NEWCASTLE 1 BURTON 0
Newcastle: Darlow, Anita, Lascelles, Mbemba, Dummett, Ritchie, Shelvey, Diame, Atsu (Ameobi 89), Perez, Gayle (Murphy 90+1)
Subs not used: Hanley, Haidara, Gouffran, Elliot, Jesus Gamez
Matt Ritchie returned Newcastle to the top of the Championship but everyone left St James' Park talking about his goal that never was.
Ritchie curled in from the edge of the area midway through the second half to seal victory over Nigel Clough's fast-improving Burton but for a large portion of the match it appeared they would be denied by Stroud's controversial scrubbing of the Scotland international's penalty on the half-hour mark.
Stroud appeared to blunder, ruling out the goal for encroachment when such an offence would usually result in a re-take – an action that sparked heated protests on the pitch and a cauldron of anger and confusion in the stands.
The moment of farce flared on the half-hour as Gayle ran diagonally into the area in pursuit of the ball, across the path of Burton defender Tom Flanagan. There was contact between the pair, albeit fairly minimal, but Gayle made the most of the situation by hitting the turf.
Earlier, Stroud had waved away Newcastle claims for a penalty when Gayle went down under the sixth-minute challenge of John Brayford. This time he appeared convinced of an infringement and pointed to the spot.
Up stepped Ritchie to send Jon McLaughlin the wrong way for what he believed was his 11th league goal of the season. Only for Stroud to rule out the effort as the home players wheeled away in celebration at the Gallowgate End.
Keith Stroud appeared to make a serious error in law at St James' Park when he awarded Burton an indirect free kick after Matt Ritchie had converted a penalty for the Magpies but Dwight Gayle had encroached.
As the chart shows if a penalty is scored then encroachment by an attacker should result in a retake.
The statement from the PGMOL at least reveals the honest approach of match officials. It's just sad that Stroud and his team will likely now be suspended.
Several members of both sides clearly entered the area as Ritchie struck the ball low into the corner but Burton's players made an immediate appeal to the official, pointing out the yards stolen by Gayle in particular.
Following several minutes of discussions between Stroud and his linesman, Stroud and a posse of Newcastle players, plus the fourth official Tony Harrington and the home bench, a free-kick was awarded.
Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez was clearly incensed and so was the 50,000-strong crowd as he match resumed to a crescendo of boos.
It was during the cacophony from the terraces that Newcastle enjoyed their best spell, in fact.
Despite the increase in the hosts' tempo, however, relegation fighters Burton survived to half-time. Gayle walked off in deep conversation with the under-fire official.
After the interval, the midlands club were thankful to McLaughlin for clawing out long-rangers from the livewire Ritchie and Mo Diame before the dam finally burst.
Burton, whose run of one defeat in eight prior to this contest provided genuine hope that they can defy expectations of an immediate return to League One, were well disciplined and packed an occasional punch on the counter.
Never more threateningly so than in the 17th minute when Luke Varney won an aerial challenge, and the ball looped to Jackson Irvine who caught his volley sweetly but could not keep it down.
At the other end, Newcastle's early chances were wayward: Jonjo Shelvey thrashed into the Gallowgate fans when space opened up and then Gayle persuaded Ritchie to allow him a dead-ball attempt at goal only to blaze hopelessly over the top.