Adam McGurk proved to be the match winner in Burton Albion's promotion six pointer against Wycombe Wanderers at the Pirelli Stadium. The mercurial forward picked up a superb cross field ball from Nasser El Khayati and cut inside before curling a sumptuous left footed shot beyond Chairboys keeper Matt Ingram and inside the post and grab all three points to ensure that Albion stayed a point ahead of Shrewsbury Town at the top of Sky Bet League 2. Jon McLaughlin, perhaps fortunate to still be on the pitch after being only yellow carded for handling outside his penalty area in the first half, produced a stunning one handed save late on to deny Wanderers Aaron Pierre as the visitors tried in vain to keep up their proud record of only one away defeat all season.
Gareth Ainsworth's side had not lost on the road since October away at Exeter and were coming off the back of a home defeat to rivals Oxford United on Friday and were determined to hit back in the race for promotion but a resilient defensive performance from the Brewers secured a first clean sheet in five games and McGurk's moment of quality put Albion in pole position for promotion with five games of the season to go.
Burton's plans for the game were thrown slightly off when Lucas Akins reported ill before the game forcing the manager into at least one change. El Khayati came back into the side on the right hand side of midfield whilst former Chairboys striker Stuart Beavon perhaps unsurprisingly returned to the starting line-up at the expense of Denny Johnstone. George Taft also returned at left back, with Damien McCrory once more pushing forwards to the left hand side of midfield as Matty Palmer dropped back to the bench.
Wycombe started brightly and a wayward shot early on gave McLaughlin a minor scare but it was Albion who had the clearest chance to open the scoring on ten minutes. Beavon won an aerial challenge with Nico Yennaris and picked up the loose ball but unusually delayed his shot long enough for Joe Jacobson to slide in and make an important block although the Wycombe man seemed to injure himself in the process.
Phil Edwards burst forwards on 14 minutes as Adam McGurk sprayed the ball across the pitch but the man who started the Hasselbaink era with the opener at Adams Park in the return fixture back in November could not keep his shot down as Ingram watched it sail wide of the mark.
Yennaris then picked up the first yellow card of the game for a less than subtle tug back on Beavon who latched onto a superb ball forwards from McCrory, allowing McGurk to swing in a free kick that Shane Cansdell-Sherriff flicked over the angle of post and bar.
Beavon then made a real nuisance of himself in a challenge with Alfie Mawson eventually winning out only to drag his left foot shot wide of the target.
The former Wycombe and Preston frontman found himself in the book perhaps harshly on 23 minutes. He had every right to go for El Khayati's pass into the area but got there a split second after Aaron Pierre to the dislike of referee Darren Deadman.
Jon McLaughlin then followed him into the referee's book but it could have easily been red. A long punt forward bounced up and the keeper misjudged the bounce hastily readjusting himself to catch the ball on the edge of his area and the assistant referee flagging that the Burton keeper had handled outside of his area. Nervy moments followed as Deadman only showed him a yellow. Feeling hard done to that they did not have a man advantage Wycombe then squandered the free kick from the edge of the box with Jacobson curling his effort comfortably over the bar.
Beavon again worked himself a good opportunity in the box as Albion saw off the Wycombe pressure but although the gap opened up for the shot he only fired straight into the body of Ingram.
The dangerous Fred Onyedinma got the better of Cansdell-Sherriff inside the box late on in the half but with the goal at his mercy he went for the near post only for McLaughlin to deny him.
Albion had one more chance to break the deadlock before the interval, El Khayati digging out a left footed cross from the right hand side and McGurk getting up well but just unable to guide his header on target.
Half time: Burton Albion 0-0 Wycombe Wanderers
Damien McCrory failed to reappear when the second half got underway with Matty Palmer entering the fray. El Khayati switched to the left hand side with Palmer slotting in wide on the right.
Wycombe quickly had a chance to grab the initiative when Edwards was penalised for a nothing challenge on Aaron Holloway. Jacobson swung a left footed free kick in and Pierre headed against his own man and over the bar from six yards out.
El Khayati thrashed a rising drive well wide on 50 minutes as Albion got back on the attack but it was still a tight and tense affair.
Albion started to crank up the pressure and McGurk was just eased off the ball as he ran through onto it and Palmer was on the end of a flowing move only to drag a left foot shot wide.
The pressure eventually told as Albion took the lead on 56 minutes and what a finish it was. El Khayati, played in down the left by Palmer, worked space on the right to hit a raking crossfield ball to Adam McGURK. The Irishman brought the ball under his spell and drove into the middle before using his wand of a left foot to curl a shot beyond the helpless Ingram.
McGurk was almost in again on 58 minutes as Beavon's rather hopeful ball forwards caught Ingram and Jacobson in two minds but a late slip by the Albion man let the visitors off the hook.
El Khayati was frightening the Wycombe defence with his tricky little runs and on 63 minutes he worked his magic once more but his final ball just lacked the accuracy to pick out McGurk or else it would have been a contender for assist of the season.
John Mousinho got a lecture from the referee for a strong aerial challenge on Onyedinma as Wycombe started to come back into the game again.
With plenty of jostling in the box on corners Albion had to beware but Alfie Mawson was sufficiently distracted on 70 minutes as Jacobson sent another telling delivery into the box.
Matt Bloomfield saw a chance open up for him as the ball bounced awkwardly amongst the Brewers backline but he lacked the composure to find the target and McLaughlin was able to comfortably watch the ball pass by the post.
Wycombe tried to freshen things up with Steven Craig and Hogan Ephraim sent on to try and create something.
Palmer, though, squandered a glorious chance to double the lead and almost certainly seal the points. Beavon found El Khayati on the right in space and another teasing run saw him pull the ball back to the near post where the Albion substitute somehow contrived to get the ball over the crossbar.
Wycombe sent on Peter Murphy late on in place of Bloomfield and Albion brought Robbie Weir back into the action as he replaced the tireless running of Beavon.
With the clock running down Aaron Pierre went agonisingly close to an equaliser with a bullet header from a corner that McLaughlin stuck out a strong hand to force away for a corner. Just how priceless that save could turn out to be when the points are totted up at the end of the season remains to be seen but it was a crucial save at a crucial moment and just as important as McGurk's goal in securing three more crucial points in Albion's quest for promotion to League 1.
The job isnt done yet but this was a big three points along the way.