Stunning first half strikes from Jamie Allen and Jacob Davenport helped the Brewers record a crucial victory over relegation rivals Barnsley at Oakwell.
Allen struck after just 57 seconds with a stunning angled 25 yarder following a bright start for Nigel Clough's men who went straight for their opponents from kick-off. Davenport's gloriously hit free-kick deep into first half stoppage time gave Albion much needed breathing space at the break and the inevitable onslaught from the home side in the second half led to a deflected effort from former Nottingham Forest defender Dani Pinillos halving the deficit and resulting in Albion having to hang on determinedly at the end for a vital three points. Clough's men were grateful to an eagle eyed assistant at the death as Gary Gardner's finish with just about the last kick of the game was ruled out for an offside in the build up. Perhaps the touch of good fortune that Albion needed and on the night probably deserved for a superb rearguard effort.
Victory may not have lifted Albion out of the bottom three but with other results going their way it leaves the team only in the relegation places by virtue of goal difference and with confidence going into their weekend encounter with Millwall. Crucially they leapfrogged Barnsley in the process and ruined new manager Jose Morais' Oakwell bow.
With another calf injury hitting the Brewers line-up in the shape of John Brayford Albion started at Oakwell with the same defence that finished Saturday's goalless draw with Nottingham Forest. That meant that Lloyd Dyer had to provide defensive duties on the left with Lucas Akins on the right and a central defensive pairing of Tom Naylor and Kyle McFadzean. Albion's two changes impacted further up the pitch with youngster Joe Sbarra starting just a second Championship fixture having made his full debut agaist Sudnerland before Christmas. He slotted in on the left hand side of midfield where he proved to be effective as a substitute at the weekend. The other change came in attack where, after three appearances from the bench, Nigel Clough, opted to throw his record signing into the side from the start as Darren Bent was given a rest having come through his first 90 minutes for the club last time out.
Barnsley boss Morais, who watched on at the Pirelli on Saturday selected an unchanged side for his first game in the Oakwell dugout having taken over from Paul Heckingbottom who departed for Leeds United earlier this month.
Albion got off to the perfect start with one of their quickest ever in the League. Abion kicked off and kept possession superbly playing calmly from the back and looking for openings. Barnsley's only touch of the ball before it hit the back of their net was a half challenge to try and intercept Sbarra's probing pass but the ball broke nicely for Davenport and he calmly found ALLEN who did the rest with an assured touch before lashing a 25 yard effort beyond Nick Townsend's outstretched right hand. Not a bad way to mark a first strike in Burton colours for the summer signing from Rochdale.
Barnsley began to clear their heads and get on the ball and a slightly short backpass from Dyer towards Stephen Bywater had the Burton keeper under pressure to clear but the danger was averted eventually. The home side thought they had got Adam Hammill bearing down on goal on eight minutes but having run onto the ball through the middle the assistant's flag stopped him in his tracks.
Albion almost stunned their hosts with a second with a quarter of an hour gone. Liam Lindsay was adjudged to have climbed all over Boyce challenging for the ball and Davenport's free kick into the box picked out the Irish striker who peeled off his man but could only fire into the side netting.
Barnsley gradually began to grow in confidence and find their passing range but all too often the quality in the final ball was lacking. Tom Bradshaw tried to wriggle his way through on 25 minutes but was croiwded out on the egde of the Burton box as Albion found themselves slightly stretched having been caught on the counter. Joe Williams, who led the breakaway seemed to be uncderemoniously buffetted off the ball in the attack and required some attention before play could continue. One or two meaty challenges followed with Allen feeling the worst of one deep inside the Barnsley half as Albion tried to take the sting out of the Barnsley momentum that was slowly building up.
Willams, scorer of an outstanding effort in the reverse fixture, attempted to repeat his heroics when the ball broke kindly for him after Davenport and Samuelsen had got in each others way allowing Oli McBurnie to set him up but this time his long range effort bounced wide of the post from 25 yards.
Albion were still threatening at the other end despite the home side now enjoying their fair share of play and when Samuelsen launched a diagonal ball forward for Akpan to chase onto it looked like the midfielder had got in behind the Barnsley defence but in bringing the ball under control he used his arm, spotted by referee Tim Robinson who rightly brought play back for the free kick.
Barnsley launched a hopeful free kick into the Burton box as half time approached but a foul on Bywater as he came to punch clear enabled the Brewers to easily clear their lines. Albion could easily have gone and grabbed a second in stoppage time when Akpan turned and fired on goal from inside the box only for home skipper Andy Yiadom to get a vital block. The midfielder need not have worried though as he won a precious free kick twenty yards out moments later and DAVENPORT showed a sprinking of Manchester City quality to curl the free kick over the wall and into the net.
Half time: Barnsley 0-2 Burton Albion
Morais made a first change at the start of the second half to try and get his team back into the game and it was Mamadou Thiam who was sent on in place of winger Lloyd Isgrove to try and make an impact. The home side could not have the same start to the second half that Albion had in the first, in fact it was Albion pressing early on with an offside flag denying Boyce the chance to turn and shoot as he tried to get onto Sbarra's flick.
Skipper McFadzean picked up a yellow card when he intercepted a through ball via the use of an arm and it was the start of a period of concerted pressure from the Yorkshiremen , backed vocally by the Oakwell faithful and Hammill was able to deliver several teasing crosses into the box that Bywater and his defence managed to hack clear deep inside their own penalty area.
Joe Williams picked up a yellow card for the home side for a challenge on Davenport that left the midfielder getting to his feet rather gingerly. It didnt prevent him sending in a free kick that again asked questions of the Barnsley defence, Samuelsen rising highest to head over from eight yards out.
Hammill, probably the liveliest of the Barnsley midfield was replaced on 56 minutes as Morais opted to go for the option of Brad Potts as another attacking option. Barnsley were pushing forwards more now and when McFadzean was adjudged to have fouled Gary Gardner just outside the box it allowed Thiam to deliver a free kick to the back post but another push by a man in red gave Albion another chance to relieve the danger.
Naylor then saw yellow for a foul on Bradshaw as the striker tried to dart onto the ball as McFadzean's header looked to be a little short of reaching Bywater. It allowed Gardner to send in a dipping free kick but Bywater's handling was excellent as he clung onto the ball at full stretch.
Bywater's next decision was not his best as he tried to allow the ball to run on before having to hastily try and clear allowing Gardner to get in a cross for McBurnie to fire on goal only for his effort to be blocked by Naylor desperately throwing himself in front of the shot.
Thiam worked room for a shot on 65 minutes from the same sort of range that Allen fired in from but his effort, on his left foot was rather more wayward and never looked likely to threaten the target.
Twenty minutes of normal time were left when Albion made their first substitution and it was Boyce whose game was done as the striker made way for Bent.
Barnsley quickly made their third change with Bradshaw making way for Kieffer Moore as more of a physical presence in the box. He came on as the home side prepared for a corner and it was the first in a succession of corners that led to the Tykes having their best chance yet. McBurnie got his head to an inswinging delivery and his effort came back off the face of the crossbar only for Matt Mills to head the rebound over the goal from close range.
The pressure eventually told and as Barnsley continued to pile in the shots one of them eventually found its way through, PINILLOS seeing his effort deflect through the mass of bodies in the box to hit the back of the net.
Albion needed calm heads now and they almost worked a third goal when Samuelsen rode a couple of challenges to slide the ball through for Bent. The striker could not quite take it in his stride for a clean run through and a red shirt was able to make a vital interception twenty five yards from his own line.
Jake Buxton was the man that Nigel Clough turned to with six minutes remaining to try and shore up the Burton rearguard. He replaced Sbarra as the Brewers went five at the back for the remainder of the game.
Allen's high foot as he challenged Yiadom in midfield earned him a yellow card and it was the last action of the game for the scorer of Albion's opener as he was replaced by Luke Varney. The free kick that resulted was launched once more into the Burton box and when it came out to Pinillos he set his sights on a second goal of the evening but failed but flashed his effort wide of the far post.
The signal of five added minutes seemed to give the home side extra impetus as they began to lay siege to the Burton goal. An almighty scramble ensued as McBurnie weaved his way in from the left but a fortunate deflection allowed Bywater to gratefully pounce on the ball inside his six yard box.
Gardner's last gasp finish was met by anguished looks across to the linesman and Barnsley's worst fears were confirmed as referee Robinson ruled out the effort and shortly afterwards signalled a second away win of 2018. What a win it might prove to be.