A 3-0 victory over Accrington Stanley was enough to strengthen Burton Albion's grip on an automatic promotion place at the Pirelli Stadium. A first half penalty from Damien McCrory helped settle any early nerves but it took second half strikes from Stuart Beavon and Matty Palmer to finally seal the three points just as Stanley looked as if they were rallying and threatening an equaliser.
McCrory fired home from the spot after Rob Atkinson had handled Palmer's free kick midway through the first period with Beavon applying a clinical finish to Adam McGurk's pass and Palmer getting on the scoresheet himself with a fine left foot finish five minutes from time.
The Brewers remain eight points clear of the play-off places following a win for Southend United who visit the Pirelli Stadium on Wednesday in what promises to be another big test for Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's men but they now have a three point lead over second placed Wycombe Wanderers.
With Adam McGurk recovered from his hamstring strain that kept him out of the win at Hartlepool there was just the one change in the Burton starting line-up as the Irishman came in for Mickael Antoine-Curier. New signing Callum Reilly came onto the bench as Florent Cuvelier failed to overcome his minor hamstring injury.
Matty Palmer flashed an early cross through the six yard box which was hacked clear before Accrington had to make an early substitution. Andy Procter lasted just seven minutes and two robust challenges before limping off to be replaced by Seamus Conneelly. Immediately after the change Albion were almost caught napping as Sean Maguire escaped down the right and fired a low shot wide of the post. Skipper John Mousinho had to concede a corner to prevent Terry Gornell making progress inside the Burton box and a well worked set piece from the corner almost saw Jon McLaughlin beaten when the ball was laid back to the edge of the box for Kal Naismith to shoot, his effort taking a big deflection off Robbie Weir in the box to force the Albion keeper to get down low to his right to push the ball round the post.
Albion quelled the early Stanley fire and were back on the attack as a blocked clearance fell kindly after a storming run by Damien McCrory down the left. Robbie Weir could not bring the ball down in time to get his own shot away instead setting up Tom Naylor for an effort from just outside the box, his shot skewing wide of the target.
A frustrating opening period sprang to life when Albion were awarded a penalty on 26 minutes. Matty Palmer floated in a free kick after McGurk had been brought down on the left. Rob Atkinson inexplicably stuck an arm up to block the ball and referee Carl Boyeson had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. McCRORY stepped up and thrashed it straight down the middle as Scott Davies dived away to his right.
Albion lifted their game now, buoyed by the goal that settled early nerves, and they could have had a second when Stuart Beavon burst between two defenders setting up McGurk for a shot that was too close to Davies.
Burton strung together an excellent spell of passing that almost carved Stanley open for a second time. There was some initial disquiet on the terraces as the ball went backwards from a promising position but possession was the name of the game and moments later a superb delivery from McCrory down the left had to be headed away by Atkinson atoning for his previous error.
Half time: Burton Albion 1-0 Accrington Stanley
Albion survived an early second half scare when Gornell brought the ball down inside the area and fired in a low shot at McLaughlin. The keeper spilled the shot and as the boot flew in to clear the danger referee Boyeson seemed to point to the spot for an Accrington penalty until the assistant's flag persuaded him to award Albion a free kick for offside.
It was almost 2-0 moments later as McGurk was hacked down just outside the box giving Palmer the chance to curl a free kick inches wide of the far post despite Davies going the right way.
Accrington had a spell of pressure which saw McLaughlin scramble across his line to push Maguire's header round the post as Burton struggled to clear their lines.
Josh Windass, the scorer of the only goal when the sides met eighteen days ago guided a header wide from a superb cross provided by Piero Mingoia rampaging down the right.
McLaughlin came hareing out of his goal on 59 minutes as Stanley countered but with defenders getting back he was lucky as Maguire easily rounded him but fired wide with the goal gaping as Burton flooded back.
Albion's first change came shortly after the hour mark and with it came a tactical switch. Lucas Akins played no further part as he was replaced by Mickael Antoine-Curier. The substitute took up a role in attack as Palmer switched to the right and McGurk pulled out to play on the left hand side.
As Accrington continued to press Albion seemed to be getting slightly nervous and Phil Edwards brought Kal Naismith down to pick up a yellow card as Stanley threatened to counter again. the visitors were unable to profit from the free kick and seconds later found themselves two goals adrift of the Brewers. It owed much to the running of McGurk who broke down the right. Ignoring the run of Antoine-Curier on the far side he cut back inside and found BEAVON lurking fifteen yards out and the striker turned and fired an unstoppable shot across Davies into the far corner.
The lively Mingoia lofted a teasing cross into the middle for Gornell to glance a header wide before Stanley made a double change with Shay McCartan and Jason Gilchrist replacing Maguire and Windass. Albion got their first glimpse of Reilly who came on with ten minutes to play as Antoine-Curier was unable to continue after his brief appearance as a substitute.
Any doubts about a late Stanley recovery evaporated with five minutes to go. Weir's smart pass found PALMER in the middle and the young midfielder found space on the edge of the area to drill a searing left foot shot beyond the despairing dive of Davies.
Adam McGurk was replaced late on by Nasser El Khayati who showed plenty of tricks inside the box without finding the net but by this time Stanley's spirit had been broken and Albion were home and hosed for another crucial three points in their quest for League 1 football next season.