Andy Carroll has had an interesting few days, to say the least, but it doesn't appear to have affected his footballing skills. Last night the Gateshead-born 21-year-old, reported to be at the centre of an alleged training ground incident which left team-mate Steven Taylor nursing a broken jaw, rifled home a second-half winner at Doncaster to keep Newcastle five points clear at the top of the Championship.
The club's preparations had been overshadowed by the incident and amid speculation that furious owner Mike Ashley had launched an internal investigation, St James' Park insiders feared the row could undermine the Magpies' title run-in. Taylor, 24, out since January with a knee injury, has been discharged from Newcastle General Hospital.
Carroll, whose 16th goal of the season eclipsed another impressive showing by Sean O'Driscoll's Doncaster, faces a Crown Court appearance next month on an assault charge in connection with an incident at a city night-spot last December. But the bustling centre-forward justified Newcastle manager Chris Hughton's decision to include him in the starting line-up with another outstanding on-field contribution.
Doncaster's leading goalscorer, Billy Sharp, returned for the home side and he should have scored in the 30th minute but he shot straight at Steve Harper from six yards.
Carroll, set free by Wayne Routledge, then galloped into the left edge of the Doncaster penalty area and forced home goalkeeper Neil Sullivan into a flying save with a venomous drive. Newcastle midfielder Nolan was booked for failing to retreat from a corner late in the first half and Simpson followed him into Hertfordshire referee Keith Hill's notebook early in the second.
Newcastle broke with menace and took the lead with a rapier counter-attack in the 59th minute. Routledge slipped the ball down the right channel into Carroll's path and the big forward motored on to the ball, held off Gareth Roberts's desperate challenge and kept his composure to fire home a right-footed shot past Sullivan.
Rovers were denied an instant riposte by the assistant's flag when Sharp lashed home a rebound, while another devastating burst into the Rovers' area from Carroll almost resulted in the visitors' second, but one proved to be enough.
Doncaster Rovers (4-4-2): Sullivan; Chambers, O'Connor, Martis, Roberts (Mutch, 87); Wilson (Emmanuel-Thomas, 74), Oster, Martin Woods, Shiels (Spicer, 87); Hayter, Sharp. Substitutes not used: Smith, Lockwood, McDaid, Hird.
Newcastle United (4-4-1-1): Harper; Ryan Taylor, Coloccini, Kadar, Simpson; Routledge (Pancrate, 88), Guthrie (Barton, 74), Butt, Gutierrez; Nolan; Carroll. Substitutes not used: Krul, Jose Enrique, Barton, Best, Ranger, Tozer.
Referee: K Hill (Hertfordshire).