Matt Ritchie’s first-half goal sent Newcastle United top of the Championship with a 1-0 victory over play-off chasing Derby County at St James’ Park.
Former Bournemouth midfielder Ritchie saw his 20-yard effort deflect into the top-right corner to clinch a win that puts the pressure on Brighton, who must win away at Brentford on Sunday to reclaim top spot.
Birmingham City ended a run of eight matches without a win at home to Fulham, while relegation candidates Bristol City, Burton Albion and Blackburn Rovers all picked up three valuable points on home soil.
Jordan Obita salvaged a 2-2 draw for Reading at Ipswich Town, while Norwich City boosted their promotion push with a 1-0 win at Cardiff City and Nottingham Forest grabbed a late 2-1 win over 10-man Aston Villa.
NEWCASTLE CLING ON
Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez insisted that, contrary to reports, he was happy at the club and would be remaining in his post for a promotion push during his pre-match news conference on Friday.
Their hopes received a boost on Saturday, but they had to cling on for the win in the closing 10 minutes.
Darren Bent had a header cleared off the line in the closing stages and Benitez’s name rang out around the stadium following the final whistle.
— Newcastle United FC (@NUFC) February 4, 2017
ZOLA OFF THE MARK
It has been a difficult start to life at Birmingham for Gianfranco Zola after being appointed in place of Gary Rowett, who was surprisingly dismissed in December.
After 10 matches in all competitions, Zola finally secured his first win at the helm courtesy of Lukas Jutkiewicz’s 75th-minute strike against Fulham at St Andrew’s.
Gianfranco Zola says a weight is off his and Blues shoulders. ‘A tough match, I think we deserved it,’ he adds #BCFC
— Birmingham City FC (@BCFC) February 4, 2017
RELEGATION BATTLE HEATS UP
Sam Gallagher’s second-half stoppage-time goal earned Blackburn a 1-0 win against QPR, but it was not enough to lift them out of the relegation zone.
That was down to Burton coming from behind to defeat Wolves 2-1. Helder Costa scored his first goal since moving to Molineux permanently from Benfica in a club-record deal, but Michael Kightly netted against his former club before Cauley Woodrow’s winner in the 94th minute completed the turnaround.
Bristol City’s 1-0 victory over Rotherham United means they stay out of the drop zone.
Meanwhile, Forest surged up to 15th with a dramatic victory over Villa, Ben Brereton scoring a stoppage-time winner after Jack Grealish’s red card for the visitors. Jonathan Kodjia and Britt Assombalonga had previously exchanged first-half strikes.
Just eight points now separate 22nd from 13th.
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