Newcastle United returned to the top of the Championship with a hard-fought win over Steve McClaren's Derby County.
Rafa Benitez's side won 1-0 at St James's Park this afternoon thanks to a deflected goal from Matt Ritchie.
The result took Newcastle two points clear of Brighton and Hove Albion, who travel to Brentford tomorrow.
There was a show of support from fans for Benitez before kick-off time in the wake of the club's failure to back him in last month's transfer window.
And Benitez's name was sung for much of the game by supporters.
United's manager had appealed for unity before the match, and he got the reaction he wanted from his players and the club's fans.
Mohamed Diame, Aleksandar Mitrovic and Grant Hanley came into his starting XI.
And Diame, back from the Africa Cup of Nations, was superb in the first half. The midfielder made a series of powerful runs forward, but Derby almost took the lead after a Ritchie backpass found Darren Bent.
Ciaran Clark, however, was able to tackle Bent before he could shoot at goal.
Newcastle took the lead in the 27th minute thanks to a deflected shot from Ritchie, whose effort looped into Scott Carson's goal.
Chances came and went for United after the interval – Mitrovic scuffed the best opportunity – and Benitez also lost Hayden to injury.
Hayden was replaced by Perez, who played at No 10. That change saw Diame drop into a deeper role, and the Senegal international was less of a threat in the second half.
Tom Ince missed a glorious chance to put Derby level.
And Newcastle survived a nervous finale – DeAndre Yedlin made a goalline clearance –to claim all three points and end a difficult week on a high.
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Darlow; Yedlin, Hanley, Clark, Dummett; Shelvey, Hayden (Perez, 49), Ritchie, Diame, Gouffran (Lascelles, 90); Mitrovic (Ameobi, 83). Subs not used: Elliot, Gamez, Lazaar, Murphy.
DERBY COUNTY: Carson; Baird, Keogh, Pearce, Olsson; Bryson (de Sart, 46), Johnson (Anya, 76), Butterfield; Ince Bent, Russell (Camara, 64). Subs not used: Mitchell, Christie, Shackell, Vydra.
Goal: Ritchie 27
Bookings: Sart 79, Dummett 82, Ritchie 86
Referee: Darren Bond (Lancashire)
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