EVERY successful survival campaign has a moment when the pendulum swings decisively.

Newcastle United still have plenty of work to do in the final 11 games of the season if they are to retain their Premier League status, but if they finish outside the bottom three, the final act of yesterday’s remarkable 1-0 win over Manchester United could well prove to have been the point at which their season turned.

Desperately clinging on to the lead they had secured through Matt Ritchie’s second-half strike, all of Newcastle’s good work looked like being undone in the fourth and final minute of stoppage time as Michael Carrick stabbed Juan Mata’s cross towards the net.

Time seemed to stand still as Carrick shot goalwards, but having repelled everything Manchester United had thrown at him up to that point, debutant goalkeeper Martin Dubravka still had one more trick up his sleeve.

Throwing himself to the ground, the Slovakian somehow kept the ball out. It was the third excellent save of a truly unforgettable debut. Signed on deadline day from Sparta Prague, Dubravka has already justified whatever loan fee Newcastle have shelled out to sign him. And if Newcastle stay up by one or two points at the end of the campaign, he will also have more than repaid the £3m it will cost to sign him permanently in the summer.

Dubravka’s dream debut was the headline feature of a superb afternoon, redolent of the days when Newcastle would regularly trade punches with the best teams in the land. This was their first win against a top-six side since they hammered Tottenham on the final day of the relegation season, and a first home win since October’s nervy one-goal success over Crystal Palace. Having dropped into the bottom three when Huddersfield won their lunchtime kick-off against Bournemouth, it could hardly have come at a more important moment.

The success was built on the foundations that have been Newcastle’s bedrock all season – organisation, hard work, togetherness. From Florian Lejeune, sliding in to keep out a goalbound effort from Alexis Sanchez, to Dwight Gayle, who produced two goalline clearances from Anthony Martial in the space of a couple of seconds, each and every Newcastle player threw their bodies on the line to clinch victory.

Lejeune and Jamaal Lascelles were excellent at the heart of the back four, with Mo Diame and Jonjo Shelvey equally impressive as they outplayed a wretched Paul Pogba and an ineffective Nemanja Matic in midfield. Manchester United had their chances, but having been denied what looked a stonewall penalty in the first half as Chris Smalling tripped Gayle in the box, Newcastle were thoroughly deserving of their success.

There were heroes all over the field, but no one was more influential than Dubravka. Confident and authoritative from the off, especially when dealing with crosses, the Slovakia international made his first key save as a Newcastle player in the 36th minute to deny Martial.

The Manchester United winger looked certain to score when Matic’s sublime through ball sent him scampering into the area, but Dubravka thrust out his left foot to block his low shot. Both Karl Darlow and Rob Elliot look unlikely to play again this season.

Dubravka’s save came nine minutes before the break, and followed another decent stop that saw him turn Jesse Lingard’s deflected effort around the post. That the two opportunities were the sum total of Manchester United’s attacking in the first 40 minutes, though, said much for the quality of Newcastle’s first-half efforts.

With Diame maintaining his recent upturn in form as he snapped into a series of tackles to frustrate Matic and Pogba, and both Gayle and Ayoze Perez running themselves into the ground as Newcastle pressed high up the field, the visitors struggled to create any kind of attacking rhythm.

Romelu Lukaku came close on the stroke of half-time as he raced on to Sanchez’s headed knock-down and fired in a shot that deflected over off a sliding Lascelles, but there were precious few occasions when a well-drilled Newcastle backline was stretched.

Indeed, if anything, it was the hosts who could feel slightly aggrieved at not being ahead at the interval. They created their first opportunity after just five minutes, and would have been celebrating an early lead were it not for the brilliance of David de Gea, whose consistency surely makes him the number one goalkeeper in the Premier League.

Gayle’s free-kick was blocked by the wall, but the ball broke fortuitously for Shelvey, who cracked in a follow-up effort from the edge of the area. The shot was travelling at quite some speed, but de Gea produced a brilliant one-handed save.

Perez and Ritchie failed to find the target with long-range efforts before the interval, with Kenedy firing a rising effort straight at de Gea, but the key first-half talking point from a Newcastle perspective was referee Craig Pawson’s failure to award a penalty when Smalling caught Gayle in the area in the 39th minute.

Gayle nicked the ball ahead of Smalling as he spun out of the corner of the box, and the Manchester United centre-half clearly made contact with the striker as he brought him to the ground. It should have been a penalty, but not for the first time this season, the Magpies were denied an opportunity to shoot from the spot.

Pawson got a key decision right at the start of the second half, correctly ruling out Lukaku’s headed effort after the Belgian clearly pushed Lejeune before nodding home, and Lejeune was at the heart of the action again a couple of minutes later as he slid in to prevent Sanchez’s goalbound effort from reaching the net.

Lukaku’s through ball sent Sanchez clear, but while the former Arsenal man rounded Dubravka, he was forced to shoot from an acute angle. Lejeune, scampering back to cover, did brilliantly to block the low shot.

It was a crucial intervention, as just eight minutes later, Newcastle were celebrating a breakthrough at the opposite end.

Shelvey’s free-kick caused confusion in the Manchester United area, with Lejeune rising highest to nod the ball down. Gayle intelligently flicked the ball into Ritchie’s path, and the midfielder calmly side-footed home from close to the penalty spot.  It was his first goal of the season, and he couldn’t have come up with a better time to break his duck.

Newcastle had 25 minutes to try to hold on, and they just about made it. Dubravka saved from Ashley Young after the full-back cut into the area, before Gayle twice denied Martial. Twice the Frenchman drilled in a shot after Juan Mata delivered a corner into the area; twice a Newcastle player managed to get in the way.

The final ten minutes saw Manchester United’s attacking become increasingly frantic, with a series of balls pumped into the Newcastle box.

Lascelles and Lejeune dealt with most of them, but Mata’s stoppage-time cross threatened to be decisive before Dubravka came to Newcastle’s rescue.

Benitez has spent the last two transfer windows pushing for the recruitment of a new goalkeeper, and now we know why. By saving two points yesterday, Dubravka might just have salvaged his new employers’ season.