The long awaited first league trip to Derby County ended with honours even after a tense and tactical battle ended goalless at Pride Park.
The Rams could point to having the lion's share of possession but a superbly disciplined defensive display from the Brewers secured a first clean sheet in seventeen attempts, that result also a goalless draw at home to Barnsley at the beginning of November. It was another tactical masterpiece from Brewers boss Nigel Clough who knew that having played on Saturday while Derby rested, his troops would not be able to go toe to toe in an all out attacking display. Set up to be hard to beat, as Wigan were similarly on their visit to Pride Park on New Year's Eve, Albion sat in and soaked up everything that Steve McClaren's men could muster, the best chance for the home side coming late in the first half when the normally predatory Darren Bent inexpicably scooped a shot over at the far post after Tom Ince's shot had deflected to him.
Such was Albion's defensive solidity that keeper Jon McLaughlin was rarely tested to any great extent, skipper John Mousinho putting in a truly commanding display at the heart of the defence to repel the Rams forward threat. With Tom Flanagan also keeping a close eye on Ince it was another measure of how Albion have grown as a Championship club throughout the campaign as the home side became more and more frustrated at their inability to find a way through.
Albion chances were few and far between throughout the 90 minutes with Derby keeper a spectator for long periods. Luke Varney got in one header before half time that fell kindly for the Derby keeper and deep in stoppage time the Brewers momentarily dreamed of snatching an unlikely victory with substitute Marvin Sordell seeing the ball whipped away to safety as he tried to race onto a low cross from fellow substitute Chris O'Grady.
Nigel Clough clearly had one eye on Friday evenings crunch clash with Blackburn Rovers on his mind when he selected his side for the shortest away trip of the season. Matchwinner Michael Kightly was not risked having come off towards the end of Saturday's victory over Norwich nursing his thigh. His place on the wing went to fit again Lloyd Dyer. Former Rams starlet Matty Palmer returned to the starting line-up in place of Luke Murphy in the centre of midfield and up front there was a start for another ex-Derby man, Luke Varney, the ex-Ipswich man having already netted a winning goal at Pride Park this season for the Tractor Boys.
Derby, perhaps unsurprisingly, bossed the early possession patiently looking for any weaknesses in the Burton rearguard. Albion retained their discipline and waited their opportunity to enjoy some time on the ball themselves. Some neat play on the edge of the Derby box between Palmer and Varney almost had the latter in but the pass through to him was a touch heavy.
Tom Ince used a searing burst of pace to get into a shooting position from the edge of the box but his effort rippled the side netting.
Richard Keogh tried to go for the more direct approach with a probing ball through the middle looking for the angled run of Ince. McLaughlin was on his toes though and came darting off his line to smother the ball before the Derby man could get there.
The Rams began to build up a period of sustained pressure around the half hour mark. Burton's inability to hold onto possession when they had it made things harder for Clough's men and when Dyer threw himself in to try and intercept a crossfield pass it opened the door for Cyrus Christie to venture forward from right back and let fly with a stinging shot that was blocked by John Mousinho before it could get to McLaughlin.
An impudent piece of skill by Middlesbrough loanee Julien De Sart on the left touchline opened up a channel in the middle for Jacob Butterfield to stride forwards and hit a piledriver that was deflected by Ben Turner at the expense of a corner.
The biggest danger to Albion during the first half came from a set piece conceded when Tom Naylor was adjudged to have brought down Ikechi Anya. The initial free kick was only cleared as far as Ince on the edge of the box and his initial first time effort went spectacularly wrong, the winger taking a complete air shot before composing himself and setting his sights on goal with his right foot. His shot looped up and across goal to Darren Bent at the back post. The striker had what looked like a tap in but somehow contrived to scoop the ball over.
Burton chances were limited to breakaways and from one raid down the left Dyer delivered in a teasing cross that Varney managed to get his head to without behing able to quite put it into the path of either Woodrow or Lasse Christensen following up.
Half time: Derby County 0-0 Burton Albion
Burton made the first change with Jackson Irvine the man failing to reappear for the second half. Derby could have been ahead before the shrill of referee Simon Hooper's whistle had died down. Christie's low ball into the box was half cleared out by Mousinho and Butterfield was again invited to shoot from long range, this time McLaughlin tipping his dipping shot over the bar.
It was already looking like more of the same from both sides with Derby camping themselves in the Burton half and the men in yellow forming a solid barrier that the Rams continued to look for ways through.
Ten minutes into the second period Albion made their second change. The hard working Woodrow, having put another strong shift in as the lone striker, came off with Marvin Sordell deployed out on the right as Varney pushed forwards into a more central role.
Derby responded with a change of their own, Abdoul Camara, the Guinean winger, providing a like for like replacement for Anya who had looked one of the Rams biggest threats on the night.
Sordell had the task of trying to contain the flying winger and the first chance he had he slid in to stop his adversary getting a telling cross in. The corner that followed was dangerous though and flew through the six yard box and thankfully, from a Burton perspective, beyond Bent lurking at the back post.
Dyer had a surprise sight of goal on 67 minutes when a ricochet landed kindly for him and he ran on to it wildly lashing the ball across goal and well wide.
The first yellow card of the evening came on 69 minutes and it was shown in the directin of Tom Naylor. A running tussle with Camara down the Burton right led to the winger going to ground with referee Hooper unhappy with the challenge.
Derby sent on January signing David Nugent with a little under twenty minutes remaining with Will Hughes sacrificed from the midfield to make way.
Nugent was quickly in the action winning a free kick from a challenge by Christensen in a dangerous position but once again the Derby set piece machine failed to click. As the Rams continued to push they had muted shouts for a penalty when Bent went over in the box under a challenge from Mousinho.
Albion's final change came with just over ten minutes remaining. With Varney tiring on his first start since his debut at Watford in January, it was the turn of Chris O'Grady to come on and try and provide a focal point for when Burton were able to get the ball forward.
Ince went into the book for a late challenge on Flanagan as the defender cleared his lines on the left as frustration in the home ranks comtinued to grow.
It was all set for a tense last few minutes as Albion dug in for stoppage time. Having repelled whatever the Rams could thrown at them for ninety minutes it came down to three minutes added on by referee Hooper. Albion almost snatched it when O'Grady and Dyer led a breakout but by the same token the Rams also spurned a late half chance when a long ball was pumped into the Burton box, falling kindly for Nugent who dragged his shot wide. It may not have been pretty but Albion were good value for their precious point and my, how the supporters celebrated at the final whistle. Not many would have predicted Albion to take four points from a possible six from their neighbours but in what has been a historic season maybe it shouldnt come as a surprise after all.
Combined with Wigan Athletic's defeat at Loftus Road, Albion go into their Friday night game against Blackburn five points ahead of Wigan and six ahead of Rovers. A momentous week could get even more so come the final whistle on Friday.