Newcastle 1-0 Burton: Matt Ritchie scores and has penalty disallowed
By Simeon Gholam
Last Updated: 06/04/17 6:26am
Newcastle returned to the top of the Sky Bet Championship table with a narrow 1-0 victory over Burton on Wednesday night.
Controversy reigned in the first half as Matt Ritchie saw a penalty controversially ruled out at St James' Park, but the midfielder, who has so often been the Toon's talisman this season, fired an impressive winner after 68 minutes.
The victory sends Newcastle back above Brighton at the top but, more importantly, it keeps their gap to 10 points over Huddersfield in third, as promotion to the Premier League starts to look a probability.
Burton, meanwhile, rarely threatened and remain 19th in the table, four points clear of the drop zone with six games to go.
The talking point of the first half came on the half-hour mark as Ritchie coolly slotted home a penalty won by Dwight Gayle, only for referee Keith Stroud to rule the effort out after encroachment by the striker.
It was a decision that left Newcastle's players, and boss Rafa Benitez, furious, as they felt the penalty should at least have been retaken, in accordance with the Laws of the Game, but only a free-kick to Burton was awarded.
Asides from that, the best chance of the first 45 minutes fell to Jackson Irvine after 17 minutes, but the Burton forward could only thrash over the bar on the volley from 12 yards.
Newcastle continued to knock at the door throughout the second half, with Ayoze Perez and Shelvey both going close, before they finally found the breakthrough with just over 20 minutes to go.
Ritchie, who had switched to the left, charged forward before cutting inside and firing a superb, unstoppable curling effort past the helpless dive of Jon McLaughlin in the Burton goal.
Nigel Clough made changes in an effort to get his side back into it, but they failed to create any real chances and Newcastle comfortably saw out the win.
Newcastle boss Rafa Benitez:
"You have seen the incident, you have a lot of experts to analyse, I was talking to the referee. I will not keep talking about that. For me it was an important game, a fantastic goal from Matt Ritchie, a great goal. There was work rate, a lot of positives and unfortunately we talk about the incident.
"The referee and me have been talking. We need to move forward. We can't change what happened. We got three points. We have to be ready to be stronger for the next one. After the incident we were losing our focus. We won.
"We knew this team was difficult to break down and to beat with a line of five at the back. We needed to make sure there was no mistake. We did it until the end and we couldn't be relaxed."
Burton boss Nigel Clough:
"I didn't think it was a penalty in the first place. I don't know about that. I am pleased it wasn't the game-deciding issue. Somebody has put the ball in the top corner. I am pleased about that. You don't want controversial decisions to decide matches.
"But I thought it was a magnificent effort by our lads. Disappointed we didn't get a goal, we had enough chances. We had a great chance with Jackson Irvine's volley, a few others, we stayed in the game even at 1-0. It took a wonderful strike to beat us.
"I don't think our spirit will be dented by tonight. We battled as well as we did, (lost) only by the one goal, we shouldn't apportion blame."