Newcastle 3-1 Nottm Forest: Match Report
Dwight Gayle at the double as Newcastle end 2016 top of the Championship
Dwight Gayle took his goal tally for the season to 19 as Newcastle bounced back top the top of the Sky Bet Championship table with victory over 10-man Nottingham Forest.
Gayle's 63rd-minute volley and a scruffy second 10 minutes from time eventually settled a tight encounter after Nicolao Dimitru's first goal for Forest had cancelled out Matt Ritchie's early opener in front of a crowd of 52,228, the biggest of the season at St James' Park.
The win, coupled with the postponement of leaders Brighton's home game with Cardiff, saw Rafael Benitez's side leapfrog the Seagulls to finish 2016 in pole position.
However, Forest left Tyneside aggrieved after skipper Matt Mills was sent off on the hour in controversial circumstances four weeks after Jonjo Shelvey and Paul Dummett suffered a similar fate in a 2-1 defeat at the City Ground.
The Newcastle duo later had their red cards rescinded on appeal, but the Magpies' luck was in this time as they got off to a fine start.
Ben Osborn's foul on Dummett handed Ritchie a chance to take aim from 30 yards, but with Forest goalkeeper Vladimir Stojkovic looking to have his free-kick covered, the ball took a wicked deflection and flew to his right and into the net.
Benitez's men tore into the visitors and striker Gayle twice failed to trouble Stojkovic with headers from promising positions.
As the initial flurry abated, Forest gradually found their feet and although Pajtim Kasami and Dimitru both wasted half-chances by missing the target with the home defence sleeping, they were back in the game 16 minutes before the break.
Newcastle failed to deal with full-back Matty Cash's right-wing cross and Dimitru could barely believe it when the ball dropped to his feet just yards from goal, and he made no mistake to level.
The hosts resumed in determined mood, but too often a lack of precision saw promising moves peter out without Forest having to show too much resilience.
However, the visitors were reduced to 10 men when Mills was booked twice within seconds by referee Keith Stroud for a foul on Ayoze Perez and his reaction to the decision.
And the Magpies took advantage within three minutes when Gayle volleyed home from a narrow angle after Eric Lichaj had failed to clear a deep cross.
Gayle made sure of the three points when he bundled home Ritchie's 80th-minute cross.