ALL Premier League victories are important, but some are more important than others. One day in to 2018, and Newcastle United might already have claimed the most significant success they record all year.

By beating their relegation rivals, Stoke City, at a typically wet and windy Bet365 Stadium, the Magpies leapfrogged Mark Hughes’ bedraggled side and rose to 13th position in the table. They have put four points between themselves and the bottom three, and perhaps more importantly, confirmed their determination to survive the fight at the foot of the table remains intact despite a difficult spell.

A testing Christmas schedule has delivered seven points from four matches. Given that one of those games was against runaway league leaders Manchester City, that is an excellent return.

Whatever their limitations, this is a Newcastle side that will strain every sinew in an attempt to retain their Premier League status. Today’s game was a case in point, with Karl Darlow making three superb second-half saves to ensure Stoke finished without a goal to their name, and both Jamaal Lascelles and Ciaran Clark repeatedly throwing their bodies on the line to neuter the physical threat posed by Peter Crouch.

The visitors defended manfully throughout, but five days after they were pilloried for their defensive approach against City, this was not another case of Newcastle looking to shut up shop.

Rafael Benitez’s tactical acumen proved crucial, with the Magpies manager pulling off a masterstroke as he completely remodelled his attack. Stoke’s centre-half pairing of Kurt Zouma and Kevin Wimmer might be towering presences in the air, but they can be cumbersome and immobile when the ball is on the floor.

So rather than naming either Dwight Gayle or Joselu in his starting line-up, Benitez opted to pair Ayoze Perez with Christian Atsu in attack. Perez went into the game having scored one goal from his previous 19 appearances this season, while Atsu had never previously played as anything but a winger in his 18 months as a Newcastle player.

Yet, together, they ran Stoke ragged, counter-attacking with pace and purpose, and stretching the game to ensure Jonjo Shelvey’s long-range through balls were at their most effective.

Newcastle could have been three or four ahead at the interval, but in the end, they claimed the only goal of the game with 17 minutes left as Perez converted Jacob Murphy’s low cross. It was a fitting reward for the Spaniard’s efforts, and sent more than 3,000 away fans into a state of delirium. You don’t much better starts to a New Year than this.

The Magpies fully merited their victory, even if for more than an hour, it had looked as though their dominance was going to go unrewarded. Newcastle caused all kinds of problems during a one-sided first half, but were unable to turn their superiority into a goal.

Atsu ran Stoke’s defence ragged from the off, but wasted three decent chances inside the opening 15 minutes. His first opportunity came after five minutes, and saw him drag a shot across the face of goal after Perez had played him into the penalty area.

Five minutes later, the Ghanaian international was side-footing wide from the edge of the box after Eric Pieters’ defensive header looped into his path, and four minutes after that, he was firing in a first-time effort from DeAndre Yedlin’s low cross that was well saved by Jack Butland.

None of the chances were gilt-edged, but a more accomplished finisher might well have converted at least one of them.

That said, however, the 25-year-old was hardly the only Newcastle player guilty of letting himself down in front of goal. When you’re a side that is struggling to score, you can rarely afford to pass up the kind of opportunity that presented itself to Ciaran Clark on the half-hour mark.

Perez’s flick-on from Matt Ritchie’s corner dropped perfectly for Clark, who was completely unmarked no more than three yards out. It was easier for the centre-half to score than miss, but he somehow scooped a first-time effort over the crossbar before immediately sinking to his knees on the goalline, with his head in his hands. Even with two-thirds of the game still to go, it felt like a costly miss. That it did not turn out that way was down to both Stoke’s limitations and Darlow’s brilliance.

Stoke’s only threat before the interval came courtesy of a Charlie Adam free-kick which Darlow clawed around his left-hand post. The Potters improved slightly in the second half, but while Mark Hughes rested a number of his leading lights in Saturday’s 5-0 thrashing at Chelsea, it was hard to discern much of an improvement from his side’s shambolic showing at Stamford Bridge.

There was never any real cohesion to Stoke’s play, but they would have broken the deadlock at the start of the second half had it not been for the first of Darlow’s three superb second-half saves.

Eric Choupo-Moting looked to have found the bottom corner as he cut towards the edge of the 18-yard box from the left-hand side, but Darlow flung himself to his left to tip the ball over the crossbar.

Newcastle remained the dominant force, though, and might well have had a 70th-minute penalty when a panicked Zouma bundled over Gayle after the striker had replaced Atsu from the substitutes’ bench.

It looked a spot-kick given that the former Chelsea defender did not take the ball, but Newcastle did not allow their disappointment to fester, and claimed the lead just three minutes later.

Murphy burst away from a lumbering Charlie Adam to break down the right-hand side, and when he delivered an excellent low ball into the middle, Perez flicked out his left foot to beat Butland.

The goal finally sparked Stoke into life, but while the hosts created two decent late openings, Darlow was equal to them both.

The first saw Mame Biram Diouf hook in a first-time volley after Crouch’s shot deflected into his path, but Darlow reacted superbly to keep the ball out.

Seven minutes later, and Newcastle’s goalkeeper was producing an even better stop, with his reflexes again denying Diouf. Crouch nodded Adam’s cross into Diouf’s path, but while the Stoke substitute headed goalwards, Darlow somehow clawed the ball to safety.

It was a save that was ultimately worth two points, and proved the precursor to an outpouring of frustration from the home fans that saw cries of “Hughes out” cascade down from the home stands.

In previous years, Sam Allardyce and Steve McClaren were subjected to torrents of abuse from the away fans as their side lost at Stoke. This time around, the boot was well and truly on the other foot.