A first win in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy remains elusive for the Brewers after a fifth straight season sees then go out at the first time of asking this time with a narrow 1-0 defeat to League 1 side Notts County at Meadow Lane. Callum McGregor's 25 yard thunderbolt on 39 minutes was all that seperated the sides in the end as Albion threw all the could at the Magpies in the second half with the County defence doing just enough to hang on in the end and progress at Albion's expense to the second round.
Bearing in mind the competition rules of naming at least six players to have played last time out in the League, Gary Rowett made five changes to his team to rest minor knocks and also give some of the players knocking on the door of the team an opportunity to shine against League One opposition. Phil Edwards for Rory Delap was the only change in the defensive unit but midfield showed changes with Matty Palmer returning to the side in a defensive midfield role. Jack Dyer and Robbie Weir also came back in as part of a midfield three supporting Michael Symes and Dominic Knowles, the former Burnley striker given his full Brewers debut as Rene Howe dropped to the bench. Youngsters Liam Slade and Marcus Harness joined Mats Morch and Adam McGurk alongside Howe in a five man substitutes bench, the maximum allowed under JPT rules.
Albion made the brighter start with Dominic Knowles doing well to wriggle into the box and win an early corner and Damien McCrory, venturing forward in the early stages saw a searing right foot shot blocked by Manny Smith inside the box.
Both physios had to rush on as early as the sixth minute as a collision between Brewers keeper Dean Lyness and Magpies midfielder Joss Labadie left both requiring treatment. With both sides back to their full complement Albion continued to look bright with Knowles flagged offside as he tried to get his head to Jack Dyer cross while the former Villa trainee had claims for a handball by former Derby defender Dean Leacock ruled out as his well struck shot was blocked inside the box.
Smith had the first real chance to test Lyness in the Burton goal on nineteen minutes when he got on the end of an angled free kick into the penalty area but the centre back could not guide his header on target from six yards.
County got closer on 25 minutes as a flowing move allowed Aston Villa loanee Enda Stevens to exploit space on the left and drive into the box before his low driven cross was hacked away by Marcus Holness.
Despite their placing in the lower reaches of League 1 County were playing some neat and tidy football and with Albion playing a somewhat narrow formation there was space down the wings for the home side to make use of. From one flowing move a cross came in for former Hereford United striker Yoann Arquin but his ten yard header was superbly kept out by Lyness flinging himself to his right to claw the ball away from the top corner.
County struck the first blow on 39 minutes just moments after Albion had missed a good opportunity to test Bartosz Bialkowski in the County goal. Jack Dyer missed his shot as the ball flashed across the penalty area and County were quickly on the attack through Callum McGregor who strode forward and with options either side of him opted to go alone and fire into the bottom corner from all of twenty five yards out.
McGregor was close to a second four minutes later picking up on Arquin's header down after Curtis Thompson had made good use of the space on the right. The lively midfielder had to turn and get his shot away quickly but this time he was just too high with his effort as Lyness watched it go over his crossbar.
Robbie Weir struck the outside of the post with what was more of a cross-shot as half time beckoned but it showed that Albion were more than capable of threatening to get back into the game after the break.
Leacock found himself in the book in first half stoppage time as Knowles threatened to skip away from him but from the free kick Matty Palmer was only able to find the waiting arms of the Notts County keeper.
Half time: Notts County 1-0 Burton Albion
The second half saw Albion start off with good intent stretching and testing the County defence and earning themselves a dangerously positioned free kick when substitute Romello Nangle was booked for a somewhat reckless lunge in on Adam Reed just outside the box. Marcus Holness fancied his chances from the free kick but fired his driven effort straight into the defensive wall.
Damien McCrory took over free kick duty when Dominic Knowles was bundled over by Leacock and with a left footed curler he forced Bialkowski into a full length save away to his left.
Burton were looking dangerous on the attack now and Adam Reed's cross proved to be just too far in front of Knowles as Bialkowski showed his frustration at the defence in front of him.
Albion made an attacking double change on 68 minutes with both Rene Howe and Adam McGurk thrown on and Matty Palmer taken off along with Michael Symes. The pair soon made their presence felt as Albion continued to probe forwards but it was Jack Dyer's corner that saw Ian Sharps go close to his first goal in Burton colours with a back post header.
It was the substitutes turn to combine on 74 minutes as an exquisite cross from the left by McGurk was flicked across goal by Howe with Bialkowski doing well to get something on the ball and keep it out.
Albion's third substitution with a quarter of an hour to go was another attacking one as Academy prospect Marcus Harness was handed a first team debut in place of Jack Dyer. The second year scholar had only been on five minutes when Dominic Knowles found him in space on the right but the talented teenager screwed his shot well wide of goal as he came under pressure bursting into the penalty area.
Despite concerted pressure as the game ticked towards full time an equaliser would not come and Albion's frustration was summed up when Sharps headed over a good chance in stoppage time.