Burton Albion missed out on a glorious opportunity to steal a march on their promotion rivals as they slipped to a frustrating 1-0 defeat at Accrington Stanley. The home side managed just the one effort on target but it proved enough as Josh Windass' first senior goal for Stanley secured all three points for John Coleman's side.
Albion's unbeaten run was going to come to an end sometime but on this occasionnthey huffed and puffed but failed to produce enough quality on the night to open up the Stanley rearguard which stood firm, particularly in the second half as most of the game was played in the Accrington half. Too many wayward passes let Albion down and the chance to go six points clear at the top had gone as they failed to test Stanley keeper Scott Davies.
After the comeback victory over Dagenham & Redbridge Nasser El Khayati earned himself a first start for the Brewers. The Dutch frontman had a hand in all three goals for Albion at Victoria Road and came in for Ivan Calero who dropped to the bench.
Albion made a bright and breezy start to the game but spurned the first real chance to test on loan goalkeeper Scott Davies on eight minutes. A swift turn by McGurk ended in him being brought down as he tried to run towards the box. The Irishman stepped up to curl the free kick around the wall but put his effort wide of the target.
Accrington won the first corner of the game on ten minutes and when Albion struggled to get the ball clear Anthony Barry saw a low shot blocked with Lucas Akins hooking the ball upfield and away from danger.
The home side mounted a spell of pressure that was eventually cleared by Shane Cansdell-Sherriff and then Albion were able to shhow their swift counter attacking abilities as McGurk and Stuart Beavon led the surge upfield finding El Khayati who eventually won a corner. A short corner routine with McGurk almost went to waste but the ball came back to El Khayati who swung over a deep cross to the far post that was met by Akins who could not get over the ball and his header went wide.
Damien McCrory launched a long range effort as Albion continued to string some good passing moves together but his left footer flew wide of the target.
Josh Windass chanced his arm when he saw Jon McLaughlin off his line, the Albion keeper watching nervously as the Stanley midfielder floated the ball wide of the target.
Davies was eventually forced into action from McGurk's 20th minute free kick that needed punching clear with Cansdell-Sherriff lurking inside six yard box and the Stanley keeper was a spectator when Akins ripped a left foot shot from the edge of the area over the angle moments later.
For all of Albion's good play they found themselves behind on 23 minutes against the run of play. Cansdell-Sherriff only half cleared the ball and Tery Gornell was able to chest the ball into the path of WINDASS who this time rifled a low 20 yard shot inside McLaughlin's left hand post.
Buoyed by the goal Accrington flew forward and a diagonal ball across to Kal Naismith allowed him to cut inside Phil Edwards and his looping effort had McLaughlin back pedalling to make sure it went over.
McLaughlin did well on the half hour tipping a 30 yard free kick from Windass over the bar after John Mousinho had conceded a foul.
Windass was proving to be a real thorn in Albion's side and latching onto a through ball from Piero Mingoia he was only denied, at the second attempt, by some good defending from McCrory.
A change in formation got Albion going again with McGurk pulling out to the left and El Khayati going more central behind Beavon and a well worked move allowed the latter to turn and hit a dipping shot just over the Stanley crossbar.
Albion failed to trouble Stanley's keeper in the remainder of the half with the home side on top as the first half came to a close after a sweeping move down the right.
Albion were going to need to do something different after the break if they wanted to get something out of the game.
Half time: Accrington Stanley 1-0 Burton Albion
Albion quickly won a corner just a minute into the second period but the home defence were able to clear eventually.
Andrew Proctor picked up the first yellow card of the game on 49 minutes for a lunging challenge on McCrory but a poorly hit free kick was straight into the waiting arms of Davies.
The Brewers almost found themselves two down when Naismith skipped around Edwards on 54 minutes forcing McLaughlin to parry his low cross out into the middle of his penalty area but with nobody looking for the scraps in a red shirt Albion were able to clear.
El Khayati showed a neat turn to win a corner and get Albion going again but Akins was penalised for a pull in trying to get on the end of a looping centre from the Dutchman who was soon latching onto a smart ball inside the full back only to waste the cross.
It was all a bit fast and furious from Albion with some of their usual quality lacking. Therefore on 69 minutes it was time for the first change and Ivan Calero was sent on in place of El Khayati to try and conjure up an equaliser.
Accrington were briefly down to ten men as Terry Gornell received treatment and had to leave the pitch. Albion were unable to profit from their temporary man advantage and a frustrating night was summed up when Lenihan fired a long range effort well off target.
A double change for the last fifteen minutes saw Mickael Antoine-Curier introduced for Beavon and Marcus Harness sent on in place of Akins. Accrington also made a double change as they saw the scalp of the league leaders within sight.
Almost instantly Albion squandered a superb chance to level things. McGurk again delivered a teasing centre from a free kick and this time the usually reliable Edwards was unable to steer his free header on target.
Rob Atkinson was shown a yellow card when he followed through on a clumsy challenge on McGurk on 84 minutes and it gave Albion another chance to pen the Stanley defence inside their box. Once again the red wall stood firm and cleared the danger as Albion continued to struggle to create chances.
It was almost like a siege in the closing stages as Albion tried frantically to work an equaliser and John Mousinho was unlucky to see his curling shot take a deflection and arc away for a corner.
Four minutes of added time were indicated with Albion still trailing and it was still all Albion pressing at the end with hands on heads as McGurk's corner crept through the six yard box without anyone getting a touch on it.