As the final whistle beckoned Alan Pardew became so engulfed by nerves that he covered his face with his hands when Aston Villa mounted a late counterattack. After a run of five home defeats Newcastle United's manager openly acknowledged he was "under pressure" but then, deep in stoppage time, Loïc Rémy controlled a deflected Luuk de Jong cross-shot with his right foot.
Having deposited a deceived Ron Vlaar on his backside by shaping to take aim before seamlessly switching possession to his left, Rémy then unleashed a shot which flew past Brad Guzan. In a split second, Pardew's horizon switched from slate grey to azure blue. A man transformed, he swivelled on his heels and, beaming broadly, waved at the directors' and press boxes.
If the not so subliminal message was "I told you so", Newcastle's first goal in more than a month – or seven and a half hours of football – and only their second win in 10 games was deserved at the end of a much improved second-half performance.
Even so, it is surely no coincidence that Pardew's team hit new heights which would lift them to eighth place and the 40-point mark after an injury to Ashley Westwood forced the Villa midfielder off on the hour mark. Until then Westwood had been the afternoon's dominant figure, with Pardew nudged into a tactical reshuffle, revamping his initial 4-4-2 formation to combat Paul Lambert's three central midfielders.
Earlier Newcastle's manager had made quite a statement by dropping Davide Santon. He did not even offer the Italian a place on the bench but might have regretted that decision as he watched his replacement, Paul Dummett, struggle to gain a foothold.
Presumably noting the rookie's uncertainty, Lambert instructed Christian Benteke to move from the centre to the right of Villa's attacking trinity and the centre-forward's muscular presence seemed to thoroughly unnerve Dummett.
Like Santon, the latterly disappointing Hatem Ben Arfa was not among the substitutes but at least Newcastle welcomed back Fabricio Coloccini, Cheik Tioté and Rémy after injury and suspension respectively.
Although Nathan Baker spared Guzan's blushes by clearing the ball for a corner after the visiting goalkeeper permitted an early Papiss Cissé shot to trickle through his fingers, Villa's pace-infused counterattacks were soon discomfitting a rearguard which, but for Mike Williamson's sheer bloody mindedness and Coloccini's assured distribution skills, might well have become seriously unhinged.
With Dummett a virtual passenger, Tim Krul found himself saving smartly from Gabriel Agbonlahor and watching shots from Karim El Ahmadi and Agbonlahor whizz uncomfortably close as Villa sought to reinforce an impressive away record.
Lambert's pre-match message had been a public exhortation to his players to turn the St James' Park crowd against their team and that did not go down at all well with Pardew, who made his displeasure plain by cold shouldering his technical area counterpart with some ultra-frosty body language. Much as Newcastle's manager must have willed Rémy and company to punish Lambert for those comments, a goal refused to materialise.
Rémy directed a free-kick wide after Vlaar was booked for tripping him just outside the penalty area. Then, on the stroke of half-time, the France striker conjured a glorious chance for Cissé, but the Senegalese seems to have forgotten how to score in recent months and scooped his shot wastefully over the bar from 10 yards.
Early in what would turn into Newcastle's second-half renaissance Dummett almost atoned for earlier errors by dispatching an angled, curving shot which skimmed the bar. A forlorn, if arguably legitimate, appeal for a handball penalty against Leandro Bacuna followed but an electric force field appeared to be protecting Guzan's goal.
By now the tension in the home dug-out was so acute that Pardew literally could not bear to watch. Fear turned to 88th-minute incredulity when De Jong, on as a substitute, picked out Rémy unmarked 12 yards out only for Newcastle's best finisher to see his shot rebound off the post.
The sense of fortune frowning on Tyneside was overwhelming but then the ball deflected off Baker, Rémy's fancy footwork did the rest and Pardew suddenly wore the expression of a man finally feeling the sun on his back after a particularly long, hard winter.
Man of the match Loïc Rémy (Newcastle)