There is still plenty of football to be played in this League 2 campaign but a 2-1 victory for Burton Albion at rivals Oxford United could turn out to be hugely significant come the end of the campaign. First half goals from Dominic Knowles and Zeli Ismail had the Brewers two to the good inside half an hour and it could have been even better had Billy Kee converted a penalty after Jimmy Philliips had been upended in the box. Ryan Williams set the game up for a rousing second half pulling one back early in the second period but Albion defended nobly to secure the three points despite losing skipper Ian Sharps to injury during the second period.
Brewers boss Gary Rowett opted to stick with an unchanged side for the visit to fellow promotion contenders Oxford United. That meant that Adam McGurk and Dean Lyness had to be patient in their quest to return to the starting line up. There was only one change to the substitutes bench as Michael Symes made his return after a lengthy spell on the sidelines to replace Gary Alexander who had been struggling during the week with a slight knee injury.
Oxford controlled most of the early possession but a sloppy pass almost cost them dearly on five minutes when Dominic Knowles seized possession but just as it looked like a chance might open up for him to shoot he was closed down and dispossessed although more worryingly the youngster stayed down as Oxford broke forwards at speed to try and capitalise.
But after a fairly tame start Albion stunned Oxford with the opening goal on ten minutes. As Albion broke from a long Oxford throw in into Burton's box. Damien McCrory cleared the ball up to Dominic Knowles on halfway and he in turn fed Zeli Ismail who was in support on the right. The Wolves loanee skipped past U's skipper Jake Wright before sliding a delightful through pass for KNOWLES to run back on to before jinking round the keeper and slotting into the empty net.
With Oxford and the crows somewhat subdued and unsettled Albion almost grabbed a second on nineteen minutes as Ian Sharps made a nuisance of himself in the opposing penalty area to help create a chance for Billy Kee who saw his volleyed effort from the edge of the box deflect wide of the far post.
Kee was even closer with a shot on the turn in the 23rd minute as another swift counter attack led by Knowles and Ismail allowed Phil Edwards to put in a testing cross that fell nicely for Albion's leading scorer.
Oxford continued to look dangerous and Deane Smalley's ambitious overhead effort dropped over the crossbar moments later. However the home side were stunned as Albion doubled their advantage on 26 minutes. Again it was a swift break this time led by Jimmy Phillips down the left. The Brewers winger had been relatively quiet up to that point but he cut inside full back David Hunt and burst to the edge of the box before trying to curl the ball into the far corner. Ryan Clarke got down well to push the ball away but it fell perfectly for ISMAIL to smash a rising shot into the roof of the net for 2-0.
Albion were very nearly in dreamland two minutes later. Hunt was again embarrassed by Phillips, this time in the box and the U's defender brought Phillips down to earn Albion a penalty. After his successful spot kick last week Billy Kee stepped up but sent a poor spot kick straight at Clarke who saved comfortably.
Oxford suffered an injury blow just before the half hour mark as experienced striker Dave Kitson stayed down and had to come off to be replaced by another vastly experienced forward, David Connelly.
Phillips almost conjured up a third for the Brewers on 41 minutes but was again foiled by Clarke, the keeper this time fortunate to see the ball squirm away off his body for the safety of a corner. The keeper then had to drop smartly at his near post as Sharps met Palmer's corner with a firm downward header.
Oxford had one last chance as the first half ticked into overtime when Shane Cansdell-Sherriff was penalised twenty five yards out but the home side took too long over their short free kick routine and Albion were able to clear. Ismail almost rounded off a very good first half when he got isolated with left back Tom Newey and cut inside before unleashing a curling left foot shot that was not too far over the crossbar at all.
Half time: Oxford United 0-2 Burton Albion
After a no doubt rousing team talk at half time Oxford came out and quickly looked to get themselves a goal to give them a chance of getting something out of the game and they came as close as they had done in the entire first half just three minutes into the second period. Smalley did well to get possession on the left hand side of the area and a quick switch across to the right side of the box found Connolly who made room for the shot which was straight at Lainton.
Nicky Wroe whipped a free kick wide of the far post as the home side kept up the pressure, Ian Sharps receiving a yellow card for the original challenge on James Constable and the home side had their goal on 52 minutes. Connolly flicked the ball in behind the Brewers defence and the lively Ryan WILLIAMS was able to latch onto it and hold off the challenge of Damien McCrory before slipping the ball beyond Lainton.
Williams was almost unstoppable now and another surging run from the midfielder was inches away from giving United an equaliser. Bursting towards the Burton box he drifted out to the left before pulling back a great ball for James Constable who stabbed the ball towards goal only to see the ball bounce back off the inside of the post and into the arms of a relieved Albion keeper.
It was all Oxford now as the home side had their tails up and Albion had to make a cautious substitution just after the hour mark to try and stem the flow towards the Burton goal. Dominic Knowles was the man sacrificed as Lee Bell came on to bolster the midfield unit.
Palmer lashed a shot well over the bar as Albion briefly broke free of their defensive shackles before Albion were dealt an injury blow at the back. Sharps required treatment and was unable to shake off the knock and Rowett had to call on Marcus Holness to fill the void, the central defender having not played since his sending off at AFC Wimbledon on 21st September last year.
Connolly who was becoming ever more influential was denied by the fingertips of Lainton as Williams again burst away and provided the cross, Constable laying the ball into the path of his strike partner who had his hands on his head in frustration as the ball went for a corner.
Danny Rose saw a hopeful shot deflected safely into the arms of Lainton as Albion defendly manfully before Oxford made an attacking change by introducing the mercurial Alfie Potter in place of right back David Hunt. Deane Smalley was also replaced by Sean Rigg as the game drifted into the last five minutes as Micky Lewis desperately sought to retrieve something from the game. Rigg was quickly into the referee's book for a late challenge on Phil Edwards which earned him a yellow card.
Lee Bell also saw yellow for his timewasting efforts as the clock ran down and it was very much a case of keep what you have as David Gray was brought on for the last few minutes in place of Jimmy Phillips.
As the game went into five added minutes the home side laid siege to the Burton half and had the Brewers penned deep in their own penalty area and defending for their lives. Edwards had to make two emphatic clearances to clear his lines and a late free kick conceded by Ismail offered another chance to the U's but Rose's effort was never troubling Lainton who watched it curl over his bar.