Burton Albion have done it! Promotion at the first time of asking to the second tier of English football is confirmed after a nervy goalless draw with Doncaster Rovers at the Keepmoat Stadium. The game itself will not live long in the memory for the ninety minutes of action but the outpouring of relief at the whistle was immense as the reality sunk in that Burton Albion had secured back to back promotions.
It mattered not a jot that Walsall pushed Nigel Clough's men all the way with a resounding 5-0 victory at Vale Park as the Brewers took care of their own business. Albion's cause was helped towards the end as Rovers finished the game with nine men. With all three substitutions having been made before the hour mark the home side proceeded to lose both Aaron Taylor-Sinclair and Riccardo Calder to injury.
Matt Palmer and substitute Robbie Weir had probably the best of Albion's chances in a game where neither keeper was seriously tested with Albion's notoriously miserly defence keeping the Rovers defence at bay although there was a hugh sigh of relief when the home side were denied what appeared to be a stonewall penalty midway through the second half.
There was no great surprise that Clough opted to go with an unchanged side yet again given Albion's form going into the game. With injuries ruling Mason Bennett and Tom Flanagan out the Brewers boss had a core eighteen to select from and went with the tried and tested. Standing between the Brewers and their hopes of a final day victory was Remi Matthews. The on-loan Norwich goalkeeper lined up for Rovers who were all but confirmed as playing their football in League 2 for next season.
A crunching challenge by Phil Edwards early on left the popular right back struggling but after initial concerns he got back to his feet and carried on. A surging run from Lucas Akins also showed early Burton intent until he was brought down in full flow by Luke McCullough. Matty Palmer's free kick was certainly a testing one and Craig Alcock did well to head away under pressure at the expense of a pair of corners that were eventually cleared by a nervy Doncaster defence.
If there were any nerves amongst the Brewers players they werent showing as Albion set about their task with gusto. Hamza Choudhury was certainly relishing the occasion ripping into some meaty challenges and blocks in the early stages.
Doncaster began to settle in to the game but despite periods of possession they were struggling to find a way through a solid looking Burton back line. Half an hour in and neither keeper had been tested but nerves were on edge as news started to filter through that Walsall were doing what they needed to do at Vale Park. With the Saddlers two goals to the good there was no margin for error for the Brewers and Tom Naylor glanced a header over the bar from a Duffy corner.
Having spent a large portion of the half on the back foot, Doncaster began to grow in confidence and spray the ball about looking for an opening but they almost got caught on the counter on 39 minutes. Naylor released Akins down the left before a low cross was turned into the waiting arms of Matthews by Palmer.
Albion had to resort to some desperate defending as half time approached. As the ball cannoned around on the edge of the Burton box Andy Williams could not find room for a shot and a cross from Richard Chaplow had hearts in mouths. A poor touch from Palmer forced him to bring down Tommy Rowe and a free kick 30 yards out was cleverly worked into the box although in the end Edwards was able to watch it trickle out.
A corner in first half stoppage time meant Albion had to be on their guard but a good header from skipper John Mousinho ensured that at half time the Brewers were doing what they needed to do.
Half time: Doncaster Rovers 0-0 Burton Albion
The second half saw Calum Butcher introduced into the fray. Stuart Beavon failed to reappear at the restart having been carrying a knock into the game. It was a brave move for Albion with their season resting on the second 45 minutes. Experienced midfielder Richard Chaplow drove an ambitious early shot wide as Rovers tried to pick up where they left off.
Alcock also strode forward on 50 minutes to hit a long range shot. McLaughlin was right behind it and saved at the second attempt.
Edwards decided to follow the example of his opposite number at right back. Bursting forward from his normal position he got as far as the edge of the box and despite getting pulled back let go with a shot that was deflected behind for a corner. Duffy sent the ball in and after it had been half cleared Palmer was there to send a left foot volley fizzing just wide.
Donny sent on Nathan Tyson and the on loan Riccardo Calder to inject some new life in to his side and Tyson, the former Derby man was immediately causing problems for Damien McCrory in the wide left channel.
Just after the hour mark and Donny manager Darren Ferguson had played all of his cards. The experience of Chaplow gave way to a youngster making his debut in the red and white hoops. Will Longbottom had only signed his first pro contract with Rovers in the week and was quickly given his first taste of senior action.
Albion hearts were in mouths on 65 minutes as Donny had a huge penalty shout. Top scorer Andy Williams burst into the box and after a clash of feet with Edwards referee Andy Woolmer waved away vociferous claims. A real let off for the Brewers.
Ferguson may have been regretting making his thirds change so early in the half as the hosts found themselves down to ten men with over half of the second period to go. Left back aaron Taylor-Sinclair went down after a challenge near the touchline and despite treatment ended up a sorry sight, limping gingerly around the pitch, his game over and leaving Donny a man light.
Almost from nowhere Albion had a glorious chance to settle their nerves. Pressing high on the Rovers defence, Butcher won back possession and set off towards goal with Akins alongside him. Going alone he shot for goal but was denied by a sprawling save from Matthews.
Having looked nervy Albion began to regain their composure and a surge from Choudhury into the box just lacked the touch of quality to find Butcher at the back post. Albion's Leicester City loan man then found himself in the book as he brought down Rowe in full flight. It gave the home side the chance to pile a set piece into the Burton box and thankfully a back post header from Calder's delivery was headed wide of the goal.
79 minutes were on the clock of what seemed like one of the slowest second halves in the club's history when Robbie Weir was introduced to try and see the job through.
Rovers looked set to finish the game with only nine men when Calder then set off on a break down the left only to pull up sharply and go down in a heap. Like Taylor-Sinclair before him, the Villa loanee trudged sadly around the pitch
Weir had a great chance to put it to bed on 83 minutes as Burton knocked the ball around well to make use of their extra men and when Akins picked him out in the middle a scuffed shot was food and drink for the Donny defence.
The game peetered out into something of a tame ending as Burton knocked the ball around with their two men advantage. Referee Woolmer eventually brought four minutes of stoppage time to an end and the Brewers had done it. This time next season it's the Championship!