GILLINGHAM 0-3 BURTON ALBIONThree second half goals from a rampant Burton Albion side condemned promotion rivals Gillingham to a first home league defeat of the season and further enhanced the Brewers place at the top of Sky Bet League One.
Albion were already on top of the game when Gills skipper Doug Loft saw red for two bookable offences midway through the first half as the blustery conditions threatened to make the game something of a lottery but Damien McCrory's second goal in as many games got Albion's noses in front before late strikes from substitutes Lucas Akins and Anthony O'Connor, his first for the club, got the second Nigel Clough era at Burton off to the perfect start.
Three goals on the road, something not seen this season from a Burton side, along with a clean sheet ensured that the side with the best away record in the division comfortably saw off the team with the best home record, something that the returning management team could surely only have dreamed of going into the game. Whilst a 3-0 scoreline may have been slightly harsh on the hosts, for whom goalkeeper Stuart Nelson performed superbly, there was nno doubting that Clough's new charges were more than worthy of the three points.
Robbie Weir was the only change to the side that beat Millwall last time out in Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's final match as Brewers boss. Clough opted to recall the Northern Irishman after the influential midfielder missed the clash against the Lions through injury. He replaced Anthony O'Connor in a deep sitting role in front of the back four with the remainder of the side unchanged as the new, old management team opted for as little change as possible for the tough assignment at Priestfield.
Good early pressure and a corner saw Albion on the front foot inside the opening minute. Tom Naylor was needlessly bundled over in midfield and Mark Duffy's set piece was flicked behind. The winger fed the ball in from the corner and the Gills were eventually able to clear although it looked like Stuart Beavon had been dragged down at the far post.
Beavon showed all of his predatory closing down skills to rob John Egan of possession moments later but opted to pass wide to Duffy rather than take on a shot as space opened up in front of him. Unfortunately for Duffy his first touch was a little heavy allowing a blue shirt to get a key challenge in.
Both sides were struggling to adapt to the very blustery conditions and understandly passes were going astray. After both teams had carelessly squandered possession the persistence of Beavon won Albion another corner and Naylor was there at the back post but with the angle against him his powerful header was straight into the arms of Stuart Nelson.
Excellent link up play down the Burton right forced Nelson into a good save on 14 minutes. Beavon and Duffy were at the heart of things again once Calum Butcher had found Duffy from Phil Edwards pass. A neat exchange of passes saw Duffy this time control well and fire in low only to see the Gills keeper beat out his effort.
The lively Bradley Dack was allowed to swing in a free kick on 16 minutes and he picked out on loan Reading frontman Dominic Samuel, a flashing header from the youngster looking like it was going to beat Jon McLaughlin until it went just wide of the post.
If anything the wind was getting trickier to master but it didnt stop Butcher smashing in a shot from a similar range to Duffy and also forcing Nelson into a good save low to his left as Albion continued to find gaps to burst forward in to, almost at will.
Gillingham began to string some lively moves together and Samuel did well to get the better of Damien McCrory on the Gills right sending in a low cross that McLaughlin had to palm out into the middle of his own six yard box before skipper John Mousinho cleared.
Deji Oshilaja and skipper Doug Loft both found themselves in referee James Linington's book as Gillingham fans became restless with a few decisions seemingly going against the home side. Oshilaja carded for a blatant hand ball and Loft for a clumsy foul on Duffy.
Samuel then led a break through the centre and gave full back Ryan Jackson the chance to overlap on the right. A delightful ball in flicked off the head of Dack and almost ended up in the back of the net when it hit Phil Edwards near the back post but between him and McLaughlin the danger was averted.
Butcher again tested Nelson with a raking shot from outside the box and Duffy was not far wide with another effort that kept the Gills keeper on his toes just past the half hour mark.
Loft saw red from referee Linington on 36 minutes as the hosts were reduced to ten. Beavon brought the ball under control midway inside the Gills half and although on the ground managed to retain possession trapping the ball between his legs. Jumping up and skipping away the Gills skipper took what could only be described as an agricultural hack to bring down the Burton man. Having already been carded there was only one outcome.
Albion were doing all the pressing now with the visitors a man down and dropping into two regimented banks of four but as half time they were still struggling to break down a stubborn Gills defence. Burton's passing was crisper and more purposeful but with the home side dropping deeper Nelson was untested for the remainder of the half. El Khayati had a chance in stoppage time but delayed his shot long enough that he had to resort to a low cross that was cut out at the near post.
Half time: Gillingham 0-0 Burton Albion
After a flurry of Gills pressing early in ther second period it was Nelson that was forced into the first meaningful save of the half. Duffy was brought down in releasing Beavon but referee Linington played advantage and Nelson was forced to save a powerful shot at his near post.
El Khayati spurned a chance to break the deadlock on 53 minutes. A raking pass across the pitch from Duffy found the Dutchman in space but Jackson at right back did enough to ensure that Nelson was able to come out and smother the danger inside his own six yard box.
Jackson's pace going forwards was something that Albion had to guard against and bursting onto Aaron Morris' pass a low cut back to Samuel gave the striker a chance to turn and fire on goal but McLaughlin was perfectly placed to save.
Albion made their extra man count on 59 minutes. When Beavon was surrounded by defenders inside the box there looked little on for him but picking out Damien McCRORY lurking outside the box the Irish left back smashed in a low effort that Nelson got something on but could not keep out.
The Brewers were thankful for the woodwork shortly after taking the lead when Samuel sent a ball into the box that was in truth probably a cross but when the wind got hold of it McLaughlin was frantically back pedalling and mightily relieved when the ball came back out off the face of the bar.
Albion were first to make a change and it was El Khayati who made way on 65 minutes for Lucas Akins, sent on to inject more pace on the right.
The Gills responded with a double change to try and wrestle control of the match back. Striker Cody McDonald and left back Bradley Garmston came off allowing Rory Donnelly and Brennan Dickenson to come on and try and effect a change.
Instead it was Akins who almost added his name to the scoresheet lashing in a low first time shot that Nelson did very well to push away although Beavon almost latched on to the rebound with Nelson again doing well to recover.
Anthony O'Connor was sent on with a little under ten minutes remaining as Butcher took a well earned rest. The former Dundee United man had enjoyed one of his best games to date in a Burton shirt.
Beavon was again cynically brought down just outside the box leading to a yellow card for John Egan but Albion were unable to make the free kick pay.
The game was just about to tick added time when Albion made sure of the three points. Naylor once again drove forwards as the Gills found themselves short at the back and slid a perfect pass across the penalty area where AKINS was unmarked to control and stroke the ball home. Nothing that Nelson could do this time.
The manager may not have been there in person to witness it but this was very much a case of 'business as usual' and it was even better in the closing seconds as Albion unbelievably added a third.
Substitute Timmy Thiele made a sixty yard run down the flank against the tiring Gills defence before cutting in from the byeline to find Akins. His shot was blocked but came back out as far as Naylor. The ex-Derby defender took control and set himself for a rasping low drive with the final touch coming off O'CONNOR who gleefully accepted his first goal in Burton colours.