Liverpool climbed out of the Premier League relegation zone after a moment of magic from Fernando Torres helped set up a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Bolton.
The English giants looked to be heading for another desperately disappointing day at the Reebok Stadium as they struggled to break down a determined Wanderers outfit.
But a sublime backheel from Torres — who had missed several chances during another out-of-sorts performance — created an 86th-minute winner for Maxi Rodriguez that sealed Liverpool’s first away win since April.
The result also sealed back-to-back victories for Roy Hodgson’s men following their win over Blackburn last week.
After languishing in the relegation zone for weeks following their worst start to a season in more than 50 years, Liverpool are now 12th with 12 points, still five points off the coveted top four.
“It’s just nice to be out of that bottom three, we’ve been in there a while so it’s been difficult to look at the table,” relieved Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher told Sky Sports afterwards.
“We know we haven’t had a great start, but there’s still a long way to go and with the league so tight, with a few wins we can certainly climb to the top half of the table.”
In Sunday’s early games, Newcastle romped to a 5-1 victory over Sunderland in the Tyne and Wear derby while Aston Villa and Birmingham played out a goalless stalemate at Villa Park.
A hat-trick from captain Kevin Nolan and two goals from striker Shola Ameobi completed an emphatic derby win for Newcastle in a result which eased pressure on manager Chris Hughton.
A miserable afternoon for Sunderland also saw former Newcastle defender Titus Bramble given a straight red card early in the second half for a trip on Andy Carroll, much to the delight of the Toon Army.
The victory saw Newcastle move up to seventh place with 14 points from 10 games and should quell intense speculation over Hughton’s future.
Man-of-the-match Nolan paid tribute to Hughton after leading the rout.
“I’m delighted for the fans and delighted for Chris after what he was put through this week,” Nolan said after netting his first top-flight hat-trick.
“Obviously it’s fantastic. We knew it would be tough – and I think it was, I think we got lucky with a couple of the goals,” he told Sky Sports.
“We’re delighted, we’ve worked so hard this week and it’s paid off today.”
Nolan struck in the 26th, 34th and 75th minutes while Ameobi slotted goals in each half to leave Steve Bruce’s Sunderland shellshocked.
Nolan’s first came from a Newcastle corner swung into the box. Ameobi beat Sunderland’s defence to knock down, and Nolan, with his back to goal and sitting almost on the turf, hooked in a superbly improvised overhead kick.
Eight minutes later Newcastle doubled their lead through Nolan, the Magpies’ skipper suddenly finding himself unmarked and in acres of space after a miscued Joey Barton volley fell kindly in the Sunderland area.
Ameobi buried a penalty on the stroke of half-time after Nedum Onuoha had brought down Jonas Gutierrez in the box.
Bramble’s dismissal on 53 minutes left Sunderland with no way back and with the Black Cats in disarray, Newcastle added to their agony with two more goals.
Ameobi made it 4-0 on 70 minutes, volleying in acrobatically after Carroll’s diving header crashed off the bar.
All that was left was for Nolan to complete his hat-trick, which he duly did 15 minutes from time, connecting with an Ameobi header from point-blank range.
Bent turned in a goal for Sunderland on the stroke of 90 minutes but it barely qualified as a consolation effort.
“Just wanna apologise to all the fans who went to the game and watched else where. Didn’t go the way we wanted,” Bent wrote on micro-blogging site Twitter after the rout.
In Sunday’s other derby game, Birmingham were left fuming after having strong appeals for a penalty turned down when Villa captain Nigel Reo-Coker appeared to handle in the area.
But neither side could engineer a breakthrough as the match ended in stalemate, leaving Villa and Birmingham stuck in 13th and 14th spot respectively after playing 10 games each.
Villa manager Gerard Houllier said his side had been suffering the after-effects of a midweek League Cup match that went to extra-time.
“We lacked a bit of freshness, imagination and creativity. I think we have to take into account most of us played two hours in midweek,” Houllier said.