Paolo Di Canio launched his Tyne-Wear derby career in spectacular style as Sunderland blasted their way past Newcastle to ease their relegation fears. The Black Cats, who arrived on Tyneside without a win in nine Premier League games, were simply too good for their hosts, who were never able to muster the intensity they needed to deny their neighbours the points.
Stephane Sessegnon blasted the visitors into a first-half lead and stunning strikes by Adam Johnson and substitute David Vaughan after the break ensured there was no way back for Alan Pardew's men, who are now only two points better off than their derby rivals.
Di Canio dropped to his knees in celebration on the sidelines when Johnson's 74th-minute effort hit the back of the net, and it was the travelling fans among a crowd of 52,355 making all the noise as Sunderland won at St James' Park for the first time since November 2000.
Sunderland made the short trip to St James' Park having taken three points in a derby encounter only once in their previous 16 attempts. But it was they who made much of the running on a day when they simply could not afford to lose - indeed in many ways, they could not afford not to win.
The crippling lack of confidence which had characterised the final days of Martin O'Neill's reign had been swept away by Di Canio's effervescence and with Sessegnon terrorising the home rearguard, the Black Cats dominated for long periods.
Steven Taylor allowed Sessegnon to escape from his grasp and was fortunate to be awarded a free-kick, and his luck held with 14 minutes gone when he grabbed a handful of Graham's shirt after being turned inside the box and appeared to prevent the frontman from getting his shot away. Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa unwittingly blocked Graham's back-post header from a Johnson corner, but the Magpies' defences were finally breached with 27 minutes gone.
Jonas Gutierrez, who had been asked to play at left-back, found himself on the opposite side of the pitch and having given the ball away, failed to dispossess Sessegnon as he cut inside towards goal and unleashed a skidding shot which sped past goal keeper Tim Krul and into the bottom corner.
Newcastle might have been level within seconds when Cisse turned Phil Bardsley inside the penalty area, only to see the advancing Simon Mignolet block his effort. The Belgian came to Sunderland's rescue once again two minutes later when he clawed Cisse's left-foot snap-shot out of his bottom corner after Gutierrez had squared.
The visitors would have increased their lead four minutes before the break had Krul not managed to block Carlos Cuellar's downward header from a Sebastian Larsson corner, but Mignolet had to tip away Gutierrez's injury-time cross.
Magic Johnson strike lights up second half
Shola Ameobi, who had scored seven goals in 13 previous derbies, replaced Gouffran after the break and the initial signs were promising. However, as they committed men to the attack, they left space in behind and Johnson might have done better after latching on to Mathieu Debuchy's weak 52nd-minute header and underhitting his attempted lob with Krul off his line.
The Dutchman departed prematurely five minutes later after landing awkwardly after challenging for a high ball and was replaced by Rob Elliot. However, it was opposite number Mignolet who was called upon once again to palm away Cisse's 60th-minute effort, and the Belgian and his team-mates enjoyed a let-off seconds later.
Sylvain Marveaux's free-kick was turned back across goal and the Senegal international smashed it into the roof of the net, only to be denied for the third time in four days by an offside flag, this time incorrectly. Pardew swiftly replaced the weary Yohan Cabaye with compatriot Hatem Ben Arfa, and he might have dragged the home side back into it 19 minutes from time when Debuchy returned Marveaux's cross back across goal, but he could not keep his header down.
Cisse fired another effort wide from Moussa Sissoko's cross two minutes later with Newcastle pressing, but Johnson dashed their hopes when he steered a superb left-foot shot past Elliot to make it 2-0. There was worse to come for the home side with eight minutes remaining when Vaughan blasted a swerving left-foot drive high past Elliot and inside the far post to complete the Black Cats' dream afternoon.