Newcastle - Former Newcastle United target Emile Mpenza silenced a restless St James' Park crowd as Manchester City claimed a 1-0 victory which could safeguard the club's Premiership status.

A dire clash was settled in the 80th minute after Stuart Pearce's February signing from Qatar scored his second goal in English football, ensuring City stay six points clear of the relegation zone.

Newcastle's first fixture after the club's exit from this season's Uefa Cup was as much about salvaging pride as it was about claiming three points in a Premiership campaign beset by mediocrity.

United's increasingly disillusioned supporters deserve more than another uninspiring mid-table finish but for the manager, Glenn Roeder, the club's league run-in is all about rebuilding for next season.

As a consequence there was no place in the Magpies' 16 for former England Under-21 international Titus Bramble - out of contract in the summer and widely believed to have played his last game in a black and white shirt.

United States international Oguchi Onyewu was another high profile absentee from Roeder's starting line-up as he paired former Australia captain Craig Moore with Steven Taylor in the centre of defence.

Ireland international Stephen Carr and Nigeria's Celestine Babayaro completed Newcastle's back four with two of this season's most unconvincing performers handed unexpected recalls.

But it was City who made the early running with Chinese fullback Sun Jihai keen to expose Babayaro's weaknesses before the break.

It was from the City right that the former Dalian Wanda favourite launched a searching cross after 19 minutes and only the quick thinking of Newcastle's ex-Peru captain Nolberto Solano prevented Mpenza from pouncing.

The Belgian international had been earmarked by former Newcastle manager Sir Bobby Robson as a replacement for Alan Shearer five years earlier and after finally earning the right to play on Tyneside, the forward appeared eager to impress.

In the 30th minute Mpenza fooled Taylor and moved the ball from right foot to left before unleashing a fierce drive which rattled Shay Given's crossbar.

United had been limited to a series of tame long-range efforts in front of their restless fans but other than a 20-yard Solano drive which fizzed past Andreas Isaksson's right hand post there was nothing for another 50 000-plus crowd to cheer.

City's Swedish goalkeeper has struggled to stamp his authority on Stuart Pearce's defence after his high profile switch from French club Rennes but Newcastle's apathy in front of goal before the break did little to weaken his brittle confidence.

Isaksson was equally comfortable in the second half and it was no surprise when Mpenza drilled home a left-footed shot 10 minutes from time.

Onyewu, on for the injured Moore, failed to track the former Al-Rayyan forward as he raced onto Michael Johnson's through ball. Mpenza drew Given before lifting the ball into an unguarded goal.

Taylor rattled the crossbar with a header in the dying stages and Nicky Butt had a volley blocked on the line. But United left the pitch to calls of anger and resentment from the bitter home support.