BURTON ALBION 2-1 GILLINGHAMTom Naylor will possibly never score a more important goal in his career as his stoppage time header pushed the Brewers to within a point of promotion after a hard fought battle with Gillingham at the Pirelli Stadium.
Albion had looked to have things in their control when Lucas Akins continued his fine goalscoring form, converting Mark Duffy's low cross a minute before half time only for the Gills, battling hard to get back into the play-off positions, to stun the home side with an equaliser four minutes after the break thanks to Cody McDonald's glancing header from Bradley Dack's corner.
Nigel Clough's side would have felt hard done to having dominated the first forty five minutes and seeing their lead wiped out so quickly after earning it and a nervy second period saw chances for both sides go begging with a point not really enough to send either side home happy.
There was no surprise that the Albion manager opted to leave the side unchanged after excellent performances in the home draw against Wigan and last weekend's 3-0 victory over Colchester United.
Albion set about their task with gusto and had the Gills penned deep in their own half for much of the opening stages. A sea of blue shirts held Burton at bay until keeper Stuart Nelson was drawn into his first save of note on 6 minutes by Damien McCrory who lashed in a low shot from 22 yards.
Akins, fresh from his hat-trick in Essex last week let fly on eleven minutes with a rising drive that didnt appear to be that far from the angle of post and crossbar as Burton continued to enjoy the lion's share of the early play.
Naylor was next to get a sight of goal on 13 minutes. Good work by Phil Edwards down the right allowed the former Derby man to skip past his man and fire a left foot shot wide of the post.
Gillingham were suddenly forced into a double change with only a quarter of an hour on the clock. Both Bradley Garmston and Aaron Morris gingerly left the pitch and were replaced by Brennan Dickenson and Doug Loft.
Naylor had another sight of goal on 19 minutes and will probably think he should have done better than fire well wide.
Gills suddenly had a chance to nick the lead against the run of play on 20 minutes when Reading loanee Dominic Samuel seized on a header from Shane Cansdell-Sherriff to get a shot away that had Jon McLaughlin scrambling across his goal to watch it go just wide of the post.
Burton continued to press but they were almost undone on 34 minutes when Cody McDonald managed to get free on the right linking up with Samuel and the former Norwich man was uncharacteristically errant with his shot that flew across goal and wide of the upright from a narrow angle.
Bradley Dack found the side netting after more good work by McDonald who had appeared initially to be offside.
Gillingham won their first corner on 42 minutes to threaten danger on the Burton goal but Duffy was able to half clear and see off the danger.
Albion, as they did last week, found the perfect time to strike and get the goal that their first half domination deserved. Having swapped wings and moved to the right Duffy jinked his way into the box before drilling a low cross through the penalty area where AKINS was there to poke the ball home into the empty net. Perfect timing to reward a solid first half display.
Half time: Burton Albion 1-0 Gillingham
Albion picked up where they left off at the start of the second half with McCrory drilling a low shot wide of the target having been invited to come forward as the Gills defence backed off.
Loft reminded the Brewers that it was far from a case of 'job done' with a low shot that McLaughlin had to shovel around the post and from the corner the Gills suddenly found themselves level as McDONALD applied the finishing touch to Dack's inswinging corner.
Suddenly the visitors found a new lease of life and only a timely headed clearance from McCrory averted further danger as the Kent said raided down their left.
Burton weathered something of a Gillingham comeback and regained their composure having been pegged back.
McDonald set up Dack for a rasping drive that cleared the crossbar as the visitors continued to threaten and the game became more open. McDonald was wayward with a shot on the turn with an hour showing on the clock.
Full back Deji Oshilaja did superbly well to get to the bye line on 64 minutes and when he was able to pick out a cross there was danger until Samuel got his finish all wrong with a volley that went well over.
Stuart Beavon was the first player to go in the book on 68 minutes and there was little complaint as the striker went in for a challenge on Josh Wright and got there just after the ball had gone.
McDonald was proving to be a real thorn in Burton sides and was unlucky to steer a header wide of the target as he once again got up highest in the box to connect with a left wing cross.
Burton continued to press as well but crosses were just evading their men as the frustration increased inside the Pirelli.
Another Gills corner spelt danger for Albion on 74 minutes but McCrory and Beavon were able to clear the danger this time.
An attacking substitution from Gills showed their intentions as Rory Donnelly replaced Samuel and that was quickly followed by Albion's first change as Beavon, nursing a knock, was replaced by Calum Butcher.
It was end to end stuff now and skipper Mousinho missed his kick on the edge of the box and Duffy was just unable to capitalise on a mistake from keeper Nelson as the ball bounced through the six yard box.
Palmer did excellently to skip away from danger on the edge of his own box but was then caught in possession on the half way line enabling Wright to push forward and lash a hopeful shot wide.
Tyler Walker provided the fresh legs when Palmer was substituted with five minutes remaining and with time ticking away it looked like the Brewers were going to be heading to Doncaster needing a victory or a huge favour from Fleetwood Town in their game against promotion rivals Walsall.
Cometh the hour and step up Naylor. The man that Nigel Clough signed for Derby to give him a chance at Championship football when plucking him from Mansfield Town timed his run and leap to perfection with the game beyond the 90 minute mark to head home when Nelson failed to cut out Duffy's delivery from a corner. Albion chose the best moment possible to notch their first goal from a corner in the whole season.
What a finish. As Albion players and fans hailed Naylor the heavens opened in a torrential hail storm but Burton cared little. They are not there yet but they are mightily close to achieving their dream of Championship football.