Burton Albion chose the ideal time to record their first ever double over Oxford United, goals from Adam McGurk and Lucas Akins, strengthening the Brewers grip on a place in the top three of Skybet League. The frustrations of Tuesday's goalless draw against AFC Wimbledon were quickly forgotten when McGurk reacted quickly to Ryan Clarke's save to head home into an empty net on 14 minutes although it took until the 89th minute for Burton nerves to be settled, Akins coolly finishing inside the near post after being picked out by substitute Nasser El Khayati.
The win keeps Albion level on points with Shrewsbury Town at the top and with home defeats for fellow promotion chasers Wycombe Wanderers and Southend United helping to cement the Brewers position in the race for promotion.
The return from injury of Darragh Lenihan prompted a change to the starting line with the Irishman on loan from Blackburn Rovers making an immediate return to the starting line-up. He replaced Tom Naylor in the centre of midfield. There was also a change in defence with Shane Cansdell-Sherriff coming into the back four in place of George Taft who dropped to the bench. Also on the bench was Jimmy Phillips, the long serving winger ready to return to action after his long, protracted knee injury.
A lot of the early play was somewhat scratchy and not very productive but Albion burst into life as the clock ticked past fourteen minutes. A hopeful ball to the edge of the box was met by the head of Lucas Akins. Damien McCrory was quick to dash to the edge of the area to latch onto the loose ball, driving a low shot that was well blocked by Ryan Clarke in the Oxford goal. What the U's keeper could not prevent was the ball looping up in front of goal for Adam McGURK to thump home a header from six yards.
Albion were presented with a free kick opportunity to test Clarke again on 22 minutes when Ivan Calero was upended by Michael Collins. It looked all set for McGurk to set his sights on a second goal direct from the set piece but the ball was played in to Calero on the edge of the box and he was just unable to feed the ball through to a team mate for a second.
Veteran defender Andy Whing picked up a yellow card on 27 minutes for a sly little tug on McGurk as he tried to burst away from the former Coventry man but eagle-eyed referee Mr Bankes did not miss it and booked him.
Burton were producing some good link up play particularly when Beavon, McGurk and Calero were able to link up. McGurk led one breakout on the half hour mark and it was just the final pass from Calero that was slightly overplayed that prevented Beavon latching onto a chance that would have given him a free run in on goal.
Robbie Weir followed Whing into the referee's book with a cynical pull back on Collins and Albion were almost made to pay from the free kick. Although it was inside the Oxford half the ball was played up into the Albion penalty box and defender Johnny Mullins was given space to sidefoot a shot across keeper Jon McLaughlin although a vital toe end from Phil Edwards made sure that the ball not only past the keeper but also past the post.
It was a rare defensive scare for Albion in what had become something of a midfield battle in the main.
Half time: Burton Albion 1-0 Oxford United
Josh Abbey, a home grown Oxford product almost had the visitors back on level terms within two minutes after the break. A quickly taken free kick ended up in the box and a swift shot on the turn was fortunately, from a Burton perspective, just wide of the post.
Albion were even closer to doubling their lead on 49 minutes. Akins did well to win a corner that was slung in low by McGurk and a near post run from Shane Cansdell-Sherriff allowed him to flick the ball goalwards with only a desperate clearance on the line from an Oxford defender keeping the ball out.
Calero saw a shot blocked when he switched the ball onto his left foot as Albion cranked up the pressure with a series of corners and Oxford were only able to get out of their own box when Akins headed over from six yards out at full stretch.
McGurk's delivery from corners was causing plenty of problems for the Oxford defence and when Clarke could only punch clear under immense pressure the ball was returned to Cansdell-Sherriff who teed up skipper John Mousinho who fired over.
Skarz was yellow carded for a poor challenge on Beavon that allowed McGurk to send in another teasing free kick but this time Oxford were able to deal with it and clear their lines more effectively this time.
Oxford made their first change just after the hour point with Whing, already on a yellow card, replaced by Oxford's latest loan signing, Kemar Roofe from West Bromwich Albion.
There was cause for concern halfway through the second period when McGurk pulled up rather abruptly chasing the ball and clutching at his hamstring. The influetial frontman tried to run it off but after a couple of minutes the decision was taken to bring him off to prevent exacerbating the injury and Tom Naylor was introduced to bolster the midfield and Calero pushing further into attack alongside Beavon.
Roofe was close to opening up the Brewers defence on 75 minutes with a tricky little run that picked out Hylton in the middle, the U's leading scorer pulling his shot wide of the near post.
Calero was taken off to be replaced by El Khayati and he almost set up a goal with his first touch, a free kick seconds after entering the field with Beavon's flick header blocked.
Roofe was brought tumbling to the ground right on the edge of the box by Mousinho, earning the Albion captain a yellow card, and the free kick from Ashby rattled the crossbar with McLaughlin at full stretch to try and stop it.
Hylton also went in the book for being rather excessive in trying to wrestle McCrory off the ball as he saw the ball out of play sparking ugly scenes as Burton players took exception to the treatment of their team mate.
After soaking up some intense Oxford pressure Albion eased any final nerves with a second on 89 minutes. El Khayati sold his marker a complete dummy to turn and open up a chance to pick out AKINS in the middle. It looked like he had lost the chance when he pulled the ball out to his left hand side but a calm sidefoot finish squeezed inside the post and the outstretched hand of Clarke who had no chance ending a goal drought for the popular forward stretching back to the beginning of October.
The second goal killed off any late hopes Oxford had of snatching a point and allowed Albion to see out stoppage time with no concerns, safe in the knowledge that fortress Pirelli had stood up to the test again.