Premier League.
Sunderland, Reading and Middlesbrough also claimed important wins but nowhere was there more relief than at a wintry St James' Park.
Mark Viduka's early shot and a late Michael Owen [Images] header gave Kevin Keegan the winning feeling for the first time since returning as Newcastle manager in January.
"It was a great result," Keegan told Sky Sports television. "We showed character...and when we had to dig in we stuck together and that's what these players have been criticised for in the past.
"Michael Owen has been magnificent, not just his goals but his leadership on the pitch."
Viduka, who has recently returned to the side after niggling injuries, fired past keeper Kasey Keller after six minutes and Owen should have made the points safe before finally ending Fulham's resistance seven minutes from time.
Newcastle rose to 13th, six points above third from bottom Bolton Wanderers who snapped a run of five consecutive league defeats by drawing 0-0 at home to Manchester City.
Fulham remained four points from safety.
Sunderland, who began the day fourth from bottom, beat Aston Villa 1-0 with an 83rd-minute goal by Michael Chopra to secure their first away win of the season.
Roy Keane's side moved above Birmingham City, who went down 2-1 at Reading after two headed goals by Andre Bikey.
Bolton have 26 points from 31 games, Fulham have 23 and Derby, who lost 1-0 at Middlesbrough, are almost down on 10 points.
Tuncay Sanli scored the goal that put Boro eight points above the relegation places.
Roque Santa Cruz netted twice for Blackburn Rovers in their 3-1 defeat of Wigan Athletic.
Both sides ended with 10 men after Christopher Samba of Rovers and Wigan's Wilson Palacios were dismissed.
In the day's late match, Everton's hopes of beating Liverpool to the fourth Champions League spot faded with a 1-1 home draw against mid-table West Ham United.
Yakubu Aiyegbeni gave Everton an early lead but West Ham got a deserved equaliser after the break through Dean Ashton and almost won the game when youngster Freddie Sears hit the post.
Everton remained two points behind fourth-placed Liverpool who face champions Manchester United on Sunday when the title race could become a lot clearer.
United are three points clear of second-placed Arsenal who visit Chelsea, in third, on Sunday.
In Saturday's early game, Portsmouth's chances of securing a top-six finish were dented by a 2-0 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur who grabbed late goals through substitutes Darren Bent and Jamie O'Hara.
There have now been 101 goals scored in all competitions at Tottenham's White Hart Lane this season.
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