A pulsating 1-1 draw heralded life for Burton Albion without Gary Rowett as the Brewers went toe to toe with fellow promotion rivals Plymouth Argyle at the Pirelli Stadium. Former Argyle man Alex MacDonald notched his fourth goal of the season as the usually watertight Pilgrims defence cracked just after the half hour mark but Reuben Reid's 70th minute penalty denied Albion all three points.
Neither side seemed keen to settle for a point and in the end it was probably a fair reflection of the game that both sides left with something to show for their efforts.
Caretaker manager Mike Whitlow was not afraid to ring the changes for his first game in temporary charge. Stuart Beavon and Alex MacDonald both returned to the fold after serving one match bans and there was also a recall for Robbie Weir to the centre of midfield. Perhaps the biggest surprise was in goal where Whitlow opted to bring Dean Lyness in for his first League start of the season.
Albion were out of the blocks very quickly against one of the in form sides in League 2. Lucas Akins showed good skill and pace down the right to send in a delicious cross that had Albion players almost queuing up in the centre. Matty Palmer was the one that got there first but his firm header was saved low down to his left by Luke McCormick.
McCormick also had to save well from Beavon when Palmer turnerd provider on the edge of the box. The pass was perhaps slightly behind Beavon when it came to him but he could only steer his shot straight at the keeper.
Plymouth responded by forcing an excellent save from Lyness. Andy Kellett, on loan from Bolton Wanderers, got inside the box and jinked past a couple of challenges before his low shot was saved with former Pilgrims man Damien McCrory tidying up at the back post.
MacDonald earned himself a lecture from referee Charles Breakspear after a typically full blooded challenge on Argyle skipper Curtis Nelson by the touchline. It seemed to be a well contested 50-50 challenge but whilst the card stayed firmly in the pocket the official was not impressed.
MacDonald did go in the referee's book just after the half hour it was for the right reason. There looked to be a foul on Akins as he burst forward but Plymouth quickly sqaundered possession as referee Breakspear played on. Damien McCrory did superbly to keep the ball in on the left and found Akins on the edge of the box. His ball across the middle found Weir who won it in a 50-50 challenge with Dominic Blizzard. Matty Palmer picked up the pieces and a neat interchange between Beavon and MacDONALD ended with the former Argyle loanee scuffing a low show that took an age to hit the inside of the post and nestle in the back of the net.
The game continued to flow from end to end at a rapid pace but a breathless first period ended with Albion having their noses in front of a tight encounter.
Half time: Burton Albion 1-0 Plymouth Argyle
The visitors were quickly onto the attack from the whistle that signified the start of the second period. Kellett, looking a very useful loan signing skipped into the box and was unlucky to see his low effort deflect into the side netting.
Albion quickly responded and went back onto the attack and with Akins, MacDonald and Beavon all rotating their positions in the forward roles it was making it hard work for the Plymouth back three. Akins suddenly found himself central and forced a low save from McCormick to his left with Beavon going through moments later and firing a low shot inches wide. Good link-up play then had Beavon in down the right hand channel but McCormick was able to block as the former Preston man tried to chip the keeper.
Shane Cansdell-Sherriff did well to get a vital block on a low cross into the six yard box and just before the hour mark Plymouth made a double change. Changing to a back four Lee Cox came on for Carl McHugh and Deane Smalley was introduced instead of midfielder Blizzard.
The Reids, Reuben and Bobby combined well to create a good opening for Plymouth midway through the second period Bobby, on loan from Bristol City crossed in from the right but his team mate was unable to guide his shot onto the target.
Plymouth made a third and final change involving two former Albion loanees. Anthony O'Connor, on a yellow card for an untidy challenge on Robbie Weir made way for Jason Banton. Albion also made their first change with Adam McGurk replacing Matty Palmer but before he could have an impact Argyle were level. Reuben Reid tricked his way behind the Brewers back line and drew a rash challenge from Phil Edwards that persuaded the referee to point to the penalty spot. REID dusted himself down and comprehensively beat Lyness from the spot.
Albion then introduced Darragh Lenihan for his first Pirelli Stadium action and the young Irishman was soon in the think of it. A deft header played in McGurk but with the striker unable to get the ball under his control Nelson was able to nick the ball away to safety. Another rampaging run from midfield saw him pick up a pass from Beavon before driving a left foot shot straight at McCormick.
McGurk then raced forward before firing just over the bar and then on 85 minutes he forced a superlative save from McCormick. The substituted arched to head the ball back across goal from another teasing Akins cross and just as it seemed the keeper was going the wrong way he adjusted to make an excellent stop.
Lenihan had a chance to win it in stoppage time when a loose ball came to him but his shot was high and wide. In the end a first home draw of the season was a fair result.