Alex MacDonald's stunning 86th minute free kick sealed three important points for Burton Albion at Sixfields as promotion rivals Northampton Town were beaten 2-1 in the day's early kick off. The Brewers had led through Jacob Blyth's strike on the stroke of half time but it was starting to look like the sides would have to settle for a share of the spoils when defender Ryan Cresswell scored ten minutes from time to level things up. MacDonald, though, had other ideas when he won a free kick thirty yards out and set his sights with a rocket of a free kick eluding home keeper Jordan Archer and finding the back of the net.
Gary Rowett had to shuffle his pack again after Shane Cansdell-Sherriff dropped out of the squad suffering with a flu bug. Ian Sharps, already a 50-50 doubt with a tight hamstring found himself starting alongside John Mousinho at centre back with George Taft resuming the left back position with Damien McCrory dropping to the bench after his first run out for six months in the JPT on Tuesday. Matty Palmer sat just in front of the back four in a 4-1-4-1 formation with Alex McDonald partnering Robbie Weir in the centre and Lucas Akins and Adam McGurk on the flanks. Jacob Blyth was asked to play as the lone striker with Stuart Beavon struggling with a groin injury.
Ex-Brewers Matt Duke and Zander Diamond both missed out due to injury although former loanee Alex Nicholls, fresh from a loan spell at Exeter City, started for the Cobblers.
Albion began promisingly with an early shot from the edge of the area from MacDonald blocked inside the box and looping up and Jordan Archer in the Cobblers goal looking none too assured as he went up to challenge with Adam McGurk and one of his own back four , Albion winning a corner as a result that came to nothing.
Archer also looked uncomfortable when Phil Edwards swung in a deep cross from the right that dropped just over the angle of post and bar.
It was Albion threatening again on eight minutes with a quickly taken throw in catching Northampton a little flat footed, Jacob Blyth crossed into the middle and it took a good interception from Enda Stevens to deny Akins a chance at the far post.
Northampton finally managed to get some play in and around the Brewers box on ten minutes but some stout defending meant that when Kaid Mohamed tried a shot from the edge of the area it was a comfortable save for Jon McLaughlin.
Archer continued to look vulnerable in the Cobblers goal, Akins cross eluding him on seventeen minutes and Albion should really have tested him more from another Edwards delivery, Blyth heading well off target from twelve yards.
Albion found themselves under pressure as the first half reached the midway point. Chris Hackett launched a diagonal ball to the edge of Albion's penalty area and when the cross came in Mousinho had to head away from inside his own six yard box. Failing to clear completely MacDonald headed back into his own box allowing Ivan Toney a shot that was blocked and Hackett eventually cracked a loose ball at goal, straight at McLaughlin.
Taft saw space open up for a long range shot that Archer needed two goes at holding onto and when Akins crossed in low from the left only a fortuitious deflection denied McGurk a first time shot at goal.
Northampton went close again on 34 minutes. A long throw causing problems into the Albion box and when the ball was delivered back in having been half cleared Toney and Edwards went up for a header that the Albion man won to concede a corner. The Cobblers were rueing their luck moments later when McLaughlin missed a cross as it came in and with the goal at his mercy Mohamed contrived to blaze over from seven yards out.
Weir saw a shot blocked inside the box making it easy for Archer to claim but Northampton were starting to get on top.
With less than a minute of the first half remaining Albion grabbed the lead. McGurk found himself in a central position as Albion looked to break. His dinked little pass was not quite gathered properly by Weir on the edge of the box but the ball ran kindly through to BLYTH who fired a vicious shot beyond Archer to net against the side for whom he scored three times last season.
Half time: Northampton Town 0-1 Burton Albion
The second half got off to something of a disjointed start. Referee Gary Sutton had to deal with some handbags on the edge of the box as Northampton looked to prosper from a long throw hurled in by Ben Tozer and with the half less than five minutes old the Cobblers made a substitution with Mohamed making way for Lawson D'Ath.
Nicholls lashed a shot wide as Northampton looked to grab a quick equaliser and when Mousinho wrestled Toney to the ground the hosts had the chance to test McLoughlin with a free kick but Chris Hackett's delivery was over the bar by some distance.
Albion's response was to go close to grabbing a second. McGurk's right foot cross from the bye line was cleared to the edge of the area and MacDonald forced Archer into an excellent save as his shot arrowed towards the bottom corner of the goal. McGurk was then off target with a near post header as the Cobblers struggled to clear their lines.
The game became somewhat scrappy with precious little football being played and the game getting a little niggly. D'Ath picke dup the first yellow card of the game for a foul on Mousinho as he cleared upfield.
Albion made their first change on 68 minutes and it marked a return to league action for Damien McCrory, ironically at the ground where he missed the first game of his injury spell back in April. The popular left back replaced George Taft in a straight swap.
Northampton made their third change on 76 minutes bringing on defender Kelvin Langmead for Alex Nicholls having already introduced Daniel Alfei for Ben Tozer at right back. Albion also brought on Marcus Harness for the final quarter of an hour, the young winger replacing McGurk on the right. The youth team graduate quickly helped spark a breakout linking with Matty Palmer down the right, Archer finally forced into a save by Akins low shot from the left hand side of the penalty area. Akins was then harshly yellow carded for kicking the ball away after a foul by Blyth and within a minute the Cobblers were level. The resulting free kick was launched into the box and when Albion failed to clear Ryan CRESSWELL pounced to rifle home from fifteen yards.
It was the hosts who were really fired up and flying into every challenge as they penned Albion in.
Burton's final change was to replace Robbie Weir with Liam Slade, the young centre back deployed in a deep midfield role and within a minute Albion were back in front. Alex MacDONALD won and took control of a free kick thirty yards out. Albion fans know that he can hit that from that sort of range and this time he did not disappoint with a rocket of a shot that flew into the top corner beyond the flailing dive of Archer.
With the game in stoppage time Northampton had to throw everything at the Brewers and D'Ath was close to an equaliser throwing himself at a teasing cross from HAckett that just went wide of the far post.
Albion were right down the other end of the pitch when the final whistle went as there was relief all round with the Brewers back to winning ways.