HARTLEPOOL UNITED 0-1 BURTON ALBIONWho knows just how pivotal the final five minutes of this round of League 2 fixtures may be in Burton Albion's pursuit of promotion from Skybet League 2 come the end of the season. Just as the Brewer's game against basement side Hartlepool United seemed to be drifting to a frustrating goalless draw, substitute Florent Cuvelier, on his debut, nipped in to score with two minutes remaining to grab all three points for Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's side.
Whilst Albion were grabbing all three points at Victoria Park, Shrewsbury Town were conceding a stoppage time equaliser to allow Albion back to the top of the table and fellow promotion rivals Luton were losing at home to Morecambe whilst Southend and Wycombe were cancelling each other out to give the Brewers an eight point cushion over fourth place with eleven games remaining.
Cuvelier was the Burton hero as he showed great composure to finish from a tight angle. The game was in the 88th minute when Stuart Beavon set up a chance for the Sheffield United loanee and he took a touch before slipping the ball under wrong footed Hartlepool goalkeeper Scott Flinders to keep Albion's promotion push on track just when it looked as if it was starting to falter after two straight defeats and almost three games without a goal.
Albion had toiled away against the Football League's basement side for large parts of the game on a difficult, bobbly pitch and with a blustery wind making life difficult, particularly in the first half clear chances were few and far between but even when the wind abated slightly after the break neither goalkeeper was seriously tested until Albion's supersub made his entrance.
The Burton Albion side showed three changes to the one that surrendered an unbeaten home league record under Hasselbaink last week against Newport County. Darragh Lenihan's recall to parent club Blackburn Rovers opened the door to Tom Naylor to start alongside Robbie Weir in midfield whilst a hamstring injury prevented Adam McGurk making the trip to Teesside allowing Mickael Antoine-Curier to make his full debut for the Brewers. Matty Palmer made his first start since the away game at York in January having recovered from a knee injury with Nasser El Khayati dropping to the substitutes bench. Cuvelier started his Albion spell on the bench whilst there was also a return to the matchday squad for Jimmy Phillips as he continued his return from injury.
Referee Darren Bond was in the thick of the action barely two minutes into the game. Lucas Akins was blatantly brought down just inside the area by left back Dan Jones. Unless he was fouled the winger had no reason to go down so there was astonishment amongst all those of an Albion persuasion when the referee produced a yellow card for the Burton man.
A brief spell of pressure from the home side had Albion on the back foot as Naylor conceded a corner from an inswinging corner but Damien McCrory dealt with the corner effectively enough as Burton cleared their lines.
Stuart Beavon was looking very lively early on and twice he got down the side of the Hartlepool back line only for last ditch challenges to clear the danger.
Naylor then proved himself very effective at the other end with a stinging shot that Flinders could only beat away after good link up play on the edge of the box between Beavon and Akins.
Hartlepool reacted well and started to master the blustery conditions slightly better than the Brewers. Pumping balls into the box to try and unsettle the Burton defence seemed the order of the day for the hosts and one diagonal ball had Albion stretched but the ever reliable McCrory was able to guide the ball back to Jon McLaughlin under pressure from the experience Marlon Harewood.
Good pressure from Akins won Albion their first corner on 22 minutes and when Palmer's delivery fizzed through the six yard box both Akins and Antoine-Curier failed to make contact with Shane Cansdell-Sherriff beyond the back post putting the ball into the danger area but unable to beat Flinders with a looping header.
Harewood sparked an attack on the Burton goal bringing Jordan Jones into play down the right. The young winger delivered an excellent cross into the middle but Harewood made a complete hash of his header failing to divert it closer to the goal when he made contact.
McLaughlin was tested by a first time shot from Ryan Bird on 32 minutes but even with a swirling wind it was a comfortable take for the Burton keeper.
It was turning into an end to end game and Hartlepool almost capitalised on an Albion corner with the wind playing its part as Naylor tried to find McLaughlin whose hurried clearance to McCrory was intercepted. Albion's back line managed to regroup.
McLaughlin then had to grab hold of a testing corner kick from Jack Compton as Hartlepool packed the six yard box full of their six foot plus players.
Referee Bond was mystifying both sides and Harewood was screaming for a penalty himself as he tussled with John Mousinho inside the box only winning a corner for his troubles.
Despite the windy and difficult conditions it had been a surprisingly entertaining first half. All that was lacking was a goal and with the wind behind them in the second period Albion were hoping to capitalise.
Half time: Hartlepool United 0-0 Burton Albion
Albion put together the first real danger moment of the second half as Palmer and Beavon led a breakaway on 49 minutes. Palmer was left to deliver the cross on his left foot and Antoine-Curier was unable to get to the near post before Flinders to convert the chance.
Reading loanee Aaron Tshibola went into the book for the hosts on 58 minutes for bringing down Beavon as he got away from the Pools midfielder but from the free kick thirty five yards out Albion were unable to profit, Mousinho getting his head to the cross but unable to beat the keeper who claimed easily with Antoine-Curier lurking.
Pools made a double change just after the hour mark with Connor Smith replacing Harewood and Jonathan Franks taking the place of Compton.
With the wind playing a much less decisive influence in the second period it was making it much more even contest. Beavon tried a long range effort on 71 minutes that flew wide and a deep cross from the left by Franks almost caught McLaughlin out at his back post with Jordan Jones unable to keep it in beyond the post.
Hasselbaink sent on El Khayati in place of Antoine-Curier to try and conjure up the all important first goal. Matty Palmer switched to the right hand side which gave Akins the chance to push forward down the middle.
Pools brought on experienced front man Marvin Morgan to replace Ryan Bird and his first contribution was a foul on McCrory. El Khayati floated the ball in but Mousinho's header again failed to trouble Flinders.
With seven minutes to go Burton fans got their first sighting of new signing Cuvelier. He was sent on in place of Palmer to try and conjure up a piece of magic to win the game.
It was Phil Edwards who eventually burst into the box and crossed low but neither Akins or El Khayati could make enough of the chance as it bobbled around the penalty spot as Albion finally got space in the Pools box.
There were barely two minutes to go when CUVELIER broke Hartlepool hearts and sent Albion into ecstasy. It owed much to the industry of Beavon who worked hard on the left to create the opportunity and when played in with a little reverse pass the Blades loanee showed the cutting edge Albion had been missing to slip the ball under Flinders and inside the far post.
In stoppage time the substitutes cameo appearance was shortened by a tweak of his hamstring and he was replaced by George Taft in an attempt to seal the victory.
Hartlepool were stunned by Albion's late winner and there were to be no late scares for Albion as the final whistle went. They say that it is all about results and not performances at this stage of the season. Arguably that phrase is very applicable to today's game.