npower League 2 action from the Pirelli StadiumBurton Albion moved back into the automatic promotion places in League 2 courtesy of their ninth straight home league win, Cheltenham Town the latest to come unstuck at fortress Pirelli as Mark Yates' side were beaten 3-1 by a highly efficient Brewers team determined to bounce back from last weekend's disappointing reverse at Bristol Rovers that ended an eight game unbeaten run.
Cheltenham were six games unbeaten going into the match but despite dominating the early stages failed to seriously trouble Stuart Tomlinson in the Burton goal. Once Alex MacDonald had seen a deflected shot go in half way through the first period, swiftly followed by Robbie Weir's superb header four minutes later it was an uphill struggle for the Robins. Weir had not scored since November but quickly added a second of the game three minutes into the second half to put Albion in complete control and they rarely looked like surrendering their position despite Byron Harrison's stoppage time header depriving Gary Rowett's men of a clean sheet.
The Brewers boss made just the one change to the side that lost at Bristol Rovers last weekend with skipper Zander Diamond returning at the expense of Marcus Holness. With Calvin Zola still not quite 100% fit after aggravating a muscle injury in the game at Bristol it was an otherwise unchanged side for the visit of fellow promotion hopefuls Cheltenham.
The visitors made a bright start with a swift raid down the left earning an early corner but that was easily dealt with as Stuart Tomlinson calmly collected a looping header under his own crossbar.
Cheltenham continued to pose the greater threat and the experienced Darren Carter warmed the palms of Albion's stopper in the tenth minute with a thirty yard effort.
Albion had barely created anything of note but they took the lead against the run of play on 22 minutes. For the first time the visitors defence looked a little suspect as Alex MacDonald swept in a cross and as the Robins only half cleared the ball it came down for Michael Symes inside the box. He tried to backheel the ball back to MacDONALD and it eventually found its man with the Burnley loanee firing home with the aid of a deflection off a defender that left goalkeeper Scott Brown stranded.
It put an extra spring into the step of the Brewers and they doubled their advantage four minutes later. MacDonald this time was the provider with an excellent cross in from the right and Robbie WEIR was there in the centre to guide home a superbly steered header from 12 yards that left Brown grasping at thin air as it flew into the top corner.
Cheltenham were stunned by Albion's double salvo but they struggled to penetrate a Burton defence growing in confidence as the game went on. Much of their early spark had gone as Albion began to win more of the 50-50 challenges. As the visitors pushed forward in search of something to give them hope for later in the game they left spaces at the back which Albion looked to exploit.
There was concern amongst the Albion ranks as Jacques Maghoma went to ground on the edge of his own box after affecting a clearance but after treatment he was able to carry on.
Billy Kee almost added a third for Albion on 41 minutes as another searching pass from MacDonald sought out the Albion striker and having turned his man superbly on the edge of the box to make room for the shot he was disappointed to see Scott Brown make a good save with his legs.
With Ian Sharps and Zander Diamond coping well with experienced striker Paul Benson and the runs from deep of the diminutive Sam Deering Albion were untroubled defensively before the break and went into half time in good shape.
Half time: Burton Albion 2-0 Cheltenham Town
Cheltenham set about their task of trying to pull back the two goal deficit with a double change at the start of the second half. Failing to re-appear for the second period were Jason Taylor and perhaps surprisingly skipper Russell Penn with striker Byron Harrison and winger Jermaine McGlashan the men to come on and try to make a difference.
Whatever their game plan was it wasnt helped by Burton adding a third three minutes into the second period and it was that man Robbie WEIR that started and finished it. The lively midfielder surged away from inside his own half and then found an inch perfect pass for Billy Kee to burst into the area. Forced wide by his marker it was no problem for the Albion man who steadied himself before drilling a cross into the centre that Weir headed over the line from close range.
Harrison had a half chance to make an impact on the game on 57 minutes but after a downward header found the ex-AFC Wimbledon man he drilled a low shot wide of the post without troubling Stuart Tomlinson.
The substitute had Tomlinson scrambling somewhat moments later when Albion allowed him to get in a downward header that the Albion keeper fumbled with Damien McCrory completing the clearance. It turned into another swift counter attack with Kee eventually winning a free kick after being brought down by Keith Lowe and as the Cheltenham defensive wall disintegrated it was MacDonald who tried to catch out Brown at his near post with a curling effort that rippled the side netting.
Cheltenham made a third change with a little under twenty minutes to go with Kaid Mohamed coming on as an attacking replacement for midfielder Darren Carter. Almost instantly Cheltenham had a chance to grab one back as Jermaine McGlashan was fouled near the touchline by Ian Sharps and a teasing low cross from the free kick went through the six yard box with nobody able to get a meaningful touch.
Tomlinson had to make a save with a quarter of an hour to go as McGlashan again drew a free kick on the right ands former Derby defender Steve Elliott got up to meet the ball but could not steer it far enough out of the reach of the Brewers stopper.
Cheltenham were determined to get something to try and give them late hope but even when McGlashan made excellent contact with a dropping ball inside the area late on he watched his shot go on target but hit the formidable form of Ian Sharps who guided the ball over the crossbar.
When it finally came it mattered little as HARRISON completed a lively 45 minutes as a substitute when he glanced home a corner from Billy Jones, Albion just switching off momentarily to allow the tall striker to score.
Whether that goal makes any difference come the end of the season where goal difference could be vital remains to be seen but if Albion keep on performing like this at home then hopefully that will be an irrelevance.
BURTON: Tomlinson; O'Connor, Diamond, Sharps, McCrory; MacDonald, Bell, Weir, Maghoma; Kee, Symes. Substitutes: Corbett, Zola, Lyness, Paterson, Holness, Dyer, Drury.
CHELTENHAM: Brown, Lowe, Jones, Carter, Elliott, Pack, Deering, Penn, Benson, Taylor, Hectore. Substitutes: Duffy, McGlashan, Roberts, Harrad, Jombati, Mohamed, Harrison.
Referee: Mr. A.Haines (Tyne & Wear)
GOALS: Burton - MacDonald (22), Weir (26, 48) ; Cheltenham - Harrison (90)