Rafa Benitez has backed Dwight Gayle to carry on scoring in 2017 after the striker fired Newcastle United back to the top of the Championship.
Gayle netted twice in last night’s 3-1 win over 10-man Nottingham Forest at St James’s Park.
The result saw the club go one point clear of second-placed Brighton and Hove Albion, whose game against Cardiff City was postponed because of heavy fog at the Amex Stadium.
Gayle’s strikes took his goal tally for the campagin to 19.
The last player to score 20 goals in a season for United was Alan Shearer more than a decade ago.
“We said at the beginning of the season that he is a good player,” said Newcastle manager Benitez.
“He works hard for the team, but at the same time he can score goals. I am really pleased for him, and for the team. He has to carry on scoring goals – that will be good for everyone.”
Forest manager Philippe Montanier, however, was unhappy with Gayle’s involvement in the dismissal of Matt Mills.
Mills was shown a second yellow card after thrusting the ball into Gayle’s chest seconds after he was booked for a challenge on Ayoze Perez.
Montanier – whose side controversially beat nine-man United at the City Ground early this month – felt it was the “wrong decision”.
The game was level at 1-1 at the time – Nicolao Dumitru had cancelled out Matt Ritchie’s early opener in the 29th minute – and Newcastle quickly retook the lead after the sending off.
Benitez said: “I don’t think the red card changed things too much.
“I had confidence because at the beginning of the second half we won corners and free-kicks, and we were pushing for a goal. For me, we were doing the right things.
“After the sending off, it was obviously much better for us in terms of the difference to the last games. We were on top of them this time and controlling the game.”
Referee Keith Stroud dismissed Mills after consulting fourth official Jeremy Simpson.
Asked about the incident, Benitez said: “The first foul was a yellow, and then he got the second for throwing the ball away.
“I didn’t see the incident, but I have been told about it. The fourth official was very clear about it.”
Benitez added: “The sending off was obviously a big advantage to us.
“We scored and controlled the game after that, but at the start of both halves, the team was playing with the kind of intensity that you have to display if you want to win these kind of games.”
NEWCASTLE UNITED: Darlow; Yedlin, Lascelles, Clark, Dummett; Hayden, Colback (Diame, 67); Ritchie (Lazaar, 83), Perez, Atsu; Gayle (Mitrovic, 88). Subs not used: Sels, Anita, Mbemba, Gouffran.
NOTTINGHAM FOREST: Stojkovic, Cash, Mills, Hobbs, Lam (Ahmedhodzic, 84), Lichaj, Kasami, Osborn, Pereira, Dumitru (Assombalonga, 73), Bendtner (Vaughan, 81). Subs not used: Henderson, Carayol, Grant, Vellios.
Goals: Ritchie 4, Dumitru 29, Gayle 64, 80
Bookings: Clark 12, Lam 26, Colback 53, Mills 59, Pereira 61, Yedlin 65 Sent off: Mills 60 Referee: Keith Stroud (Hampshire)