NEWCASTLE 2 WIGAN 1
Darlow; Anita, Lascelles, Hanley, Dummett, Atsu, Colback, Shelvey, Ritchie, Gouffran (Hayden, 69), Diamé (Atsu, 62), Gayle (Perez, 79).
Subs not used: Elliot, Mbemba, Gámez, Mitrovic.
Newcastle United recorded a precious victory over Wigan Athletic to remain at the top of the Sky Bet Championship.
It wasn’t pretty and they didn’t make life easy for themselves throughout a fraught contest, but the win means automatic promotion is looking good.
The Magpies ’ win - coupled with a shock victory for Burton Albion at Huddersfield - means there’s a 10-point gap between themselves and the Terriers.
United started the game on the front-foot with Jonjo Shelvey making a driving run through the middle before striking a shot at goal which was blocked by Jack Buxton.
Matt Ritchie - who dragged United through the game at times - then had two efforts at goal which were both blocked by the frantic Wigan defence.
Newcastle edged the possession stakes in the first quarter, but were unable to break the Latics down.
Midway through the first half a Vurnon Anita cross was headed over by Shelvey.
It proved to be a frustrating first half hour to the game as Wigan got back in numbers and made life difficult for the Magpies.
Shelvey got free down the right-hand side, but his low effort was easily gathered by Matt Gilks in the Wigan goal.
On 31 minutes Grant Hanley headed the ball into the path of Dwight Gayle but his close-range header was parried away by Gilks.
The resultant corner was met by Lascelles but he headed well wide of the far post.
The deadlock was broken five minutes later as Anita slipped Mo Diame in down the right before the ex-Senegal international hooked the ball across the six-yard box for Gayle to hook home his 22nd of the season.
Newcastle ended the half with Diame finding himself clean through but he struck the ball straight at the goalkeeper.
United went in with a deserved lead the break with Wigan failing to register a shot on target.
But the Latics started the second period in much better and determined fashion.
Wigan made a double change at the break with Ryan Colclough and Alex Gilbey coming on for Omar Bogle and Sam Morsy.
And within five minutes Gilbey had slipped in Michael Jacobs who got in between Lascelles and Hanley and dinked home a cool finish on 50 minutes.
Newcastle then looked nervous when Blyth lad Dan Burn, who stands at 6ft 7in, headed one wide moments later.
But the Magpies regained the lead on 57 minutes.
Paul Dummett's cross from the left was helped on by Yoan Gouffran before the ball fell for Ritchie.
The Scotland international smashed the ball against the post before heading home the rebound to make it 2-1.
On 62 minutes Jack Colback fired one high over the bar as Newcastle attempted to seal the points. Benitez then made his first change of the afternoon as he introduced Christian Atsu to replace Diame.
However, Wigan didn’t look like a team prepared to give things up easily. Callum Connolly fired an effort at Karl Darlow with the Toon keeper palming the ball over the top.
Benitez then sent on Isaac Hayden in a bid to shore things up in midfield with the ex-Arsenal man replacing Jack Colback.
Yet Wigan continued to get glimpses of goal with sub Colclough bending an effort just over the bar at the Leazes End.
With 10 minutes to go Ayoze Perez came on for his 100th league appearance for United with the Spaniard replacing Gayle. Seconds after Perez’s arrival, Newcastle had a great chance when Atsu slipped in Ritchie but his angled shot was saved by the feet of Gilks.
Newcastle should have had a penalty in the closing stages when Ritchie was upended at the Gallowgate End but ref Coote waved play on.
The decision left resulted in Toon coach Mikel Antia and Graham Barrow involved in a verbal bust-up with the Wigan boss accusing Ritchie off diving.
Shelvey then could have put the lid on it deep into stoppage time but his fluffed his line and the ball squirmed wide.
However, the Magpies had done enough to net the points and with Burton winning 1-0 at Huddersfield the lead between United and the automatic promotion places is now 10 points.