London (AFP) – Championship leaders Newcastle ensured pole position at Christmas thanks to a 2-1 win at Burton Albion, while Gianfranco Zola’s debut as Birmingham manager ended in a frustrating 2-1 defeat against Brighton on Saturday.

Rafael Benitez’s Newcastle took the lead in the 15th minute of their first ever meeting with Burton when former Crystal Palace forward Dwight Gayle struck for the visitors.

Lloyd Dyer equalised five minutes later, but Mohamed Diame restored Newcastle’s advantage before half-time and the visitors held on for a third consecutive win that kept them firmly on course for promotion back to the Premier League following last season’s relegation.

At St Andrew’s, Chelsea legend Zola took charge of Birmingham for the first time following his appointment by the club’s new Asian owners, but the Italian was destined to suffer a painful loss.

Lukas Jutkiewicz gave Birmingham a 52nd minute lead, but former Watford and West Ham boss Zola saw promotion-chasing Brighton equalise in the 83rd minute through Anthony Knockaert.

Glenn Murray headed Brighton’s winner five minutes into stoppage-time to stun Zola, who has much to prove after reports that Birmingham players were unhappy with the surprise sacking of Gary Rowett earlier this week.

Derby’s seven-match winning run was finally ended as they were held to a 2-2 draw at Fulham.

Tom Ince put the Rams ahead with his second goal of the week, but it was cancelled out by Floyd Ayite in first-half stoppage time.

Stefan Johansen then pounced on a poor clearance to put Fulham in front, but Alex Pearce’s header from an Ince corner ensured the points were shared.

Third placed Reading are nine points behind Newcastle following a dramatic 3-2 win at Blackburn.

Goals from Reading duo Dominic Samuel and Liam Moore were cancelled out by headers from Danny Graham and debutant Wes Brown before George Evans struck in stoppage-time to snatch Reading’s first ever win at Ewood Park.

Sheffield Wednesday are sixth after a last-gasp 1-0 victory over bottom of the table Rotherham in the South Yorkshire derby at Hillsborough.

Rotherham looked set to earn just their second away point of the season until Steven Fletcher’s last-gasp spot-kick after Richard Wood, who was sent off, was adjudged to have bundled over Lucas Joao.

Leeds consolidated fifth place with a 1-0 victory over Brentford at Elland Road after captain Kyle Bartley headed home a Stuart Dallas cross in the 89th minute.

Paul Lambert claimed his second win as Wolves boss with a 2-0 victory over Nottingham Forest at the City Ground.

Barnsley won 4-3 at Cardiff, while Ipswich won 3-2 at Wigan.

Bristol City’s poor run continued as they slipped to a 2-1 defeat against Preston.