What better way to get over the gut-wrenching last minute defeat against Southend United than going away to the League leaders and winning 2-0. That is just what Burton Albion did as striker Adam McGurk bagged a brace of goals inside the first fifteen minutes to set the Brewers up for another impressive win on their travels that pushes them back to within two points of the League 2 play-off places. Twice the former Tranmere forward took advantage of slack marking from the home side to punish them firstly with a neat finish after bursting between the two centre halves who left him to each other to tackle and then evading his marker all too easily to head home Chris Hussey’s cross and effectively extend Chesterfield’s winless run in the League to four games.
With Billy Kee suspended after his sending off against Southend United last weekend and a training ground injury ruling out Alex MacDonald there were changes in the team for Burton Albion's visit to League 2 pacesetters Chesterfield. McGurk retained his place as a striker but was flanked by Chris Hussey and Jimmy Phillips in a 4-3-3 formation. The midfield trio consisted of Lee Bell and Robbie Weir just in front of youngster Matty Palmer, given another chance to shine after impressing in his appearances so far this season. The back five remained unchanged as Gary Rowett searched for some consistency from his side. Perhaps surprisingly Albion fielded three strikers among their substitutes as Rene Howe returned to the fold alongside Michael Symes and Dominic Knowles with Marcus Holness, having served his three match ban, also returning to the squad as a substitute.
Neither goal had been seriously tested until the tenth minute when Jimmy Phillips corner was headed goalwards by Shane Cansdell-Sherriff before Hussey picked up the scraps and rapped the ball against the underside of the crossbar from close range. If Chesterfield thought they had got away with one they were made to pay seconds later as a loose clearance fell for Lee Bell who instantly fed the ball forward to McGURK. The forward strode forward and darted between two defenders who failed to put in a challenge on the Albion man and with just the keeper to beat he calmly lifted the ball beyond Tommy Lee and into the back of the net.
Four minutes later and Albion stunned their hosts with a second goal. Matty Palmer won a scrap in midfield inside his own half and sent Chris Hussey scampering away down the right. Cutting back onto his more favoured left foot the former Coventry man delivered an inch perfect cross to McGURK who steered a twelve yard header into the corner of the net at the back post.
Albion had something of a let off at the other end in the 18th minute. Gary Roberts searching cross was punched half clear by Jordan Pickford, half impeded by his own defender, and the ball fell kindly for Eoin Doyle who saw his fifteen yard shot deflect off an Albion defender, manfully keeping his side’s two goal lead in tact.
Robbie Weir contrived to miss a golden opportunity to have the Brewers three ahead within 24 minutes. Sam Morsy, not for the first time in the match, sloppily conceded possession for the home side allowing Albion to raid down the left. Jimmy Phillips crossed in low and a deflection took it into the path of Weir who fired over the top from inside the six yard box. Phillips then suffered a knock after a collision on the edge of the Chesterfield area and as the home side pressed forward with the Burton man still down Ian Sharps had to head Tendayi Darikwa’s effort off the line before Doyle headed over from an acute angle at the back post.
Gary Roberts, otherwise fairly quiet in the first half an hour, had the chance to test Pickford with a self won free kick but from twenty five yards the Albion keeper was firmly behind it and made a comfortable save. Chesterfield were beginning to press more as the half wore on and a good opening came the way of former Derby striker Chris Porter on 35 minutes. Good link up play with Doyle and latterly Darikwa created a chance from the edge of the area but the man on loan from Sheffield United shinned his effort wide of the target. Darikwa was then denied by a block from Sharps as the Spireites kept looking for a way back into the game.
Jimmy Ryan was next to have a crack at goal but again the home side were frustrated as his 25 yarder took a deflection off an Albion man and Pickford was able to watch the ball bounce wide of his post.
It was the last moment of real danger for Albion at the end of a half they could be really pleased with but, for sure, the second half was set for another test of the Brewers defensive resolve.
Half time: Chesterfield 0-2 Burton Albion
Chesterfield made a change for the second half with forward Jay O’Shea thrown on at the expense of skipper Drew Talbot. The home side clearly came out intent on halving their deficit as quickly as they could but they were almost caught out on 51 minutes when poor defending gifted possession to the on rushing Lee Bell. When his chance to shoot was closed down the skipper found McGurk to his right but his first touch was a little too heavy and the chance was blocked inside the six yard box.
Ryan set his sights from a free kick on 54 minutes but his right footed curling shot was watched carefully over his crossbar by Pickford as it dipped at the last moment.
Two minutes later and Albion could have easily been three ahead. Chris Hussey’s teasing corner was headed goalwards by Phil Edwards and Ian Sharps could not quite steer it past Lee on the line.
The Spireites threw on a second substitute on 58 minutes. Porter was the man to make way and he was replaced by French striker Armand Gnanduillet. The big frontman made an instant impression with his direct style winning a couple of free kicks in dangerous areas and from one, getting on the end of O’Shea’s delivery to flash a header just wide of the target.
As the game swung from end to end it was Albion’s turn to be inches away from scoring. Adam McGurk won a free kick with Sam Hird all over him like a rash and Matty Palmer it was who curled the free kick towards the bottom corner where Lee pushed it out only for Jimmy Phillips to poke the rebound back across goal and agonisingly wide of the far post.
Chesterfield used up their third and final throw of the dice on 67 minutes and it was main dangerman Roberts who came off with former Port Vale hitman Marc Richards taking his place in the Spireites attack.
Eoin Doyle continued to take the attack to Albion and when a slip in midfield allowed him to burst forward, only a sprawling stop by Pickford prevented his low effort finding the bottom corner of the net.
Burton kept their first substitution until the 77th minute and it was skipper Lee Bell who made way for Zander Diamond in what appeared to be a straight swap, Diamond also taking the captain’s armband.
O’Shea found space to drill a low shot towards the bottom corner forcing Pickford to push the shot away from the onrushing Doyle and at the other end Albion were inches away from a third when Robbie Weir’s low drive thumped the base of the post and came back out again.
It was Weir’s last meaningful action as he was the subject of Albion’s second substitution on 83 minutes. Jack Dyer adding some fresh legs to the midfield for the final minutes in place of Albion’s marauding midfielder.
Dyer’s introduction was quickly follwed by that of Dominic Knowles who was given the final five minutes in attack in place of the two goal hero Adam McGurk.
Gnanduillet, after a quiet spell, stung the fingertips of Pickford with a raking drive from 25 yards and followed that up with an ambitious overhead effort that Shane Cansdell-Sherriff blocked behind for a corner.
Deep into stoppage time Chris Hussey almost added a third with an audacious effort from inside that centre circle that almost caught Lee off his line.
It was definitely not Chesterfield’s day and that was summed up when a last ditch corner came to Doyle and his header landed inside the six yard box with nobody there to convert as Albion cleared and claimed another impressive away day victory.