Burton Albion are into the third round of the FA Cup for the fifth time in their history after Calvin Zola scored the only goal of the game to knock his former employers, Crewe Alexandra out of the competition.
Zola's header just five minutes into the game made him the fourth former Crewe striker to net again the Railwaymen this season and although the Brewers had to defend for long periods a disciplined and battling performance ensured it was the Brewers who progressed.
Brewers boss Gary Rowett was forced into more defensive changes than planned for the trip to Gresty Road. With Zander Diamond missing through suspension there was further disruption to the back line when Nathan Stanton was taken ill on Thursday and failed to recover in time to make the game. Aaron Webster was pressed into emergency centre half duty alongside Marcus Holness. The team bore a striking resemblance, in formation, to the trip to Altrincham with a midfield bank of three comprising Lee Bell, flanked by Robbie Weir and Chris Palmer. Jordan Chapell and Jacques Maghoma provided the attacking support for Calvin Zola. With both Diamond and Stanton missing Lee Bell, on his return to Gresty Road, was handed the captain's armband.
On a fresh sunny December afternoon it was Crewe with the first serious strike on goal as Byron Moore picked up the ball 25 yards from goal and hit a low bouncing shot that Dean Lyness gathered at the second attempt.
But Albion stunned their hosts on five minutes as Calvin ZOLA notched his fifth goal in FA Cup appearances for the Brewers. From a throw in on the right hand side Anthony O'Connor received the ball back from fellow loanee Jjordan Chapell and the Blackburn youngster's looping cross into the middle found the head of the Congolese striker before keeper Alan Martin could get there and bounced into the back of the net.
Albion's pressing game was forcing Crewe to look for long balls into the channels but the lively Laurie Dalla Valle earned free kick just outside the box that was in a dangerous place but Harry Davis could only fire his effort straight into the defensive wall.
When Crewe were handed another free kick on 22 minutes after Lee Bell upended Mathias Pogba, Gregor Robertson took over free kick duties but although he cleared the wall successfully he also cleared the crossbar by some distance.
The home side were starting to press and they almost got back on level terms in the 26th minute. A teasing cross from Byron Moore was aimed towards Pogba at the far post but Damien McCrory got their first and headed against his own crossbar in his attempts to clear the ball came to Dalla Valle at the back post but Anthony O'Connor was able to get the ball around the post at the expense of a corner.
Albion turned defence into attack and when the ball landed at the feet of Aaron Webster in a crowded penalty area the Burton man could not quite make the room for a shot but he did well to work the ball wide and Robbie Weir was able to get in a cross from the left. Jacques Maghoma picked up the ball and turned Mark Ellis easily before firing against the legs of Martin.
Weir was then involved in some good link up with Zola after intercepting a loose ball in midfield but Albion's scorer was unable to double his tally with a wayward shot from outside the box.
Albion were within inches of a second on 37 minutes from a route one move stemming from Lyness. A long ball forward was headed on by Zola into the path of Chris Palmer and his left foot shot on the turn got the merest of touches to deflect the ball onto the outside of the upright.
Burton had Dean Lyness to thank for still being ahead on 42 minutes as the lively Pogba let fly from 25 yards out on an angle and forced Albion's keeper to dive low to his right and push the ball onto the post with McCrory able to complete the clearance.
Arsenal loanee Chuks Aneke tried his luck as the half came to a close but his low shot through a mass of bodies deflected wide of the post and Albion were able to safely negotiate through to half time with their lead in tact.
Half time: Crewe Alexandra 0-1 Burton Albion
The start of the second half was delayed by several minutes after a failure of one of the floodlights at the railway end of the ground but once repaired the game got under way. Albion made a change at the break with Chris Palmer failing to reappear for the second period replaced by John McGrath.
As expected the home side came out strongly for the second period and after a sliced clearance from Lyness the League One side worked the ball out to Luke Murphy who curled a shot over the bar.
Burton briefly broke free of their defensive shackles but soon found themselves defending again as Crewe worked the ball neatly around the edge of the Albion penalty area with Dalla Valle hitting a low shot that took a deflection before going past Lyness' left hand post.
Anthony O'Connor fouled Gregor Robertson to concede a dangerously placed free kick and when the ball was only cleared to Pogba beyond the far post there was danger as he turned but his shot ended up in the side netting.
Jacques Maghoma showed a burst of acceleration to draw a foul from Mark Ellis with twenty minutes to go but after the Crewe defender had been shown a yellow card Albion's midfield wizard struck his free kick into the wall.
Robbie Weir struck a drive from distance into the waiting arms of Martin before Albion almost his Crewe with a counter attacking effort on 73 minutes. A quick break out allowed McGrath to search out Zola down the left hand channel and he drove into the box before firing an angled effort over the crossbar.
Crewe made a double change with just over a quarter of an hour to go with Max Clayton and Ryan Colclough replacing Chuks Aneke and Byron Moore.
Albion quickly followed with another change of their own with Chapell making way for Jack Dyer.
The home side continued to press and as a ball came into the penalty area a Crewe head flicked the ball onto the crossbar and Albion's goal was leading something of a charmed life when a cross in from the left looped up off the knee of Lee Bell and over the crossbar.
Cleveland Taylor replaced Jacques Maghoma with the departing midfielder shown a yellow card for delaying his exit slightly too long for the liking of referee Graham Salisbury.
Despite soaking up massive amounts of pressure Albion almost grabbed a second against the run of play. Robbie Weir's shot took a deflection to earn a corner and Jack Dyer's corner was headed goalwards by Zola with Martin producing a fine save.
Crewe had a corner deep in stoppage time and a goalmouth scramble resulted in Bell having to hack the ball away off his own goalline.
With five minutes of stoppage time completed Crewe had one final opportunity with a curling cross met with a sweetly timed header from Dalla Valle that flew inches wide of the post.
It was the final scare for a Brewers defence that had been immense in keeping a clean sheet to see Albion safely into the third round.
CREWE: Martin, Tootle, Davis, Ellis, Robertson, Pogba, Murphy, Osman, Moore, Aneke, Dalla Valle. Substitutes: Phillips, Dugdale, Clayton, Turton, Guthrie, Colclough, Inman.
ALBION: Lyness; O'Connor, Holness, Webster, McCrory; Weir, Bell, Palmer; Chapell, Zola, Maghoma. Substitutes: Atkins, Corbett, McGrath, Taylor, Richards, Dyer, Kee.
Referee: Mr. G.Salisbury (Lancashire)
GOALS: Albion - Zola (5)
Attendance: 3,065 (552 away)