COLCHESTER UNITED 0-3 BURTON ALBIONLucas Akins' first career hat-trick got Burton Albion back to winning ways in emphatic style at the Weston Homes Community Stadium in a resounding 3-0 victory.
It was the first treble by a Burton player since Billy Kee walked away with the match ball froma 6-3 victory over Barnet in October 2011 and coupled with Walsall's 4-0 defeat at Bradford the Brewers took a big step towards promotion from Sky Bet League One with their destiny firmly back in their own hands. Goal difference, which favoured the Saddlers at start of play, swung back in Burton's favour on what could prove to be a pivotal day in the race for promotion.
Akins broke the stalemate in North Essex on the stroke of half time, applying the finishing touch to Mark Duffy's cross as the resistance of ten-man Colchester was finally broken after they had seen right back Joe Edwards sent off just fifteen minutes in for a rash challenge on returning full back Damien McCrory.
Two sweet left foot finishes in the first fifteen minutes of the second half from the popular Brewers attacker selaed the points and strengthened the side's hold on second spot whilst Colchester, in contrast, contemplated the confirmation of their relegation to League Two in front of their own fans.
McCrory made a timely return from injury to resume his role at left back. With Tom Flanagan picking up a knock towards the end of the draw against Wigan the Irishman slotted straight back in for the penultimate away fixture of the League season.
Albion were off to a brisk start and some enterprising play down the left gave McCrory the chance top swing in a teasing cross that experienced defender Nicky Shorey was forced to head behind at the expense of a corner. Although nothing came of it apart from another corner it was a sign of Albion getting the game going on the front foot.
With a strong wind gusting across the pitch it was proving difficult from early on to judge crosses and when Mark Duffy won another corner on ten minutes he took it himself but the wind carried it over everyone inside the six yard box and out on the opposite side.
It was all Albion in the early stages and when Matty Palmer was bundled over on the angle of the penalty area it was a good chance for a set piece to pay dividends as it had done on Tuesday against Wigan. This time Duffy took control and whipped in a low shot that via a slight deflection landed safely in the arms of U's keeper Elliott Parish.
Colchester suddenly found themselves with their backs to the wall as full back Joe Edwards was shown a straight red card. Going in for a loose ball on the Albion left he slid in on Damien McCrory but referee Mark Heywood did not like the challenge and produced, to the amazement of all inside the ground, the red card. Edwards studs were arguably showing as he went in to challenge but yellow was what most expected to see.
Phil Edwards quickly found himself in the book for handball. Hamza Choudhury's crossfield pass was too high for him to control and he instinctively put his hands up and fingertipped the ball as it went over his head and out but referee Heywood was reaching for his pocket again.
Gavin Massey also went in the book in a hectic spell for the referee as he poleaxed Duffy having dropped in to cover for the dismissed Edwards. The livewire winger was then replaced halfway through the first period as Kevin Keen looked to reorganise his troops in the wake of going down to ten men. Alex Wynter, a natural defender was sent on with the U's manager keen not to lose Massey as well.
McCrory twice had good opportunities to break the deadlock against the ten men. A cushioned lay off on the edge of the box invited him to lash a rising volley towards the target but Parish was able to put up a hand to divert it over the bar and a wickedly curling effort only just missed the angle of post and bar with Parish at full stretch.
In a rare breakway, Macauley Bonne stole in behind the Burton backline on 27 minutes but with precious little in the way of support, was forced to shoot from a tight angle, his effort flying well wide of Jon McLaughlin's goal.
Duffy was inches away from giving the visitors the lead with a precise effort that cannoned back off the post and there were decent shouts for a penalty when the winger fed the rebound into the path of Palmer who looked to be tripped as he tried to go past his man.
Albion were building a head of pressure and Beavon was denied by a good close range save from Parish after Lucas Akins had worked hard in the box to set him up.
An excellent turn on the edge of the box by Beavon on 39 minutes sold his marker all too easily but on his left foot he was unable to find a finish to beat Parish who was grateful to see the ball come straight at him.
Burton finally grabbed the lead in the final minute of the half. A corner was played short and Duffy was given time to jink towards the bye line and cut back a pinpoint cross that left AKINS with a tap in.
It could have been two before the break as Duffy tried his luck with a shot that was blocked and Tom Naylor volleyed a ball back across the box with nobody in yellow and black able to apply a finishing touch.
Half time: Colchester United 0-1 Burton Albion
Colchester made a change at the break and it was top scorer George Moncur that the home side turned to. It was something of as surprise that the former Premier League starlet had not started the game but with Colchester's League One status hanging by a thread they had to throw everything at the second half.
The U's quickly showed more promise from the restart and Wynter, pushing forward from the back rattled a first time shot wide of the post after an early attack.
Four minutes in and Albion had their second goal of the afternon. Patient work by Duffy and McCrory laid the groundwork. A dinked ball into the centre picked out Naylor who headed forwards towards the edge of the box. Beavon's run drew the defender allowing AKINS to smash home past Parish.
Palmer briefly required treatment when he was caught flush in the face with the ball as a good move almost had Burton in again on a despondent U's defence.
Colchester began to push forwards, more in hope of restoring some pride that anything else, and Tom Lapslie saw an effort fly wide.
On the hour Albion were having a double celebration. News was filtering through that rivals Walsall had gone a goal down at Bradford City and almost instantly Albion had a third and AKINS had a hat-trick. Cutting in from the right he teed the ball up on his left foot andf smashed home a superb shot that left Parish grabbing at thin air.
Frustration started to set in for the home side with Lapslie going in on Duffy to earn himself a yellow card but it did little to alter the flow of the game. Albion were hungry to try and improve their goal difference and Choudhury was inches away from a first senior goal with a lobbed effort that bounced just wide.
Calum Butcher entered the action on 70 minutes as McCrory took a break on his first game back. Tom Naylor dropped back to fill in at left back as Butcher assumed a central midfield role.
Duffy forced a good save at the near post from Parish as the U's defence crumbled again and it was looking like a long second half for the League two bound hosts.
Beavon's hard work and endeavour had deserved a goal throughout the course of the game but he was also given a rest for the final fifteen minutes, Tyler Walker addinmg more fresh legs to the Burton cause.
Chris Porter forced McLaughlin in to a save low to his left on 77 minutes as Albion for once dropped off the experienced striker allowing him to turn on the edge of the box.
Walker, stretching at the back post, was unable to guide Naylor's cross beyond Parish at the back post before a final change saw Palmer replaced by Mason Bennett for the closing stages.
The Derby youngster had not been on the pitch long when he was involved in a clash with U's substitute Wynter. The free kick went the way of the Colchester man which seemed fair enough however the follow through of the defender left Bennett writhing in agony and there was much concern as he was loaded onto a stretcher to leave the game poised at ten men apiece for the closing stages.
The lengthy stoppage seemed to flatten the atmosphere amongst the 429 Burton fans inside the Weston Homes Community Stadium but the end they were back in fine voice reflecting on what could be a pivotal day in the League One promotion race.
Colchester enjoyed a fairly lengthy period of possession deep into the seven added minutes of time from referee Heywood but perhaps symptomatic of their afternoon a lacklustre finish from Bonne ended comfortably in the arms of McLaughlin.
Albion were on the attack when the final whistle went and Burton knew they had taken a significant step towards achieving their season's goal with just two games now remaining.