BURTON ALBION 2-0 PORT VALETom Naylor and Nasser El Khayati helped the Brewers to heave a collective sigh of relief as they both struck late in the game to see off Staffordshire rivals Port Vale in a fiery and attritional local derby.
Both sides finished with ten men with Vale playing over two thirds of the game a man light after the 26th minute dismissal of striker Uche Ikpeazu for two yellow cards, the second for a dive in the Burton box. Albion were reduced to ten inside the last ten minutes when Robbie Weir saw a straight red for a frustrated lunging challenge on Sam Foley. The Brewers had struggled to break down the resistance of a stubborn Vale side with a man advantage but ironically the game opened up once the teams were evened up and Albion snatched the victory they were due. Naylor stooped to head home from El Khayati's cross in the 84th minute and the Dutchman put the seal on victory running from his own half to calmly finish and give Albion their first victory by more than one goal this season.
With Albion not having scored for themselves since the end of September at Chesterfield the relief at the end was palpable as Brewers fans revelled, not only in victory over their county rivals but the ending of a goal drought.
Damien McCrory was taken ill on the morning of the game meaning that Jerome Binnom-Williams stepped up off the bench to start in his more accustomed role. With Stuart Beavon still not 100% fit with his calf strain Timmy Thiele retained the role of central striker supported by three attacking midfielders.
Port Vale started brightly with Colin Daniel lashing a hopeful shot over the bar when the ball bounced kindly for him off the back of skipper John Mousinho.
A free kick for a foul on experienced midfielder Anthony Grant gave the visitors a decent chance to pile a testing delivery into the box for their big men up from the back and the bleach blond head of Ryan McGivern got there first to steer a header wide of McLaughlin's upright.
Burton began to settle and Duffy did well down the left to jink his way into the box resulting in Nasser El Khayati seeing a shot blocked by Richard Duffy.
A long searching ball out from the back, aimed for the sizeable presence of Uche Ikpeazu, almost cut Burton open but Mousinho, under pressure from the on loan Watford man, did superbly well to steer the ball away from him and clear his lines to good effect.
Ikpeazu picked up the first yellow card of the afternoon for a slightly over physical challenge on Robbie Weir. When the midfielder came off the pitch following treatment there was a lump the size of an egg under his eye highlighting the whack he had received.
The Watford man's rashness cost him dearly on 26 minutes. Trying to trick his way into the box he went to ground far too easily and referee David Coote had no hesitation in punishing the youngster with a second yellow card and sending him for an early shower.
It did not stop Vale playing on the front foot and McLaughlin had to claw away a Sam Foley free kick for a corner which Duffy flicked across the face of goal.
McGivern was also shown a yellow card as Akins and Duffy linked up and the former Manchester City youngster bringing down the latter as he skipped around him just outside the box. El Khayati took on free kick taking duties swinging a decent ball to the back post where Mousinho headed over under pressure.
Burton were struggling to make much in the way of decent chances but when Binnom-Williams strode forwards into space he picked out Thiele with a low cross, the German taking a touch to control before firing a left foot shot over the bar.
Tom Naylor almost fashioned a chance for himself taking on a couple of Vale defenders before stretching to hit a low shot that was blocked inside the box. The ex-Derby man also fired a looping effort over that took a deflection off a Vale defender but the visitors did well to clear the resulting corner, Colin Daniel leading the charge out of defence.
Mark Duffy fired in an angled drive that hit McGivern and looped up but Naylor could not quite guide his header back across goal where he wanted it to go.
Added time saw Albion finish with a controversial free kick after Dickinson was adjudged by the assistant to have stopped Duffy's cross with his arm. As the ball was swung in to the middle referee Coote brought a lively first half to a close having spotted an infringement by a Burton player in the box.
Half-time: Burton Albion 0-0 Port Vale
Michael O'Connor had an early blast at goal when the second half got underway but his well struck 25 yard effort was always rising and went over McLaughlin's bar.
A well worked Albion move had the ten men pinned back as the game went into the 50th minute. Duffy's searching ball out to the right produced a teasing cross that Ben Purkiss did well to put behind his own goal at the expense of a corner.
Richard Duffy brought down his namesake Mark with a clumsy challenge on the edge of the box on 57 minutes. El Khayati once again took on free kick taking duties but his effort was blocked by the defensive wall but Albion were certainly getting up a head of steam at this point.
Just before the hour mark it was the Brewers who opted to make the first change. Zeli Ismail was the man asked to unpick the lock to Vale's defence and he almost did it within moments of coming on. a burst of pace down the right took him away from Dickinson and allowed him to cross low where Edwards picked up the ball but had to adjust his positioning before seeing a shot blocked.
Burton, if anything, were looking for the extra pass to try and conjure up a clear opening. Frustratingly it was making Vale's defensive task that bit easier as Jak Alnwick started to get busier. He easily dropped on Tom Naylor's header from a corner but then had to be more agile to fingertip over a curling effort from Duffy.
Thiele had been quiet for most of the second half but he almost brought the Pirelli to its feet on 72 minutes with a snapshot that rippled the side netting. It had a good number of fans thinking that he had broken his Burton Albion duck.
Aurelien Joachim was added to the attack for the last quarter of an hour or so. His introduction was at the expense of Phil Edwards as Albion went 4-4-2 with Tom Naylor dropping in at full back.
Thiele smashed the ball into the side netting for a second time, this time from a much more acute angle as Albion cranked up the pressure.
It became ten a side on 79 minutes when Robbie Weir saw red. Having tricked his way past a couple of challenges in trying to play his way out of trouble he over ran the ball and lunged in to a challenge on Sam Foley that could only have one outcome.
Calum Butcher was sent on in midfield in place of Duffy to restore the balance in the middle of the park and suddenly it was a more open game with the sides restored to parity.
84 minutes were showing and the frustration showing when Albion finally, finally broke the deadlock. Ismail worked room for a cross and although it was cleared beyond the far post El Khayati put a perfect ball in for NAYLOR to stoop and head inside the bottom corner. It was unbridled joy around three quarters of the Pirelli Stadium.
It looked like Burton might have to suffer a nervy end to the game when Vale won a corner but a superb clearance allowed Ismail to send El Khayati clear down the left. He tricked his way past Purkiss with a delightful piece of skill and then had the calmness about him to pass the ball beyond Alnwick to secure the three points once and for all.
Vale fans were screaming for a penalty as Albion broke but there was nothing doing as Burton played to the whistle and got back to winning ways. They left it late but it was nothing less than they deserved.