Burton Albion took all the points from a five goal thriller against Rochdale as they hit back from Friday's disappointing defeat at Barnet. Billy Kee and Calvin Zola had the Brewers two goals to the good inside twenty five minutes but Rochdale stood toe to toe with Albion in a Boxing Day spectacular and hit back through Peter Cavanagh's stunner before the break and Bobby Grant's opportunist goal after a poor back pass from former Dale defender Nathan Stanton. Will Albion on the ropes they hit back three minutes after being pegged back to win the game as Kee threw himself at Zola's cross shot to chest the ball home.
Despite later pressure from the visitors Albion held out to record their fourth successive league victory over the Spotland side.
Lee Bell earned an immediate recall after serving his one match suspension, linking up with Robbie Weir in the centre of midfield as Jack Dyer shifted to the right side of midfield as Cleveland Taylor dropped to the bench. With Marcus Holness unavailable due to injury Nathan Stanton earned a recall against his former side renewing his partnership with Zander Diamond at the heart of Albion's defence.
With both sides cautious early on with the pitch having taken a pre-match downpour it took a little while to settle down but a superb save by Josh Lillis in the Rochdale goal brought the game to life on six minutes. Jacques Maghoma proved typically elusive in and around the penalty area and after a couple of neat one-twos with Calvin Zola on the edge of the box the midfielder lifted a shot towards goal that was dipping under the crossbar until Lillis got a crucial hand to the ball to divert it over.
Maghoma then wastefully blasted a free kick over the bar but when Robbie Weir was bundled over on the quarter of an hour mark in a similar position Billy KEE took over set piece duties and drilled a curling free kick through a disintegrating Rochdale wall and beyond Lillis for the opener.
Rochdale were only denied an equaliser by some stunning reflexes from Dean Lyness. Andrew Tutte's shot from just outside the area needed a touch onto the crossbar from the Albion keeper but he then got up superbly to make an equally good save as Ryan Edwards looked to head the rebound into the net.
The visitors were close again on 23 minutes when a cross from Ashley Grimes was deflected to Bobby Grant at the back post. His header back across the goal looked to have Lyness scrambling but Dele Adebola inadvertently got his head to the ball and looped the ball over the bar.
Having soaked up the Rochdale pressure Albion hit their visitors with a second goal on 25 minutes. And what a goal it was. Calvin ZOLA flicked a clearance into Billy Kee. Albion's scorer held the ball up and then back heeled the ball into the path of his partner who ran on and calmly slotted beyond Lillis.
Two minutes later Zola could have had a second but having chested the ball down as it came in to him Bobby Grant got in a vital block to divert the ball wide for a corner.
Albion continued to look the more settled side, buoyed by their two goals but they were stunned as Rochdale gave themselves a lifeline three minutes before the break. There looked to be nothing on when the ball came to skipper Peter Cavanagh just outside the box but his speculative effort was just too good for Lyness who got a hand to the ball but could not stop it going in the top corner.
Half time: Burton Albion 2-1 Rochdale
After a promising start to the second half from the visitors Albion quickly countered and could have had their third goal on 48 minutes. A swift raid saw Zola feed Kee who laid the ball into the path of Maghoma. The winger cut into the area but when the net rippled it was from his shot hitting the side netting.
Maghoma then burst away a minute later as Albion defended a free kick and after running half the length of the pitch he laid the ball off to Robbie Weir who fired at goal but straight at Josh Lillis.
The former Spurs midfielder broke again moments later and found Jack Dyer on the right. His cross initially looked too deep but Calvin Zola launched an ambitious bicycle kick at the back post then bounced just wide of the post as it came back across goal.
Burton were made to pay dearly for missing those chances as Rochdale were gifted an equaliser on 54 minutes. Nathan Stanton initially opted not to pass the ball back to Dean Lyness but when he chose to do so moments later a proved a bad decision as Bobby GRANT nipped in to skip round Lyness with the ball and eventually roll it into the empty net.
Just when it looked like Albion were going to throw it away they responded three minutes later with a third goal to restore their lead. It owed much to good work inside the area by Zola after referee Bobby Madley played an excellent advantage when Anthony O'Connor was fouled outside the area. Zola worked himself some space and fired across goal where KEE threw himself in to chest the ball home from close range.
Zola was then inches away with a shot on the turn that took a slight deflection and the Brewers striker then thudded a header wide of the post from a Jack Dyer cross as Albion looked to kill off the game.
Keen to grab himself a hat-trick Kee then launched himself into an overhead kick that bounced just wide before Zola just failed to make meaningful contact with a teasing cross from Robbie Weir.
Ashley Grimes was close to finding an equaliser for Dale on 70 minutes when a floated cross found him in space on the left of Albion's penalty area. Fortunately Lyness got across well and did enough to put the ball into the side netting for a corner.
Albion had to survive a succession of corner and the pressure was relieved when Phil Edwards drove the ball well over the crossbar.
As the game entered the final quarter of an hour the substitutions began with Adebola the first man to leave the fray replaced by George Donnelly for the visitors.
Burton's first change came moments after Kee was booked for a poorly timed challenge on Bobby Grant. Indeed it was the Albion striker who made was as John McGrath was brought on. Rochdale also through on Ray Putterill in place of Cavanagh as they went in search of another equaliser.
Zola then fired wide after picking up a good pass from Weir and Maghoma teased his way into the box once more only to pull the ball back just behind McGrath who was poised to score.
Lyness then did very well to cling onto a shot from Grant after the striker had jinked his way into a shooting position in the 88th minute.
Albion survived another late scare as Grant again showed plenty of enterprise and crossed to the far post where Donnelly thumped his header wide of the target. It was the last moment of danger from Rochdale as Albion secured a much needed victory to push themselves back towards the play-off places.
BURTON: Lyness; O'Connor, Stanton, Diamond, McCrory; Dyer, Bell, Weir, Maghoma; Zola, Kee. Substitutes: Atkins, Corbett, Webster, McGrath, Taylor, Palmer, Paterson.
ROCHDALE: Lillis, Bennett, Cavanagh, R.Edwards, Kennedy, Tutte, Grimes, P.Edwards, McIntyre, Adebola, Grant. Substitutes: Rafferty, Barry-Murphy, Donnelly, Putterill, Pearson, Craney, Smith.
Referee: Mr. R.Madley (West Yorkshire)
GOALS: Burton - Kee (15, 57), Zola (25); Rochdale - Cavanagh (42), Grant (54)