Finding the net for the first time in seven games spanning almost two months, the 32-year-old produced a goal worthy of winning a game far better than this demolition derby.
Defoe’s sublime hit as first-half stoppage time approached proved the difference, and was enough to secure for Sunderland a club record fifth successive victory over their neighbours, in the process lifting them three points above the relegation zone thanks to a first win in nine games.
For their part, Newcastle have won two of their 13 games under the interim stewardship of John Carver. It’s four defeats in the last five games, and their advantage over the bottom three is down to nine points.
Eyebrows were raised when Sunderland provided a €80,000-a-week haven for Defoe after his unhappy spell with Toronto FC in Major League Soccer.
But with one unerring swing of the boot he provided a perfect response to those who felt the Black Cats had risked their financial future by taking a punt on the former England international with the threat of relegation and the monetary abyss of the Championship very real.
This was his third goal in 12 appearances, which have helped to harvest seven points towards their latest Premier League survival mission, which if it proves successful will be more than worth the Londoner’s handsome remuneration.
His presence in the squad was a boon for Dick Advocaat when the Dutchman took charge last month, the 67-year-old joining his predecessors Paolo Di Canio and Gus Poyet in gaining derby success with Sunderland in only his second game in charge, which should have been won by more than just a single goal.
Patrick van Aanholt and Steven Fletcher both came close to doubling the advantage in the final 20 minutes, as the second half mirrored the first in belonging territorially to Sunderland. Seb Larsson’s long-rage free-kick flew inches wide as a nerve-soothing second goal failed to materialise.
Sunderland were almost made to pay when Ayoze Perez managed to volley over a Daryl Janmaat flick from six yards with time running out. The Spaniard’s anguished look spoke volumes. The hosts dominated possession without causing a sustained threat to Tim Krul’s goal until Defoe struck.
Pantilimon hoisted a long clearance from the Sunderland half, Steven Fletcher beat Mike Williamson to provide the knock-down, and Defoe did the rest with a stunning left-foot volley that found the top corner from 20 yards.
Sunderland are not safe, but this was a major step towards securing a ninth successive season of top flight football.
“I believe we will survive,” said Advocaat. “We’ve got three home games left, and if the crowd can be like a 12th man for us again, we’ll make it hard for visiting teams.”
Pantilimon 7; Jones 7, Vergini 7, O’Shea 7, van Aanholt 7; Larsson 8, Cattermole 7, Gomez 6; Defoe 8 (Johnson 80, 6), Fletcher 6, Wickham 7.
Bridcutt, Reveillere, Graham, Coates, Mannone, Buckley.
Krul 6; R Taylor 5, Janmaat 5, Williamson 5, Colback 5; Gutierrez 6; Cabella 5, Gouffran 5 (Riviere 57, 5), Sissoko 6, Ameobi 4 (Armstrong 86, 5); Perez.
Anita, Elliot, Obertan, Abeid, Armstrong, Kemen.
Mike Dean 7