Aston Villa 0 Newcastle United 0: Disastrous draw leaves Benitez's side clutching at straws
Rafa Benitez's side were held to a goalless draw by relegated Aston Villa, while rivals Sunderland came from behind to beat Chelsea 3-2 at the Stadium of Light to climb above them in the Premier League.
And the result has left 18th-placed Newcastle a point behind Sam Allardyce's side, who have a game in hand and a superior goal difference.
United could be relegated on Wednesday night if Sunderland beat Everton on Wearside.
Benitez named an unchanged team at Villa Park, and the game kicked off with Villa fans throwing beach balls and balloons on to the pitch.
Newcastle struggled to make an impression in the final third of the pitch in the first 45 minutes.
Villa created one or two problems for their visitors, whose defence was well-marshalled by Chancel Mbemba.
United's first chance of the game came after the break, when Jack Colback put a shot over the bar after Papiss Cisse mishit a cross from Andros Townsend.
Benitez quickly threw Aleksandar Mitrovic on – he replaced Cisse in the 52nd minute – and the striker put a chance over the bar from a Cheick Tiote ball.
Tiote surprisingly made way for Ayoze Perez later in the half, and the anonymous Wijnaldum had a shot stopped by Mark Bunn.
But Mitrovic, Perez and late substitute Siem de Jong couldn't enliven a frustratingly lifeless and lethargic United side, who are now set for at least a season in English football's second tier.
Villa fans taunted Newcaslte with a "down with the Villa" chant before the final whistle.
And the odds are on the club's fate being settled before the final game of the season against Tottenham Hotspur on May 15.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Newcastle team: Darlow; Anita, Mbemba, Lascelles, Dummett; Townsend, Tiote (Perez, 67), Colback (de Jong, 90), Sissoko; Wijnaldum; Cisse (Mitrovic, 52). Subs not used: Woodman, Janmaat, Taylor, Shelvey.
ASTON VILLA: Bunn; Hutton, Clark, Lescott, Toner; Bacuna, Gana; Sanchez, Westwood, Sinclair (Hepburn-Murphy, 90); Ayew. Subs not used: Guzan, Richards, Adama, Gil, Lyden, Grealish.
Booking: Dummett 90
Referee: Robert Madley (Wakefield)
Take a look at and "like" our new NUFC Facebook page here