Honours even at Spotland as Burton Albion battled to a hard earned point away to fellow promotion chasers Rochdale. Zeli Ismail's second goal in Burton colours had given the Brewers a first half lead as he buried a loose ball after Ian Sharps header was cleared off the line from a corner. It could have been so much more for Albion though as an error from keeper Rob Lainton allowed George Donnelly's cross to sneak over the line for an equaliser to give Dale their first league point in six games against the Brewers. It was a measure of Albion's recent defensive solidity that it was the first League goal conceded on their travels since the Saturday before Christmas at Hartlepool.
Skipper Lee Bell returned to the side after three games out of the starting line-up in a change of shape for the Brewers. Bell replaced injured striker Adam McGurk and dropped into his more accustomed midfield role as Gary Alexander took on the role of the lone striker. Zeli Ismail and Jimmy Phillips were asked to push up in support in the knowledge that Bell, alongside Robbie Weir and Matty Palmer were manning the midfield. Zander Diamond returned to the substitutes bench having missed out in Saturday's home game.
After an unusually quiet start to the game, both on the pitch and in the stands, it was Albion with the first meaningful opportunity to create something of note. Matty Palmer swung in a free kick after Ashley Eastham had grabbed more than a handful of Gary Alexander's shirt and Ian Sharps was able to head the ball back across the danger area where Josh Lillis pushed the ball away although the challenging Shane Cansdell-Sherriff was flagged offside as he looked to pounce on the loose ball.
Rob Lainton was forced into a fine save in the eighth minute as the home side seized onto a loose ball from Bell and Scott Hogan got goalside of Sharps before firing low against the legs of the Brewers keeper at his near post.
The game was somewhat fractious in the early exchanges with referee Scott Duncan baffling the supporters with several decisions and not really letting the game flow. Rochdale had their first real chance on twenty minutes when Michael Rose latched onto a loose ball to drill a deflected shot wide of the post. The home side kept the pressure on as Albion made heavy weather of clearing the resulting corner, Cansdell-Sherriff effecting the eventual clearance from danger.
Jimmy Phillips eventually took things too far in the eyes of the referee with a clumsy challenge on Matty Lund and the referee was centre of attention again moments later when Rose tripped Robbie Weir moments later without any recourse from the official.
Alexander flashed a header wide on 29 minutes from an Ismail cross but it was still the home side looking the more dangerous.
Against the run of play it was the Brewers who took the lead on 34 minutes. Jimmy Phillips did well to win a corner on the left and when Ian Sharps saw his header scrambled off the line it fell nicely for ISMAIL who drilled a low shot inside the keeper's near post.
Rochdale quickly had a chance to strike back when Robbie Weir bundled Lund over giving the home side a free kick. Rose's delivery was good and onto the head of Ian Henderson but his header from six yards out was comfortably held by Lainton.
Sharps was shown a yellow card on 42 minutes as Hogan tried to burst clear and got squeezed out of it. Ismail was not long in following him into the book as he was late trying to close down a clearance by Peter Vincenti deep in his own half.
What remained of the first period was played out in the Rochdale half as Albion showed their resolve and determination at the end of a scrappy first half which the home side had probably looked the sharper but Albion had struck when it mattered.
Half time: Rochdale 0-1 Burton Albion
Dale were clearly intent on restoring parity as early in the second half as they could and it took a timely intervention from Damien McCrory to prevent Vincenti's cross causing problems in the six yard box.
The home side were the first to make a change as well with holding midfielder Jason Kennedy sacrificed to allow George Donnelly to add some fire power to the attack. Moments later Albion also made a change, enforced by an injury to Damien McCrory. The ever reliable Irishman stayed down after stretching to keep possession and his departure allowed David Gray to come on for his Brewers debut.
Rochdale were penning Albion back but a superbly timed challenge by Cansdell-Sherriff on Hogan and some sterling work by Bell deep in his own half kept Albion in front.
The pressure was telling and on 66 minutes the Brewers resistance was broken. A searching cross was flung into the box by George Donnelly and it was a howler from Lainton as he tried to clear and only succeeding in helping the ball over the line before Sharps could clear.
Suddenly the Dale fans found their voices and the home side sensed their chance to press on and grab all three points.
Matty Done was the first home player to see a yellow card and not surprisingly it was for a foul on Ismail as he burst clear and headed for the penalty area. Before Albion could take the free kick it was time for Kee to enter the fray for the final quarter of an hour as he took over the lone striker role replacing Alexander.
Donelly thrashed an angled drive high over the bar as Dale continued to search for a second and Reece Gray was also introduced to pep up their attack in place of the tall and dangerous Vincenti.
Burton chances were few and far between by this stage but Phil Edwards got a glancing header to Palmer's free kick on 82 minutes that flew wide of the far post as Albion looked for a second themselves.
Neither side were settling for a point given the tight nature of the league table. The ever lively Henderson showed some neat skills on the edge of the box but his finish ended up well wide.
Ismail took a knock in trying to run the ball clear and after treatment he took no further part, Alex MacDonald replacing him for what remained of the game.
Lainton went some way to redeeming himself with a fingertip save to deny Hogan, the striker gutted to see his header from Rose's free kick touched just over the crossbar.
Robbie Weir passed up a chance to win it for Albion in stoppage time when he fired straight at Josh Lillis and Ashley Eastham headed wide from a corner as added time ticked away.
There was just time for one last set piece as Donnelly saw yellow for a challenge on Weir and MacDonald was unlucky to see Lillis tip his thirty yard free kick over.