A resounding 3-1 victory over Bradford City at the Pirelli Stadium helped the Brewers to re-establish a four point lead at the top of Sky Bet League One. Former Bradford loanees Mason Bennett and Tom Naylor had Albion in control at 2-0 before Mark Duffy's close range finish wrapped up the three points for Nigel Clough's men. A header from Rory McArdle in stoppage time proved to be no more than a consolation as former Bantams keeper Jon McLaughlin was denied a clean sheet against his former side at the death but dropped points for both Walsall and Gillingham strengthened Albion's grip on top spot.
Bennett was handed a full debut on the left side of midfield as Albion reverted to a 4-4-1-1 formation for the visit of the Bantams. The Derby County loanee was the only change to the side that slipped to a disappointing defeat t Rochdale. The tweak in formation allowed Duffy to move inside in a free role behind Stuart Beavon.
Both sides spent the early minutes sizing each other up and assessing the conditions after plenty of pre match rain. Albion, however, squandered a glorious chance to take control of the game on ten minutes. Bennett won a corner on the left and Duffy sent the ball into the danger area. Skipper John Mousinho got up well at the back post and may have gone for goal himself but instead headed back into the six yard box where Akins in space leant back and skied his shot over. A good chance missed.
Duffy's 25 yard swerving effort almost found the bottom corner of the net as it moved in the air but it was another let off for the visitors.
Seventeen minutes in and Albion did have the lead and there was an element of fortune about it. Phil Edwards stretched the Bradford defence with a cross from the right and a loose headed clearance from McArdle came out to BENNETT lurking on the edge of the penalty area. The youngster sent in a low shot that didnt seem to really be troubling Ben Williams in the Bradford goal until a deflection off a Bradford defender completely wrong footed him and sent the ball inside his near post.
Jamie Proctor, a scorer for Fleetwood against the Brewers earlier in the campaign, was guilty of heading a good chance over the bar minutes later as Bradford started to bare their attacking teeth down the left hand side.
Josh Morris was also well off target with a shot from the edge of the box on 25 minutes. To be fair to him he did have three yellow and black shirts racing towards him to close him down and hurry his effort.
Two minutes later and it really should have been all square. Mousinho made a rare mistake in kicking at thin air just outside the box and James Hanson was quickly onto the ball driving a low shot across McLaughlin but to the dismay of two Bradford players racing up in support the ball ended up wide of the post. A lucky break for Nigel Clough's men.
Tony McMahon went into referee Nick Kinseley's book for a crunching challenge on Tom Naylor after the Burton man had bustled his way through two challenges before being stopped in his tracks unceremoniously.
A direct and pacy run from Bennett through the middle almost opened up the Bradford defence but on the edge of the area Rory McArdle did just enough to see the ball safely through to his keeper as Albion went in search of a second before the break.
Half time: Burton Albion 1-0 Bradford City
Phil Parkinson sent on both Mark Marshall and Wes Thomas to get his troops on the front foot for the second half. They certainly came out all guns blazing and only a superb header deep inside his own six yard box from Shane Cansdell-Sherriff prevented Hanson nodding in at the back post.
A long range effort from McMahon was watched safely over his goal by McLaughlin and a scramble in the Burton box failed to result in a chance on the Albion goal.
the Brewers weathered the storm from the visitors as the storm overhead also subsided and the game became somewhat scrappy.
Chances were proving to be very few and far between although Hanson used his presence to flick a header straight at McLaughlin when Bradford were able to pile a free kick into the Burton area.
Calum Butcher was sent on as fresh legs in place of Bennett who had been starved of service in the second period and Duffy was switched to the left, Butcher adopting a central role.
The substitute was instrumental in Albion's second goal when it came on 73 minutes. A burst through the middle found Duffy in support and after being crowded in the corner he somehow picked out Butcher who set up McCrory to fire in a cross that was drilled towards goal by NAYLOR, the ball hit the crossbar via the fingertips of Williams and whilst there was some debate whether the ball bounced down over the line or via the back of the unlucky goalkeeper there was no doubting that it was 2-0 to the Brewers.
A third goal was not far behind with DUFFY applying a simple finish from no more than a yard out. That barely told the story of the goal though as delightful play on the right hand side set up the chance. Excellent link up play allowed Edwards to cross in to the danger area. Although it originally came to nothing the full back came up with a cheeky back heel for Beavon who drilled it across for Albion's on loan Birmingham man to put the game beyond Bradford.
The Bantams were struggling to find the target and a Hanson header over the bar coupled with Billy Knott's rising drive that was more danger to the scoreboard than the goal. McMahon was closer forcing McLaughlin to save his long range free kick, although it was a comfortable save for the ex-Bradford keeper.
Tom Flanagan,now recovered from his appendix surgery, was given a late run in attack as Stuart Beavon took a well earned rest. Albion could have done with him in his usual defensive role in stoppage time when a Bradford corner came in and Rory McARDLE was there to glance it in to the far corner.
It was nothing more than a consolation in the end and it was a shame that Albion couldn't keep another clean sheet but the three points were far more important at the end of the day.