Burton Albion 1-0 Newport County AFCBilly Kee produced a landmark moment to secure a ninth 1-0 win of the season for the Brewers as they saw off in-form Newport County AFC and propel themselves into an automatic promotion spot, only off the top of the table on goal difference behind Chesterfield and Scunthorpe United.
Kee left it until the 80th minute to score his 50th Football League goal, the 32nd of his Burton Albion career taking him above Shaun Harrad as the club's leading scorer in League football and his ninth of the season to pick another vital three points in what is becoming a very tight promotion race.
It had been a frustrating afternoon up to that point as Newport seemed to come intent on leaving with a point with a strong backbone to their side designed to deny Albion the room in attack to take chances. Kee's goal though was a just rewards for Burton's efforts who now head into 2014 in good heart.
Manager Gary Rowett opted to make just one change for the clash between the sides fourth and fifth in the table at start of play. Alex MacDonald, who made an impact as a substitute against Northampton Town on Boxing Day, returned to the starting line-up in place of Chris Hussey on the wing.
In almost a repeat of Boxing Day, Albion's early chance came courtesy of a corner. Alex MacDonald once again provided a pinpoint delivery and this time it was Phil Edwards guiding a header goalwards with Billy Kee just unable to get enough of a touch to deflect the ball past Lenny Pidgeley in the Newport goal.
Burton continued to do most of the early probing and Pidgeley had to punch the ball off the head of McGurk before he raced from from his goal to meet Billy Kee on the edge, the Burton striker poking the ball beyond the former Chelsea stopper seeing his effort roll wide of the post.
Burton were even closer on twenty minutes as what looked like a scuffed corner found its way to Edwards at the near post and his attempts to bundle the ball in were foiled by Pidgeley and the underside of the bar.
Pidgeley also had to drop low to his right on twenty five minutes as Kee found room to turn and fire in a low shot that was just too close to the keeper.
Burton were even closer just after the half hour as Pidgeley, more by luck than judgment, saved a bullet of a header from Shane Cansdell-Sherriff who rose to meet another MacDonald corner with Edwards seeing his attempt from the rebound deflected wide for another corner.
Pidgeley was again the man to come to Newport's rescue on 38 minutes when Phillips attacked down the left and stood up a cross to the far post headed back into the danger area by MacDonald with Kee just unable to steer his own header wide of the keeper.
It was the last chance of a half that Burton had dominated without managing to find that elusive breakthrough. It was all set up for another nervy second half with all still to play for.
Half time: Burton Albion 0-0 Newport County AFC
Having had all of the pressure in the first period, Burton almost fell behind within two minutes of the restart. A swift counter attack allowed Michael Flynn to hit a long range shot that whistled wide before Burton missed another golden opportunity on 50 minutes. McCrory this time loaded the ball in from the left and Sharps header on found Kee with only the keeper to beat but again the Newport custodian was equal to it, pushing it over the bar at the expense of a corner.
The game began to open out and Newport tried to capitalise on another counter attack but Christian Jolley's tame low shot was easily fielded by Dean Lyness.
Burton's frustrating afternoon took another turn on the hour mark as McGurk found space in the middle to size up a shot and it took a sizeable deflection off a defender to leave Pidgeley rooted to the spot as the ball cannoned back off the post.
Robbie Weir, who took a heavy challenge shortly after that chance ultimately had to come off with Lee Bell slotting into the midfield in a straight swap.
Newport made a double change half way through the second period with Tom Naylor and Ryan Burge replacing Michael Flynn and Robbie Willmott.
McGurk had another chance to test Pidgeley, this time with a header but he could not get enough purchase or power on it to divert it wide of the keeper as Albion continued to push and probe for a way through the stubborn Newport rearguard.
There were eleven minutes to go with Albion finally broke the deadlock. Adam Chapman picked up a yellow card for a rash challenge on Matty Palmer and when McGurk and MacDonald combined on the free kick the former eventually swung in a peach of a cross for KEE to steer home a close range volley that this time Pidgeley had no chance of stopping.
With left back Ryan Jackson struggling with cramp Albion threw on Chris Hussey in the closing stages after another sterling shift from Alex MacDonald on the wing.
McGurk stung the palms of Pidgeley with a raking low shot that the keeper shovelled behind for a corner.
With the clock just ticking over into added on time Jimmy Phillips managed to get himself one on one with the last defender and he eventually managed to work room for a rasping shot that Pidgeley again managed to block. Stoppage time produced no real danger for Albion, apart from a last gasp corner for the visitors but another 1-0 and a place in the top three was an excellent way to finish 2013.