December and January, by Ian Hawkins
What a turn around in December. The end to November gave no hint of what was to come as 2012 drew to a close. A makeshift defence, in the light of injury and suspension, produced an FA Cup upset as Calvin Zola scored his fifth FA Cup goal in as many games for the Brewers to send former club Crewe crashing out at Gresty Road and earn Albion another crack at Championship side Leicester City in the third round.
Scoring against former clubs was becoming a theme and Billy Kee was the hero of the hour as he netted the only goal of the game to inflict defeat on Accrington Stanley who suffered a blow when former England striker James Beattie pulled out in the warm-up.
A tricky looking trip to Chesterfield proved to be just that. Jacques Maghoma fired Albion ahead in the first half but the Spireites second half pressure eventually paid dividends when Marc Richards grabbed a share of the spoils.
Barnet away on the Friday before Christmas produced little in the way of Christmas cheer. Albion took the lead when Billy Kee fired home from the penalty spot and should have been further ahead but a Ricky Holmes hat-trick left the Brewers with the Christmas blues despite a second penalty, converted by Jacques Maghoma.
Gary Rowett’s men produced plenty of Christmas sparkle and Boxing Day put the smile back on Burton faces with another five goal thriller, this time continuing Albion’s 100% record in the Football League against Rochdale.
Billy Kee’s brace along with Calvin Zola’s excellent strike pushed the Brewers back to the fringes of the play-offs ahead of the final game of the year, another home game against Southend United.
Another double was safely completed as Zola scored for the second match running and a rare Lee Bell strike helped Albion finish the year in the play-offs and securing the manager of the month award for Gary Rowett, a more than fitting reward for a solid run of form. For a team tipped as relegation fodder before the season started a top seven place was a perfect riposte to the pundits and sending Albion into New Year celebrations with plenty to look forward to.
The Brewers suffered something of a New Year’s hangover kicking off the New Year at York City. A below par performance with skipper Zander Diamond missing through illness cost Albion the points and was a far from promising start to 2013.
The FA Cup third round rekindled memories of Burton’s classic and groundbreaking encounter with Leicester City in 1985 and also gave the Brewers the chance to prove that lightning can strike twice. It was more a case of once bitten, twice shy as Nigel Pearson’s promotion chasing Foxes did a professional job on Albion and made sure they were not the fall guys for a second time. New signing Chris Wood terrorised Albion’s defence and took just three minutes to score with former Manchester United defender Ritchie De Laet adding a second to end Albion’s cup commitments for another season.
Torquay United briefly threatened to make it three defeats in a row for the Brewers when Ryan Jarvis swooped to give the Gulls the lead before the break but Calvin Zola’s strike on the hour mark set up a grandstand finish. Cometh the hour and cometh the Pato Whip! Substitute Matt Paterson made a late appearance as a substitute and produced a sublime curling finish past his former Southampton team-mate Michael Poke to make it four home wins in a row.
Not even the atrocious January weather could scupper Albion’s trip to Northampton Town but a late goal from Adebayo Akinfenwa did deprive of at least a point, the first time the Brewers have left Sixfields empty handed in four seasons.
Bogey side Barnet arrived in East Staffordshire minus their player-coach Edgar Davids, laid low with illness and the former Dutch legend’s talents were sorely missed by the visitors. Ian Sharps, a surprise loan signing from promotion rivals Rotherham United made his Brewers debut but it was Jacques Maghoma that made sure Albion got revenge for their pre-Christmas defeat with the only goal of the game. Burton’s talismanic midfielder continued his most prolific scoring season with a precious equaliser in a 1-1 draw at Oxford United to send Albion into the final three months of the season in an automatic promotion place. Could they hang on?