We beat a very good Sheffield Wednesday side: Brighton boss
Not only have the Seagulls leapfrogged Newcastle but they have now opened up a nine-point lead over third-placed Leeds.
Brighton, ahead thanks to Anthony Knockaert's 34th-minute opener, were pegged back when central defender Lewis Dunk put through his own goal just before the interval.
Top scorer Glenn Murray received a straight red card for handball in an incident that led to Wednesday being awarded a 65th-minute penalty.
But Fernando Forestieri saw his spot-kick brilliantly saved by David Stockdale, and Brighton grabbed maximum points when French winger Knockaert converted a Seb Pocognoli cross five minutes from time.
Hughton felt his side's victory was reward for the "tremendous character" they displayed and said: "It is always a wonderful feeling when you win a game like that.
"I am delighted because we were playing against a very good side. To win the match having gone down to 10 men shows tremendous character.
"We were up against a very good team and if you beat teams around you it is an added bonus."
Hughton was delighted that his men bounced back quickly from last Saturday's 2-0 defeat at Preston, and, when asked to comment on how it feels to be top, he replied: "At this minute we are really delighted with where we are.
"The gap between second and third is for us the most important one."
Hughton said he did not have a problem with the handball decision which led to Murray's sending off.
He added:" There was no doubt the ball struck Glenn's hand."
Wednesday finished with nine players after substitute Steven Fletcher and defender Sam Hutchinson were red carded in the closing stages.
Owls head coach Carlos Carvalhal, whose side remain in sixth place, admitted his players allowed their emotions to run away with them.
When asked whether he felt the players had lost their heads, he replied: "I think so.
"The players lost emotional control and we must control that kind of behaviour. Of course there is frustration because we were playing so well and we deserved to be winning the game, but these things happen in every team in the world and we must work to prevent them in the future.
"The thing we must control is the emotion of the players. If it was still 10 verses 11 with some time still remaining then maybe we could have achieved something."
Carvalhal felt his men wasted a glorious opportunity to kill the game when, at 1-1, Forestieri saw his penalty superbly kept out.
He said: "We felt from the beginning that we needed to try and come here to win. We had a period when we didn't perform so well but we had a big chance in the game with the penalty where we could have killed the match.
"But we didn't score the goal and Brighton had a rock solid defence, so it was difficult to break through."
Wednesday suffered an injury blow in the first half when defender Jack Hunt was carried off on a stretcher following a challenge by Pocognoli, who received a booking.
Carvalhal said: "I do not know the extent of the injury. It was very far from me but I know there was hard contact."