Dominic Knowles came off the bench to strike twice for Burton Albion and snatch victory against Cheltenham Town in a thrilling League 2 encounter that had Albion behind just after the hour mark. Byron Harrison had pounced to give the Robins the lead on 62 minutes, firing low beyond Dean Lyness but the introduction of Wolves loanee Zeli Ismail and back-up striker Knowles spearheaded a comeback that had the Robins rocking as Ismail twice crossed in from the right for Knowles to score from close range on both occasions.
The Burton side showed just the one change to that which started against Mansfield Town on New Years Day. With Shane Cansdell-Sherriff nursing a triple fracture of his cheekbone there was an opportunity for Zander Diamond to slot in alongside Ian Sharps at the back. Both of the new loan signings, Adam Buxton and Ismail had to settle for places on the bench to start their Burton careers.
Albion made a bright start although both Adam McGurk and Jimmy Phillips were wayward with efforts from distance but the first clear chance came for Billy Kee who set his sights on goal when McGurk was clumsily bundled to the ground by Steve Elliott. The in form striker took aim but lashed his effort into the defensive wall with Ian Sharps also seeing an effort from the rebound blocked as the Cheltenham defence stood firm.
A sublime pass from Matty Palmer sent McGurk scampering through on 23 minutes but a slightly heavy first touch allowed Scott Brown to rush off his line and smother the striker's effort at close range. Alex MacDonald picked up the first yellow card of the game on 25 minutes when he tried to burst through the middle of the park and having slightly over played the ball he dived in to win the ball back but Sam Deering had got their first.
28 minutes were on the clock when Brown had to make another save, this time denying Diamond who got his head to a Phillips cross seeing the Cheltenham keeper push it over the bar. Diamond had another good chance from the resulting corner timing his run into space perfectly to meet MacDonald's delivery fifteen yards out but he was disappointed to spear his header off target.
Kemar Roofe almost stunned Albion with an audacious effort from all of 35 yards that looped just wide of Dean Lyness' goal and on 38 minutes Cheltenham wasted by far their best chance of the half as a Deering pass split open the Burton defence and as the offside flag stayed down Jermaine McGlashan showed a distinct lack of composure to lift a shot over the bar from eight yards.
Three minutes from the break and Albion should have been ahead. Phillips again produced an excellent delivery in from the left and when Kee met it with a firm header the ball seemed destined for the back of the net until Brown leapt acrobatically to his right to push the ball away from danger.
Lyness had to show similar agility at the end of the half when centre half Troy Brown met Matt Richards with a glancing header that forced the Albion keeper to help it over the bar to keep it scoreless at the break.
Half time: Burton Albion 0-0 Cheltenham Town
Kee had a good chance with just under two minutes of the second period played. Good play by Jimmy Phillips found Kee with room to turn but looking for a trademark finish he could not quite wrap his foot round the ball enough to test Brown with his shot.
Cheltenham threatened again as the game began to open out and McGlashan fired over again as Sido Jombati raided into space down the right hand side.
Kee capitalised on some ponderous midfield play from the Robins to set McGurk away on 55 minutes but his low shot was well blocked by Troy Brown as he tried to beat his namesake in the Cheltenham goal.
It was end to end stuff and the rub of the green went Cheltenham's way when Jason Taylor outmuscled Matt Palmer and when the ball took a kind ricochet into the path of Byron HARRISON he turned and fired the ball into the net.
Albion responded instantly by sending on Ismail for MacDonald and he instantly won a corner that ended with Sharps heading straight into the arms of Brown.
Kee was left wondering how he had not equalised moments later with a shot that hit both posts before being hacked clear for another corner.
Richards fizzed a long range shot over Lyness' crossbar as the Robins threatened a second but Albion were more than still in the game when Dominic Knowles was thrown on in place of McGurk with just over twenty minutes still left to play.
It proved an inspired substitution as the two replacements combined for the equaliser on 71 minutes. Ismail had another good chance to test the Cheltenham defence with his searing pace and his pull back across the box initially looked a touch heavy for KNOWLES in the middle but he showed good composure to get there and guide a low shot into the back of the net.
Burton were in the mood for a winner now and Damien McCrory's rasping 30 yard effort certainly needed a touch over from Brown to keep the scores level.
There were five minutes to go when Albion snatched the lead through exactly the same combination as before. Ismail worked his magic down the right, dropped his shoulder and delivered another low cross, this time to the near post. KNOWLES was there and took a touch before confidently finishing from close range.
It was a jittery end to the game for Albion who conceded a free kick right on the edge of the box for a foul by Edwards but Cheltenham were unable to profit as Albion lashed the ball clear as far from their own goal as they possibly could.
When the final whistle went there was more than an element of relief as Albion recorded their first victory of 2014 to keep them firmly in the mix at the top end of the table.