Newport County AFC 1-1 Burton AlbionA point from a 1-1 draw away at Newport County AFC effectively ended any lingering hopes that Burton Albion had of gatecrashing the automatic promotion places. Michael Symes 36th minute penalty after Dominic Knowles had been brought down in the box equalised Andy Sandell's rasping 5th minute piledriver but victories elsewhere for the top four mean that Albion sit six points off the top three with just two games remaining and an inferior goal difference to their rivals.
For their second game in three days Gary Rowett opted to ring the changes in his Burton Albion side. David Gray slotted in at right back as Phil Edwards dropped to the bench. Marcus Holness came in for Shane Cansdell-Sherriff who was not risked after a bout of tendinitis in his achilles. Ashley Hemmings was handed a full Brewers debut on the right side of midfield and with his wife in labour Robbie Weir did not travel with the squad meaning a recall for Matty Palmer in the centre. Dominic Knowles paired up with Michael Symes in a new look attack. Liam Slade and Marcus Harness came onto the bench alongside Edwards, Gary Alexander, Billy Kee, Alex MacDonald and Rob Lainton.
After a bright start that saw Albion win a corner after just fifteen seconds the hosts took the lead in the fifth minute. There looked to be little danger when left back Andy SANDELL won a challenge with Hemmings and when he let fly from thirty five yards, Lyness was a little too far to the left of his goal to get down and keep out the raking effort.
Chris Zebroski lashed an effort over the bar although there was more than a hint of handball about the way the former Cheltenham striker brought the ball under control in the buidl-up.
Albion's first real shot in anger came on 17 minutes when the ball came for Callum McFadzean twenty five yards out but his rising drive was always going well over the top.
David Gray picked up the first yellow card of the game when Sandell knocked the ball past him down the left and was blocked off from getting to his own ball.
Gray then sent in an excellent cross from the right after good work from Knowles and Hemmings but Symes hooked his shot over the bar from what was in fact a good chance.
Once they settled down Albion started to play some of the more fluent football and on the half hour mark they spurned a good chance to equalise. McFadzean sent in a left sided cross that Lenny Pidgeley made hard work of dealing with and when the ball came out nicely for Knowles he fired back towards goal only for Darcy Blake to be in the right place on the edge of the six yard box to block.
The Brewers were handed a lifeline by referee Brendan Malone on 35 minutes though when the Wiltshire official pointed at the penalty spot when Blake was adjudged to have pulled Dominic Knowles to the ground. Up stepped SYMES, making his first start since September to nonchalantly send Pidgeley the wrong way and roll the ball home.
Newport quickly had a corner at the other end and were inches from regaining the lead when Lyness smothered the ball just as Zebroski looked set to poke the ball home.
Lee Minshull then went down in the box, in similar fashion to Knowles but this the referee was not inclined to give the spot kick.
Half time: Newport County AFC 1-1 Burton Albion
The second half was only just over two minutes old when Newport almost carved out a second goal. Robbie Willmott fed Zebroski just inside the box and his low effort curled just wide of the far post. Buoyed by the early chance the home side came again and only a last ditch challenge by Matty Palmer denied Minshull a clean shot as he latched onto a through ball by Christian Jolley.
A deeper cross from Willmott then found Kevin Feely at the back post and his headed came back out off the face of the post. Albion could not escape the pressure and when a clearance looked to be going out of play for a throw Albion momentarily switched off and Jolley was able to scamper away down the left and deliver a cross that Willmott met at the back post only for Lyness to produce an excellent point blank stop to somehow divert the ball onto the bar out out.
In terms of substitutions it was Newport who blinked first and skipper Mike Flynn was sacrificed to allow former Gresley striker Aaron O'Connor to make a rare appearance after a long spell out with injury.
A Burton substitution quickly followed on 61 minutes with Hemmings taking no further part as Alex MacDonald slotted in seamlessly onto the right hand side of midfield.
With a little under twenty minutes to go Rowett went for a second change with youngster Harness sent on in place of Knowles.
Moments later and Albion were inches away from grabbing an unlikely lead. With Harness pushed onto the right, Alex MacDonald pushed into a more central role and latching onto a loose ball he turned and thrashed a low shot that evaded the fingertips of Pidgeley but cannoned back off the base of the post. Harness then managed to get into the box and was only denied by the legs of the keeper who reacted smartly to the chance.
Palmer then dispossessed home substitute Adam Chapman before firing well over the bar before Albion made their final change. Symes was clearly tiring by this stage so the fresh legs of Billy Kee were called upon for the last ten minutes or so.
Having scored his first of the season on Saturday, skipper Lee Bell as in the mood for more but his 25 yard snapshot was too close to the keeper who saved comfortably.
Willmott fired a volleyed effort straight into the midriff of Lyness as the hosts looked for a late rally and another speculative effort from MacDonald skipped through a very bobbly penalty area and wide of the post.
With two minutes to go it was the home side who wasted a glorious opening to break the deadlock. Albion's inability to clear their lines effectively saw the ball worked out to Willmott on the right and his cross found the head of substitute Shaun Jeffers who could only tamely head into the arms of Lyness with the goal at his mercy from four yards out.
Albion were dealt a blow in stoppage time when Phillips went down after a hefty challenge and had to be helped from the field leaving the Brewers down to ten men for the closing stages.
It almost got worse for Albion as Newport flung in a late corner and when Sandell rose highest at the back post it looked for all the world to be heading in until Lyness clawed the ball away and Holness was able to clear the danger. Ian Sharps almost won it at the death as a free kick was hacked clear for a corner but the Brewers had to settle for a point and a guaranteed play-off spot.