BURTON ALBION 1-0 SHREWSBURY TOWNBurton Albion chose the perfect opportunity to secure a first ever victory over League 2 leaders Shrewsbury Town as George Taft's first senior goal secured another vital three points in the Brewers quest for promotion. Albion had failed to beat the Shrews in nine previous attempts but only time will tell just how important this maiden victory against Micky Mellon's side will prove to be come the end of the season.
The 6ft 5in central defender showed all the deftness of a seasoned striker to pounce on Matty Palmer's 60th minute corner and send the ball into the net on the half volley with the outside of his left foot. Deputising for the injured Shane Cansdell-Sherriff the former Leicester City youngster continued the run of goals from Burton centre halves but just as importantly continued Albion's run of clean sheets. A sequence now extended to four consecutive games and also four successive home games since Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink took over at the Pirelli Stadium. In fact the Brewers have now recorded four home wins and four visitor shutouts since the Dutchman became manager at the club laying an impressive platform upon which to build a push for honours in the second half of the season.
Hasselbaink opted to start the game with the same eleven that finished the Boxing Day victory against Tranmere Rovers which meant that Taft started alongside skipper John Mousinho for the first time from the start of a game whilst Kelvin Maynard remained on the right side of midfield in place of Alex MacDonald with Matty Palmer operating on the left. New loan signing Scott Shearer began his Albion career on the bench.
James Collins had a couple of early headed chances to give the visitors the lead but was denied firstly by McLaughlin at the near post as he tried to steer Josh Passley's centre inside the post. Albion proceeded to go up the other end and win their first corner but from it Shrewsbury broke away and Collins again was lurking inside the six yard box as a deep cross came in from the right and this time McLaughlin was correctly stationed at the far post to divert another header off target.
Bobby Grant, on loan from Championship side Blackpool, attempted a spectacular volleyed effort on the quarter of an hour mark but failed to even keep the ball within the confines of the stadium let alone test the goalkeeper.
Stuart Beavon picked up an early booking after eighteen minutes for going in slightly over enthusiastically in an attempt to win the ball back inside the box with referee Brendan Malone taking exception to the strength of the challenge and producing the yellow card.
Darragh Lenihan also saw yellow for a strong aerial challenge on Ryan Woods that again looked relatively innocuous but not to Mr Malone's liking.
Shrewsbury looked the more inventive side and Grant found himself goal side of Kelvin Maynard on 32 minutes but McLaughlin again did well to keep out the shot, George Taft tidying up at the expense of a corner when Grant put the ball back into the six yard box.
Jacob Blyth momentarily looked as if he was going to get through on goal as he chased down Damien McCrory's through ball but Nathaniel Knight-Percival showed greater strength in the area to deny him a clean shot.
Matty Palmer sensed a chance to give Albion a half time lead when Mr Malone penalised Knight-Percival for a challenge on Beavon and the young Burton midfielder sized up the free kick forcing Jayson Leutwiler into a sprawling and awkward save diving to his left to keep out the dipping effort.
As it was neither side was able to break the deadlock ahead of the interval
Half time: Burton Albion 0-0 Shrewsbury Town
Albion had the first chance of the second period and it only took a matter of seconds for it to arrive. Palmer and Beavon worked the ball across the box to Maynard who in turn laid the ball off the Edwards. The pass was not quite into his stride and after checking his run slightly his low shot was wide of the post.
Robbie Weir then went foraging for possession in the middle of the Shrewsbury half and released Blyth into the box for a shot that was blocked desperately by Knight-Percival at the expense of a corner.
When Connor Goldson unceremoniously dumped Beavon to the ground just outside the box it gave Palmer another chance to test Leutwiler and the keeper was again up to the task with another ungainly looking save to keep his side on level terms.
Lenihan's strength and persistence won Albion a corner on 59 minutes but Palmer was unable to pick out a team mate from the set piece, at the second attempt and Shrewsbury had survived another threat on their goal.
Albion's persistence in the early stages of the second half eventually paid dividends on the hour mark. Beavon closed down to win a corner from the right and this time Palmer's kick dropped invitingly for TAFT to connect with a half volley that flew into the back of Leutwiler's net.
Maynard was not far away from a second for the Brewers as he started a move that found Blyth out wide and when Beavon could not quite convert the chance it fell to the Dutchman who scooped his shot wide of the post.
Shrewsbury sacrificed defender Mark Ellis for the midfielder industry of James Wesolowski on 68 minutes, in search of an equaliser and he was quickly involved in a swift counter that fell apart when Demetriou's cross landed behind the goal of McLaughlin.
Maynard was then denied by the outstretched foot of Leutwiler as Beavon played an inch perfect pass into the Dutchman's path on the edge of the box.
Blyth went into referee Malone's book for a clumsy and late challenge on Josh Passley but when the free kick was thrown into the Burton box McLaughlin got a good strong punch to the ball to clear the danger.
Liam Lawrence produced a snapshot from wide out on the left that had a few hearts in mouths as it flew wide of the post but Albion's lead was still in tact.
Lawrence was soon replaced as Micky Mellon made another attacking change with striker Andy Mangan replacing the vastly experienced Shrews skipper.
Albion waited until the 82nd minute to make their first change and it was a straight change in attack as the hard working Beavon earned a rest being replaced by Dominic Knowles.
Maynard was also replaced before the end with Adam McGurk asked to provide fresh legs for the closing stages.
Both Mangan and Grant were denied amidst a massive scramble in the Albion box and the Brewers still had to survive a couple of corners as Shrewsbury cranked up the pressure on McLaughlin's goal.
There were less than three minutes left when Demetriou squandered a golden opportunity to equalise. Wesolowski turned quickly onto a throw in and burst into the box and when his low cross picked out the former Kidderminster man he looked odds on to score but he blazed his shot over the bar.
Mangan tried a delicate free kick when Demetriou was fouled just outside the box by Lenihan but McLaughlin was able to watch the ball go over his bar.
Ian Sharps was introduced in stoppage time as Albion looked to close the game out and the experienced defender received a good reception from both sets of fans for whom he has given great service. Deployed in a more advanced midfield role, after replacing Palmer he made a couple of important clearances that took the Shrewsbury threat away from the Burton goal and whilst the final whistle still only yielded three points on the League 2 table this was a big result in Albion's season. Another game where points had been taken off a promotion rival. It promises to be an exciting 2015 on this evidence.