CAMBRIDGE UNITED 2-3 BURTON ALBIONTen man Burton Albion secured the Sky Bet League 2 title after a final day five goal thriller at the Abbey Stadium eventually saw Cambridge United put to the sword, Stuart Beavon, Phil Edwards and Kevin Stewart netting the goals to make up for Jon McLaughlin's second half sending off and send the Brewers up as champions.
Beavon's 11th minute header set Albion on the way but Tom Elliott's headed equaliser had Cambridge level before the break. When Harrison Dunk was felled by McLaughlin in the box, referee Oliver Langford, who had sent off Ian Sharps in the play-off semi-final last season, produced red for the Brewers keeper meaning that Scott Shearer's first action as a Brewer was to try, unsuccessfully to save Robbie Simpson's penalty. It was the first time Albion had conceded two goals in a game since before the change of management in November.
However Albion's indomitable spirit that has surfaced so many times in the face of adversity, most notably at home to Southend when they were also behind and reduced to ten men, brought them storming back into the game as Phil Edwards smashed home an absolute screamer of a goal before substitute Kevin Stewart tapped home to finally silence the home crowd and spark celebrations amongst the 1900+ Albion fans at the opposite end of the ground.
For the final game of the season that would decide the destiny of the Sky Bet League 2 title manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink made just the one change to the side that had started the two previous games. A refreshed Adam McGurk came back into the side as Liverpool loanee Stewart dropped to the bench, the Brewers reverting to a 4-4-2 in the process.
Just over a minute was on the clock when Albion had their first chance of the afternoon to take the initiative in the battle for the title. Damien McCrory swung over a deep cross to the back post that was headed back in to the danger area by Lucas Akins. When the ball came out to Tom Naylor on the edge of the box the former Cambridge loanee struck a low shot that was just wide of the left hand upright.
As news filtered through that Plymouth had taken an early lead at Shrewsbury, Cambridge almost stunned the Brewers with the opening goal of the afternoon on five minutes. The U's worked the ball well into Tom Elliott on the edge of the box and hhis shot was just wide of McLaughlin's goal with sections of the crowd thinking it was in.
Eleven minutes were gone when things got even better for Albion. Burton worked the ball beautifully across the midfield to Damien McCrory on the left and his cross was inch perfect for Stuart BEAVON to steer a near post header in from eight yards past Will Norris in the Cambridge goal who was left grasping at thin air.
Naylor was inches away from making it two just three minutes later. Greg Taylor was caught napping on the ball in the corner by Beavon allowing Akins to deliver a teasing cross that was met by the head of the Derby loanee who couldnt quite get over the ball to leave him still searching for his first goal in Burton colours.
Ellliott, who notched a brace in the return game at the Pirelli back in October, showed what a dangerous customer he can be with a shot on the turn that was hacked away for a corner and from the resulting set piece the big striker came off worse in a challenge with McLaughlin inside the six yard box as Albion just about cleared the danger.
After receiving treatment the big striker returned to the action and had Cambridge level on 25 minutes. Harrison Dunk was felled 25 yards out giving the home side the chance to pile bodies into the box and Sullay Kaikai's curling delivery was met by a thumping header from ELLIOTT to equalise.
El Khayati stung the palms of Norris on 34 minutes as Albion swiftly broke through the midfield from McGurk's quick break and as the Cambridge defence stood off from a free kick Naylor was allowed to hook an overhead volley into the six yard box where it was hurriedly hacked clear.
Cambridge again looked to send their big men forward from a corner just before half time but a slightly over physical challenge at the back post left Shane Cansdell-Sherriff requiring treatment and while the dependable Australian was on the floor a roar was going around the away end with the news that Plymouth had doubled their advantage at Greenhous Meadow.
Cansdell-Sherriff returned to the fray just in time for the half time whistle to go with Albion knowing that the job was half done.
HALF TIME: Cambridge United 1-1 Burton Albion
With Cansdell-Sherriff unable to resume after the break the start of the second half saw George Taft come in as a straight replacement.
Albion should really have had a penalty inside a minute of the restart as Beavon appeared to be upended inside the box by a clumsy challenge from Josh Coulson. All Albion got for their protestations was a corner which ultimately led to a free kick that McGurk curled well over the bar.
Coulson was having a busy start to the second half as he had to put his head in the way of a rasping shot from El Khayati looking to put Albion back in front and Akins was inches away with a slightly scuffed shot moments later that had Norris scrambling across his line to anxiously see it go wide.
Akins saw another shot blocked inside the box leading to a swift counterattack from the U's through Harrison Dunk on the right who was stood his ground and blocked off the fleet footed midfielder to earn himself an early yellow card.
Cambridge built up a head of steam as the game started to get a little bit feisty and Liam Hughes had McLaughlin juggling the ball to catch it at the second attempt as the hosts sensed a notable double could be on the cards.
Robbie Simpson lashed a shot wide as Cambridge continued to press and moments later Albion made their second substitution with McGurk making way for the player he replaced in the starting line-up, Stewart.
Things swung decisively Cambridge's way midway through the half as Albion were suddenly reduced to ten men. Dunk's pace toook him beyond the Burton defence down the middle and after nicking the ball beyond McLaughlin was felled by the big keeper who was given his marching orders bt referee Oliver Langford. It took an age for Scott Shearer to appear as a substitute with Robbie Weir the man sacrificed as the big Scotsman came on for his Brewers debut. After the lengthy wait Robbie SIMPSON eventually stepped up to smash home the penalty via the outstretched foot of the man on loan from Crewe.
The home side had their tails up and Elliott tried to make it three with a 25 yard shot on the turn but Shearer was able to watch it fly past the post.
Almost from nowhere Albion drew level. Naylor was bundled over and El Khayati tapped ther ball short to EDWARDS who ran on and thrashed an unstoppable shot into the top corner. An absolute screamer if ever there was one from the popular full back.
It hardly looked as if Albion were playing with ten men as Akins terrorised the home defence with another tricky run allowing Naylor to put the ball to the back post where McCrory was denied by Norris.
Elliott was eventually substituted on 85 minutes allowing the Burton defence to heave a sigh of relief with Ryan Bird replacing him.
McCrory also went into referee Langford's book for a heavy challenge on Dunk on 85 minutes but two minutes later Albion were in dreamland. El Khayati did superbly well to get to the byeline and pull the ball back into the middle. Cambridge failed to clear and STEWART was left with a tap in for Albion's third.
A rampaging run from skipper John Mousinho almost set up Stewart for a second at the start of five minutes of added time but Norris saved at his near post to deny Albion a fourth.
The final whistle signalled jubilant scenes with Albion finishing a campaign that had started with victory in the university city of Oxford with victory in England's other big university city, the Brewers having handed out a few lessons in grit and determination on their way to the League 2 title.