Referee Keith Stroud was forced to apologise after he “misapplied the law” in Newcastle United’s 1-0 Championship victory over Burton Albion.
The Magpies overhauled Brighton at the summit despite having a Matt Ritchie penalty disallowed when Stroud deemed that Dwight Gayle encroached. Instead of ordering a retake, the referee awarded a free-kick to the visitors.
Ritchie eventually settled the game with a curling shot from 20 yards.
Newcastle are a point above Brighton.
Both sides have played 40 games, and 10 clear of third-placed Huddersfield, who have a game in hand.
Referee misapplied law – PGMOL
Confusion surrounding the decision was eventually settled when Professional Game Match Officials Limited (PGMOL), the body which oversees refereeing, issued a post-match statement about the 29th-minute penalty incident.
“As Matt Ritchie took the kick, Dwight Gayle encroached in the penalty area. An indirect free-kick was awarded to Burton, but the laws of the game state that that the penalty kick should have been retaken.
“Unfortunately the referee has misapplied the law. Keith and his team are understandably upset at the lapse in concentration and apologise for the mistake.”
Stroud was due to take charge of the League One match between Gillingham and Millwall on Saturday but has now been stood down.
Former Premier League referee Dermot Gallagher told BBC Radio 5 live: “I saw the incident briefly on television.
“Unfortunately Keith Stroud has lost a bit of concentration and misapplied the laws of the game. It’s an unfortunate error, one which he will be very upset about.
“I think the only thing that’s got to happen is speak to the referee and find out his mindset at the time of the incident.
“Now, it’s root cause and remedy. Ask how are we going to make sure this doesn’t happen again – not just with Keith but with every other referee.”
Newcastle winger Ritchie told BBC Newcastle: “I’m not too sure [what happened]. It’s difficult because there’s so much riding on it.
“Decisions like that which dictate what happens in people’s lives are huge. You’ve got to channel that frustration into positive energy.
“I’ve never seen something like that before. I thought if there were players in the box then you had to retake the penalty. I thought that was going to be the outcome.”
Newcastle manager Rafael Benitez told BBC Radio 5 live: “Everyone has seen the incident. It was a strange decision. But we won a difficult game, we are at the top of the table and that is it.”
Burton Albion manager Nigel Clough told BBC Radio Derby: “I didn’t think it was a penalty first of all, but I’ve no idea what happened. The referee makes a decision and we carry on.
Pressure at the top
Brighton’s win against Birmingham on Tuesday put the onus on Newcastle to match their result in the race for promotion.
However, Benitez’s side responded to the pressure with three points against a Burton side who went into the game having stunned promotion chasers Huddersfield on Saturday.
There was little to raise the pulse early on in the game as the visitors managed to stem the Magpies’ threat, but Stroud’s decision ramped up an atmosphere that threatened to boil over in frustration.
The reason for the decision was unclear to both sides, as evidenced by the five-minute stoppage while players and staff sought explanation from the officials.
What it did do was spark Newcastle into life, and after the break they were able to channel their emotions positively.
Once Ritchie had bent in his 15th goal of the season, they held on comfortably to return to the summit.