Newcastle boss Chris Hughton hailed Kevin Nolan after his strike secured a 1-0 victory at Preston and sent the Magpies two points clear at the Coca-Cola Championship summit.
Nolan's predatory 74th-minute effort lifted Hughton's men above West Brom and served as further notice of their promotion pedigree. The former Bolton captain broke the deadlock with a clinical low left-footed drive to register his ninth goal of the season and send the huge army of Magpies supporters into raptures.
"We've been able to keep clean sheets - that was our ninth of the season - and we have a goalscorer in Kevin Nolan," said Hughton. "It was heading for a 0-0 and Kevin has the knack of getting in the right places at the right time."
He added: "He has that composure and he scored goals at Bolton.
"We took him last season after he'd had an ankle operation, so he perhaps never got to full fitness last term.
"Kevin can play centre midfield or just off the front man, where he is also an excellent link-up player."
Alan Smith, another player who looks back to his best, played a pivotal role alongside Nolan in the middle of the park and the Magpies captain showed his stomach for the fight remains firmly intact with a fine display.
Having been booked early on in the first half, Smith was perhaps fortunate to escape a second yellow midway through the second period after a stray elbow left former Sunderland striker Chris Brown covered in blood.
Hughton added: "The first one was a booking but the second one wasn't.
"It's a nice feeling to be back on top of the league, particularly pleasing after West Brom went top over the weekend, but there are teams in this division who want to knock you off the top. There's a real desire not to lose games and if you don't lose then you have a chance of winning."
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