For the second season in a row a 1-0 defeat at Northampton Town dealt a blow to Burton Albion's promotion hopes. Against a side battling for their Football League lives Albion failed to match the intensity and industry of their opponents and were made to pay for a goalkeeping error that cost them anything from the game. Rob Lainton looked to have John Marquis' shot covered as it came in from the edge of the box but the on loan keeper fumbled the ball over the line, sustaining an injury to his finger in the process. The goal came just before the half time interval and Albion were unable to muster much of a response in the second half as their automatic promotion hopes faded.
Despite coming away with all three points in the last game against Plymouth Argyle, Brewers manager Gary Rowett was forced into one change with Damien McCrory picking up a knock to his knee meaning a return to the side for Phil Edwards at left back with David Gray keeping his place at right back. Robbie Weir returned to midfield at the expense of Lee Bell as part of a flatter midfield four, Callum McFadzean and Jimmy Phillips maintaining their places on the wings whilst Adam McGurk returned to the attack alongside Billy Kee as Gary Alexander dropped to the bench having suffered a slight ankle problem during the week.
Northampton, with a vociferous crowd behind them for a game they needed to win in their fight against relegation started brightly and Alan Connell lashed an angled chance wide after Ben Tozer's long throw was only partially cleared.
Albion seemed to quell what early fire the hosts had but Emile Sinclair made a real hash of a good chance on 12 minutes when a deft pass from Connell released him into space on the left side of the penalty but he got his attempted lob all wrong and the ball sailed out on the far side for only a throw in.
Jimmy Phillips had Albion's first real shot in anger with a drive from distance that former Albion stopper Matt Duke was able to watch go comfortably wide of his right hand upright.
Albion threatened again on 23 minutes when some ponderous defending allowed Gray to surge forward and feed the ball into McFadzean who managed to cut inside and drill a low shot goalwards only for a covering defender to make a good block and take the sting out of the youngsters effort.
Home midfielder Ian Morris was the first man to incure the ire of referee Carl Berry sufficiently to warrant a yellow card. A sliding challenge on Billy Kee as Albion tried to pass their way through midfield was mistimed and the referee had his book out.
Kee was involved in Albion's next move that briefly threatened to open up the Cobblers back line. A long kick out from Rob Lainton was backheeled by the Brewers leading scorer into the path of McGurk but his first time shot was never threatening Matt Duke's goal.
Northampton mustered up an attempt to test Lainton on 41 minutes as some good link up between Connell and Marquis allowed the latter to shoot straight at Lainton. When the roles were reversed though moments later as MARQUIS shot from the edge of the area and Lainton falied to cover himself in anything like glory as he fumbled the shot over the line.
Albion quickly had a chance to equalise at the other end when Kee, despite being manhandled inside the box hooked the ball across and only a last ditch challenge from Gregor Robertson denied Shane Cansdell-Sherriff from sidefooting home.
Half time: Northampton Town 1-0 Burton Albion
Needing to turn the game on its head Albion made a double change at the start of the second half. Callum McFadzean, having failed to totally shake off a knock from a heavy challenge early in the first half failed to appear after the break and he was replaced by Ashley Hemmings. Lainton, who seemingly dislocated his thumb in the goal incident also failed to come back out and the chance was there for Dean Lyness to reclaim his place in the team.
The introduction of Hemmings brought some pace and trickery to the flank and one early cross that had Robertson hurriedly skewing a clearance from a corner suggested that this might be a profitable route back into the game for the Brewers and a teasing cross from Palmer was then deflected into the hands of Duke just as McGurk looked like he might get there first.
McGurk went agonisingly close to conjuring up an equaliser on 58 minutes as his delicate lob skimmed the face of the crossbar.
Lyness did well under pressure to punch clear a dangerously inswinging corner on 66 minutes as Northampton sensed a second goal was in the offing which would surely seal the three points for them.
Albion's third substitution needed to be the right one and with just under 20 minutes to play Gary Alexander was added to the attack in place of Phillips pushing Adam McGurk out wide to accommodate the target man.
The Brewers were struggling to piece together much to threaten Duke's goal but Lyness by comparison had to make a superb save low to his right to keep out a shot from Marquis that looked to be creeping in after Sinclair had beaten the offside trap with a pacey run down the left.
Kee's long range free kick in stoppage time sailed well over the bar and almost out of the ground to sum up what was a poor Albion performance.