npower League 2 action from the Pirelli StadiumBurton Albion are back in the automatic promotion places in League 2 after a hard working display by Gary Rowett's walking wounded was rewarded with a brace of goals from Billy Kee to send nine-man Rotherham United back to South Yorkshire on the end of a 2-0 defeat.
The Brewers boss had spoken before the game about one of the worst weeks of his relatively short managerial career as he contemplated just how many of his injured players he would be able to count on but in the end a number played through the pain barrier and went the extra mile to secure arguably one of Albion's most impressive results not only of this season but perhaps of their time in the Football League.
Rotherham arrived at the Pirelli Stadium having never surrendered all three points to the Brewers but there was a sense by half time that this might be Albion's day as they led by Kee's 36th minute opener and left the field at the break having just seen the Millers reduced to ten men thanks to David Noble's second yellow card in the space of five minutes, both for fouls on Jacques Maghoma.
Kee's second goal ten minutes into the second half gave Albion breathing space and the day got worse for Steve Evans' men when midfielder Michael O'Connor saw a straight red for a stamp on Jacques Maghoma inside the area with Michael Symes unable to beat Andy Warrington from the spot to fully avenge Albion's 3-0 opening day defeat at the New York Stadium.
It was the only blemish on an otherwise impressive home debut from Symes who lined up alongside Kee in attack after the Albion striker strapped his injured ankle up to take his place in the starting line-up after a training ground injury had threatened to keep him out. Alex MacDonald also made his home debut after overcoming a nasty dead leg injury on his debut at AFC Wimbledon last week while Rowett was able to name a recognisable defence as Anthony O'Connor, Nathan Stanton and Aaron Webster played despite not being 100% alongside the only fit and available defender, Marcus Holness at the back.
Unsurprisingly for a game between the sides sitting fourth and sixth in the League table at start of play it was a cagey affair in the early stages although most of the better chances appeared to fall to the visitors. Former Manchester United youngster Daniel Nardiello, operating as more of a wide midfielder saw a curling effort go beyond Stuart Tomlinson's far post in the sixth minute.
Noble saw a speculative effort fly over the bar two minutes later as good work by bustling striker Kayode Odejayi opened up the space for the midfielder to try his luck.
Millers skipper Johnny Mullins saw Tomlinson comfortably save his headed effort from Kari Arnason's free kick on 20 minutes and Albion were thankful to their keeper soon after as right back Mark Bradley was granted the freedom of the penalty area to plant a header towards the top corner only for Tomlinson to reach out and one handed pluck the ball out of the air to avert the danger.
Albion's battling braves began to impose themselves on the game more as the first half progressed and a surging run from Robbie Weir in the 27th minute created a chance for Maghoma who took aim but saw his shot deflected wide at the expense of a corner. MacDonald took found room for a shot as he escaped the attentions of his marker at the back post but hurrying his effort the on loan Burnley winger snatched at it and drilled it back across the penalty area from whence the ball had come.
The Brewers made the breakthrough in the 36th minute and it owed much to the link-up play of the two former Accrington strikers. Tomlinson's long ball from just outside his own penalty area was flicked on into the Rotherham penalty area by Symes and KEE was able to pick up the ball and roll his marker, Kari Arnason, who had gone too tight on him before flashing a shot across keeper Andy Warrington and into the back of the net.
Rotherham had a chance to equalise quickly when Nardiello pounced on a loose ball twenty five yards from goal three minutes after going behind but his connection was not good enough and he sliced his effort well wide of the target.
Noble picked up the first of his two yellow cards for catching Maghoma from behind on 41 minutes and a minute later Kee was close to adding a second with an angled shot that Warrington did well to keep out at his near post.
The first half ended with Rotherham reduced to ten men as another foul by Noble on Maghoma, perhaps harshly adjudged a yellow card, resulted in referee Eddie Ilderton showing the former Exeter midfielder a red card ensuring he would not reappear for the second half.
Half time: Burton Albion 1-0 Rotherham United
The Millers made a double change for the start of the second half with former Derby midfielder Ben Pringle and Blackburn loan striker Jordan Slew making way as Steve Evans bolstered his midfield with the introduction of Lee Frecklington and Daniel Kearns.
However it was Albion who created the first opening of the second period three minutes in as an astute pass by Symes played in Robbie Weir down the left channel and the Irishman fired a low effort just wide of the upright with Warrington struggling.
Rotherham came close to getting back on terms on 51 minutes as Nardiello, often looking like the Millers most dangerous player, managed to work room in the box for a low cross that flew through the six yard box without a vital touch and when the ball came to Liam Ridehalgh beyond the far post the loanee thought he had done enough to equalise as he planted the ball goalwards only for Tomlinson to get enough of a touch on the ball to divert it wide of the post as it came back at him.
It proved to be a vital save as Albion were two goals ahead four minutes later. KEE again showed good strength to get away from Arnason and this time from just outside the area he fired low and true to see his shot creep beyond the despairing dive of Warrington and into the far corner of the goal.
It was an uphill struggle for the Millers as they looked to grind out something in the remainder of the game but with Albion's defence in excellent form chances were rarely granted to the visitors. Mullins saw a header cleared off the line by Lee Bell, positioned in exactly the right spot and Tomlinson pushed a long range shot from Mchael O'Connor around his post as Rotherham became increasingly frustrated.
The game was finally up for the Yorkshiremen on 87 minutes when Maghoma tricked his way into the penalty area and with little in the way of options, as Albion opted not to throw too many men forward, he eventually found a pass to Weir outside the box, just before a frustrated O'Connor dived in with a reckless studs up challenge that left referee Ilderton with no option but to produce a straight red. The challenge being inside the penalty area meant that Albion had a penalty and with Maghoma off the field after treatment and Kee having been substituted it was left to the normally reliable Symes to take on penalty taking duties but he was thwarted as Warrington dived to his left to push away the penalty with substitute Jack Dyer unable to pounce on the rebound.
Four minutes of stoppage time merely prolonged the agony for Rotherham and Albion were left to celebrate what could turn out to be a pivotal result in the chase for promotion ahead of a trip next week to fellow contenders Fleetwood Town.
BURTON: Tomlinson; O'Connor, Stanton, Holness, Webster; MacDonald, Weir, Bell, Maghoma; Kee, Symes. Substitutes: Lyness, Corbett, McGrath, Phillips, Paterson, Dyer, Drury.
ROTHERHAM: Warrington, Arnason, Mullins, Slew, O'Connor, Bradley, Pringle, Odejayi, Nardiello, Nobel, Ridehalgh. Substitutes: Davis, Revell, Agard, Frecklington, Thompson, Camerson, Kearns.
Referee: Mr. E.Ilderton (Tyne & Wear)
GOALS: Albion - Kee (36, 55)