The Brewers kicked off their new season with a hard earned point at the Abbey Business Stadium after a 2-2 draw gave both sides a share of the spoils. Albion had to battle back from being two goals down just after the half hour mark to regain their composure and Billy Kee's penalty in first half stoppage time followed by a debut goal for Rory Delap early in the second half showed Albion's gritty side against opponents again expected to challenge for promotion from League 2.
Manager Gary Rowett handed debuts to five of his new signings for the visit to fellow promotion hopefuls Cheltenham Town. Sunderland and England Under 19 goalkeeper Jordan Pickford was handed a start between the sticks while defender Phil Edwards was handed a first appearance at right back. Regular faces Ian Sharps, Marcus Holness and Damien McCrory completed the back four. Rory Delap switched to the centre of midfield for his Albion bow alongside Robbie Weir. Adam Reed and Chris Hussey bth made their first competitive appearances for the club on the right and left wings respectively. Alex MacDonald joined Billy Kee in attack. With Rene Howe and Lee Bell both suspended and Zander Diamond carrying an injury alongside Liam Slade there were just six substitutes named with Dominic Knowles waiting to make his debut amonst the replacements.
Albion had a glorious opportunity to score the opening goal within twenty seconds of the start. Billy Kee held the ball up and laid it off to Robbie Weir. His forward pass caught Cheltenham horrendously square and Alex MacDonald was onto the pass in a flash to drive at goal but his low effort went wide of the upright when he really should have scored.
Cheltenham quickly cleared their heads and had Albion pegged back with a flurry of early corners the last of which saw Steve Elliott drop a header wide to allow the Brewers to gather themselves and allow Pickford to compose himself after a busy start.
Ten minutes were on the clock when Albion had their first opportunity to utilise the long throw of Rory Delap. the former Stoke man did not disappoint but a push in the penalty area spotted by referee Fred Graham meant that there was no danger to the Cheltenham goal on this occasion.
Three minutes later and Cheltenham carved open a good chance to open the scoring when Sam Deering sent a teasing ball in from the right. Pickford came off his line and looked somewhat out of position when the ball arrived with Jermaine McGlashan at the far post but he was unable to steer his effort on target.
Adam Reed was the first player to see yellow when his rash challenge near the corner flag resulted in a free kick and there was consternation amongst home followers when Terry Gornell was adjudged to have gone to ground too easily under a challenge inside the box and referee Graham brandishing the yellow card at the Robins striker.
Albion were behind two minutes later. Pickford misjudged the bounce of a goal kick from Scott Brown and after pushing the ball up in the air was left stranded as Jamie CURETON pounced to slide the ball home from close range. It was the last action for the veteran striker who was injured in scoring and he eventually left the field on a stretcher to be replaced by Byron Harrison.
Burton weathered what a confident Cheltenham could throw at them and had a half chance for themselves on the half hour. Some precise passing worked the ball to Phil Edwards on the right and his curling cross was met with a glancing header from Billy Kee who watched his effort drift wide of the goal. However a stroke of good fortune handed Cheltenham a second on 32 minutes. An ambitious shot from distance from Jermaine McGlashan was blocked by Marcus Holness who couly only watch as the ball rebounded straight into the path of HARRISON who was able to steer home the rebound from fifteen yards.
Gornell quickly tried a shot from distance but Pickford was right behind it and held on smartly on his six yard line. The same combination were involved again on 37 minutes when the former Shrewsbury striker let fly from distance and this time Pickford flung himself to his right to push the shot around the post.
Albion tweaked their formation with Adam Reed coming more central and Alex MacDonald moving wide to the right as Kee became the lone striker in front of a midfield five with Rory Delap asked to sit in front of the back four and offer some protection.
Another Delap long throw almost gave Albion a lifeline when Holness just headed it over and in the first minute of stoppage time Albion got themselves off the mark when Alex MacDonald's flick on was handled by Russell Penn and Billy KEE coolly fired home the resulting penalty. There was little in the way of complaints from the home players and Albion were off the mark for the season.
It was a good way for Albion to end the half after they had been second best for most of the first period despite having that glorious chance to score in the opening moments.
Half time: Cheltenham Town 2 - 1 Burton Albion
Albion began the second half a lot more brightly, clearly buoyed by that goal just before half time and latching onto a through ball from Delap, Chris Hussey let fly with an angled shot that just dipped beyond the far post with Brown in the Cheltenham goal struggling. Robbie Weir also launched an ambitious shot from outside the box but that landed in the trees outside the ground.
Craig Braham-Barratt's low cross through the area avoided everyone as Albion dallied on the edge of their own area but they hit back with some piercing runs and on 56 minutes Albion were level from a corner. It started with Delap taking a throw in short on the right hand side and when Billy Kee won a corner from a stumbling run and shot, Alex MacDonald swung in the corner and DELAP was unmarked ten yards out to stab the ball past Brown.
Gornell tried to test Pickford with another rangy effort but this time drilled wide and just after the hour mark it was Albion's turn to make their first change. It was a straight swap in the centre of midfield as Matty Palmer was introduced for Adam Reed.
Palmer instantly made a contribution as McGlashan surged into the penalty area and only a perfectly timed challenge from the youngster on the edge of the six yard box allowed Pickford to tidy up and avert the danger. Then at the other end he was involved again as the ball broke loose from Russ Penn's challenge on Alex MacDonald and the young midfielder had the confidence to take the ball inside and fire a shot just wide of Brown's right hand upright.
It was becoming something of a midfield battle as both sides fought to gain control in the final twenty minutes and McGlashan almost caught Pickford off his line in the 73rd minute.
Fifteen minutes were remaining when Cheltenham rattled the crossbar to go within inches of regaining their lead. The ball came to Sam Deering and his instinctive sidefoot effort careered back off the bar and from the rebound Byron Harrison found space to drill a low angled effort that crept past the hand of Pickford but Ian Sharps was on hand to hack clear.
Albion had the ball in the back of the net with a little under ten minutes to go but after Dominic Knowles, on as a substitute for Kee, turned in a rebound from Chris Hussey's free kick there was despair as referee Graham ruled it out for an infringement, spotted only by him inside the area.
The Robins made a double change with Ashley Vincent and Zack Kotwica coming on and Alex MacDonald was replaced by Jack Dyer for the Brewers.
Kotwica, a young youth graduate for the home side almost capped his full debut for the club with a goal inside the last five minutes as the hosts pressed for a winner. The ball came for him on the left hand side of the penalty area but with the goal in his sights he skied his effort.
Albion were desperately close to nicking it in the final seconds of normal time when another Delap special reached Phil Edwards at the back post but he could only direct it just wide of the post. Harrison then had a late chance at the other end but his shot on the turn was straight at Pickford who gathered safely.