Jackson Irvine wrote his name into Burton Albion folklore as the man that scored the goal to send Burton Albion to a famous 1-0 victory over neighbours Derby County on a night of high emotion at the Pirelli Stadium.
The Australian is fast becoming a hugely popular player for the Brewers and his third headed goal in as many League games enhanced his reputation. Irvine showed great athleticism, timing his run into the six yard box to perfection and planting an unstoppable header beyond former England keeper Scott Carson in the 12th minute from Lucas Akins excellent cross.
Crucially The Brewers put in a performance of defensive grit and determination to secure a much needed first clean sheet of the campaign, particularly in the second half when Derby threw on the likes of Darren Bent and new loan signing James Wilson from Manchester United in search of an equaliser but having scored just one League goal so far this season, Nigel Pearson's side were up against it and Jon McLaughlin was rarely seriously tested with the superb trio of Kyle McFadzean, Ben Turner and the returning John Brayford immense in front of him. Brayford returned to the Brewers line up eight years after his last appearance in a Burton shirt and it was like he had never been away, John Mousinho deemed not quite fit enough to take part after tweaking his hamstring last weekend at Blackburn. Needing defensive cover Nigel Clough sprung something of a surprise by naming former Derby captain Shaun Barker on the substitutes bench, the defender having put pen to paper on a deal with the Brewers in time to feature.
There was also a surprise in the Burton starting line up as new loan signing Will Miller, from Tottenham Hotspur, was thrown straight into the starting line-up. The youngster nearly grabbed an early goal as well as Albion started on the front foot. Chris O'Grady won a physical battle with Cyrus Christie on the left and linked up with the supporting Lloyd Dyer. Dyer's shot was too hot to handle and came back out. Miller was there sniffing for a chance but under pressure could not quite steer the loose ball on target.
As Albion looked to build on their early pressure a superb crossfield pass from Irvine to Akins on the right gave the Brewers striker a chance to drive at goal before firing an angled shot just over Scott Carson's crossbar.
The goal that Burton fans had been dreaming of came after just eleven minutes and it was sufficient to almost lift the roof off the Pirelli. O'Grady was involved again with a simple lay off returning the ball to Akins from a throw in near the corner. A first time cross caught the Rams defence flat footed but bursting into the six yard box was IRVINE to bury an unstoppable header.
Albion had their tails up now and there was a buzz when Dyer ran onto an astute pass from Naylor but this time the winger's shot was well off target.
Derby were taking their time to settle but there was danger on 21 minutes as Chris Martin and Johnny Russell combined inside the box. The Scotsman, signed for Derby by Nigel Clough, would have had a clean sight of goal had it not been for an excellent challenge by Ben Turner in the box to deny him.
The Rams were being increasingly frustrated as Albion hunted them down and frequently forced them into backwards passes and it took until the 27th minute for Jacob Butterfield to test Jon McLaughlin with a shot that he was able to comfortably hold on to at the second attempt.
Derby's defence were facing a stiff examination with O'Grady for one certainly relishing the physical battle with them. A series of headers in and around the penalty area eventually found their way to the big striker on the edge of the box but his shot on the turn lacked the power to seriously threaten Carson.
The Rams were becoming more patient in their approach play but even with Will Hughes droppomg deep to try and dictate play Albion were holding firm. When Derby's attacks broke down then Clough's men were quick to try and hit on the counter. Tom Naylor quickly crunched into a challenge on Hughes in the latter stages of the first half and released Dyer but Derby were saved by the covering of Christie who got back to snuff out the immediate danger.
Derby came closest yet on 42 minutes as the dangerous Ince exploited space on the right to bring Martin into the game. It all seemed to open up for the Rams striker but taking aim and with McLaughlin in his sights his fierce drive was blocked by who else but former Derby man Brayford.
Contrasting emotions as the half time whistle went. Derby left the pitch to a chorus of boos whilst Albion left for their half time team talk with the backing of the Pirelli faithful ringing in their ears.
Half time: Burton Albion 1-0 Derby County
Ince was sacrificed at half time as the Rams went in search of an equaliser. January signing Abdoul Camara entered the fray to try and provide support to Martin and get Derby going.
It was certainly a more rousing start to the second half from Nigel Pearson's men. A couple of scrambles in the Burton box were hacked clear and when Naylor seemed to be hacked down referee Andy Davies waved play on strangely blowing for a foul when Martin was on the end of a similar challenge moments later. The free kick was onlt half cleared and when Camara picked up the scraps on the right hand side a jink into the box opened up room for a shot that took a wicked deflection off Dyer, looping up and forcing McLaughlin into an awkward save.
Miller was replaced by Marcus Harness on 54 minutes to add an injection of pace to the Brewers attack before Derby sent for their big guns. Butterfield and Martin were to play no further part in the game, James Wilson and Darren Bent the last throws of the dice from Pearson.
Albion were certainly not resting on their slender lead and Harness was almost there to grab a second when Akins rose highest to head an Irvine cross into his path but a last ditch challenge was sufficient to deny him a clean strike on goal.
Bent was flagged offside twice just at the moment when it looked the Rams were set to equalise but it was Camara with the next really genuine opportunity to test McLaughlin with a snapshot that Albion's keeper was more than equal to as the clock ticked into 67 minutes.
It was helter skelter stuff now as both sides looked for the crucial next goal. Tackles were flying in from all angles in the centre of the part. Irvine and Naylor in particular were in no mood to give an inch against Derby's hugely experienced Championship midfield.
In a rough and tumble encounter it was perhaps a surprise that it took until the 78th minute for referee Davies to produce a yellow card. Naylor again was buzzing about in the middle of the pitch and got to the ball a split second ahead of Craig Bryson who sent the Burton man sprawling under a heavy challenge.
There was huge danger on 80 minutes when some slick Derby play around the Burton box created an opening for Russell but a superbly timed block from skipper Kyle McFadzean emphatically shut the door on that chance.
When Derby did create another chance moments later with some tricky footwork on the right a deep ball to the back post was wastefully scuffed wide by Russell.
Derby were getting desperate now and a raking drive from Hughes sent in from 25 yards had McLaughlin anxiously checking over his shoulder as it dipped just over the crossbar.
Albion needed fresh legs for the closing stages and it was Lee Williamson that provided it as Tom Naylor, after another colossal performance in the middle of the park left the action.
What Albion needed was a second to seal their victory and they almost had it with a couple of minutes left. O'Grady again worked hard to make progress down the right and his looping cross was there begging to be headed home by Harness. Unfortunately the youngster lost his composure as the ball came to him and the chance quickly disappeared.
The scene was set in stoppage time for a sight that not many people envisaged. Barker, for a long time a hero to the Derby fans, was summoned from the Burton bench to defend a last ditch corner. He arrived on the pitch in place of Matty Palmer and the whole ground, Derby fans included saluted his appearance on a Championship football pitch some four years after his last appearance in the white of the Rams. It was fitting then, that as Hughes slung over a last gasp corner it was Barker who made sure he got his head to the ball and clear the danger.
Moments later the final whistle went and the result that Burton fans had hardly dare dream about had become reality. Not only that, it sent Albion above their rivals from up the A38 in the Championship table as the teams head into the international break. When Albion won on the opening day last season against Scunthorpe United the Burton fans had sung about playing Derby away. Little could they have imagined that the scenario would actually happen, let alone head to the iPro later in the season with a victory over the Rams already in the bag on home soil.