A fourth win on the bounce kept Burton Albion firmly on top of the Skybet League 2 table as strugglers Tranmere Rovers were put to the sword by some razor sharp finishing. Two goals in four first half minutes from Damien McCrory and Lucas Akins had the Brewers almost cruising to another three points with barely a quarter of the game gone. Kayode Odejayi's 30 yard thunderbolt changed the complexion of the game from almost nowhere and Albion were grateful to a second penalty save in a week from keeper Jon McLaughlin to keep them ahead in the second half.
A third goal was needed to kill the game off and Nasser El Khayati provided a superb finish to wrap up the points although Adam Dugdale's late own goal put the gloss on a fine afternoon for the Brewers and a dreadful one for Rovers as Burton eventually ran out 4-1 victors.
Three changes were forced upon Brewers boss Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink for the tricky trip to Prenton Park. The failure to overturn Robbie Weir's red card against Southend on Wednesday denied the midfielder a chance to play against one of his former sides so Matty Palmer returned to the starting line-up in a central role. Injury denied another former Tranmere man, Adam McGurk from facing his former employers so El Khayati pushed up into a more attacking role alongside Stuart Beavon. The third change saw McCrory pushed forward into a left midfield role to accommodate George Taft's return to the side at left back.
Burton started brightly in the spring sunshine and should probably have been in front on five minutes. The persistence of former Rovers man Lucas Akins won Albion a corner on the right and Palmer's outswinging delivery was glanced wide of the target by skipper John Mousinho.
Albion almost gifted the home side a goal moments later as dodgy defending almost presented Jordan Hugill with a tap in but having scrambled the ball away a swift counter had McCrory darting away in acres of space down the left crossing low for Tom Naylor on the edge of the box, the former Derby man will have been disappointed not to have scored, forcing a smart save from Owain Fon Williams low to his right with the goal at his mercy.
A silly foul by Taft out on the left allowed Tranmere to pile a free kick into the Burton box and Adam Dugdale had his hands on his head after flashing a header over the bar from Jennison Myrie-Williams' cross.
Tranmere continued to look lively but were undone by a sucker punch on eighteen minutes. The home side were convinced that Akins had failed to keep the ball in play on the right but with play waved on the winger found Beavon inside the box and he helped the ball on to McCRORY in space on the left to drill home into the bottom corner from beyond the far post.
Four minutes later Albion were in complete command with a second goal. It was made, ironically, by their two ex-Tranmere players. There was no pressure on Shane Cansdell-Sherriff as he hoisted a ball into the penalty area and the Tranmere defence were completely AWOL as AKINS darted into the area to finish at the second attempt after Fon Williams thwarted his first shot on the volley.
After controlling the game and looking comfortable Tranmere got themselves back into the contest with a peach of a goal. Myrie-Williams won an aerial challenge with Taft and when the ball fell loose for Kayode ODEJAYI there looked little on until a thirty yard volley fizzed past McLaughlin into the top corner.
Beavon tried to find Naylor down the right and although the midfielder was struggling to get there he picked the pocket of Janoi Donacien to win possession back and burst into the area where it took a finely timed challenge to prevent him getting in a telling cross that would have been a tap in for a team mate.
A late Tranmere corner was seen off with Hugill winning a header inside the box but beyond the back post run of Rory Donnelly.
The home side had two free kicks in first half stoppage time but were unable to muster a meaningful threat on the Burton goal, Albion making sure they went in ahead at the break.
Half time: Tranmere Rovers 1-2 Burton Albion
Lee Molyneux was a new face introduced for the second period by the hosts as they sought to get back on level terms. He replaced Hugill with Donnelly pushing up in support of Odejayi.
And it was the home side who certainly started the second period with a spring in their step. Ten minutes in and they carved out an opportunity as Myrie-Williams found acres of space down the right.
However on 58 minutes the hosts were handed a superb opportunity to equalise. Odejayi made a nuisance of himself in the box and went to ground in a tussle with Phil Edwards. Referee Tim Robinson pointed to the spot and booked Mousinho for his protestations. Skipper Max Power stepped up to take the penalty but for the second time in a week Jon McLaughlin went the right way, this time diving low to his left to safely smother what was actually a poorly hit spot kick.
If anything the penalty miss roused the home side up even more and there were shouts for a second penalty when Cansdell-Sherriff stumbled onto the ball in the penalty area with loud shouts for handball. Tranmere continued to press and another cross from Myrie-Williams had to be pushed past the post by McLaughlin for another corner that finished with defender Michael Ihiekwe driving a rising shot over the bar.
A third goal for Albion was always likely to be necessary for Albion and it came on 73 minutes. Again Tranmere were desperately appealing for the ball having gone out but McCrory kept it in down by the corner flag and sent in a devastating cross that was headed down by Akins for EL KHAYATI to turn and smash home the ball from ten yards out.
Ihiekwe picked up a yellow card on 76 minutes as he wrestled McCrory to the ground having been dispossessed. Tranmere won themselves a free kick twenty five yards out on 78 minutes as Mousinho bundled over the man mountain Odejayi but Myrie-Williams scooped the ball over both wall and bar without troubling McLaughlin.
Substitute Molyneux went in the book for a poor challenge on Edwards as he cleared the ball on 80 minutes.
The Brewers joyful afternoon was complete when a fourth goal went in in the 89th minute. Palmer sent Akins accelerating away down the right and his low cross was intended for Palmer who was beaten to the ball by Adam DUGDALE who suffered the ignominy of seeing the ball bounce beyond his own keeper as both tried frantically to keep it out.
With the last kick of the game Dominic Knowles, on as a late substitute for Stuart Beavon, almost made it five with a whipped shot that just missed the post by inches but Albion's job was done and the lead at the top had been maintained with another game on the list ticked off.