London (AFP) - Matt Ritchie shrugged off a serious refereeing blunder to secure Newcastle a 1-0 win over Championship strugglers Burton and push the Magpies closer to an immediate return to the Premier League on Wednesday.
Ritchie's second-half goal eased the Newcastle players frayed tempers after a bizarre incident in the first-half when the same player converted a penalty only for referee Kevin Stroud to disallow the goal and award Burton a freekick.
This provoked a five-minute stand-off with the players questioning Stroud's call.
After the match the Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), the body which oversees refereeing, issued a statement in which Stroud apologised for the error.
"In Wednesday evening's EFL Championship game between Newcastle United and Burton Albion, referee Keith Stroud awarded Newcastle a penalty in the 29th minute," read the statement.
"As Matt Ritchie took the kick, Dwight Gayle encroached in the penalty area. An indirect free-kick was awarded to Burton, but the Laws of the Game state that that the penalty kick should have been retaken.
"Unfortunately the referee has misapplied the law. Keith and his team are understandably upset at the lapse in concentration and apologise for the mistake."
Newcastle's win saw them leapfrog long-time fellow pacesetters Brighton -- who beat Birminhgam 3-1 on Tuesday -- and lead them by a point.
The top two earn automatic promotion to the Premier League while the next four sides enter the play-offs to decide the third team.
Huddersfield lead the chasing pack, three goals in seven second-half minutes, including one from impressive Australian midfielder Aaron Mooy, easing them to a 3-0 win over Norwich also on Wednesday.
They jumped above Reading to trail Brighton by nine points with a game in hand.
Brighton's march towards the Premier League gathered pace with their win over Birmingham.
Glenn Murray's 20th goal of the season in the second minute paved the way for Chris Hughton's men to bounce back from last week's defeat at Leeds.
Murray was also involved when the Seagulls doubled their lead three minutes into the second half through Tomer Hemed's close-range header.
Uwe Hunemeier made it 3-0 to the hosts in the 54th minute before Che Adams hit a late consolation for the struggling Blues.
Birmingham have won only two of 19 league games under Gianfranco Zola and remain perilously placed above the relegation zone
Reading strengthened their play-off chances with a comfortable 3-1 victory over third-bottom Blackburn.
Two headers from French striker Yann Kermorgant, taking his goal tally for the season to 13, gave Reading a 2-0 lead at half-time.
Blackburn rallied after the interval and Elliott Bennett gave them hope when making it 2-1 with 13 minutes left.
But Reading responded almost immediately when Garath McCleary drove home to settle the outcome.