BURTON ALBION 1 - 2 NEWCASTLE UNITEDThe final home game of 2016 failed to produce another famous victory for Burton Albion but they pushed league leaders Newcastle United all in the way in going down 2-1 at the Pirelli Stadium.
Newcastle seemed to be on their way to a routine victory after a quarter of an hour when leading scorer Dwight Gayle showed a moment of class applying a neat backheeled finish at the near post to Matt Ritchie's low cross. Albion though were not prepared to play second fiddle to their illustrious visitors and equalised five minutes later when Lloyd Dyer finished an excellent move at the back post to stun the visitors.
Mo Diame ultimately settled the game with what proved to be the winner, outmuscling Damien McCrory before unerringly finding the bottom corner of Jon McLaughlin's net with a driven finish from just inside the box.
Nigel Clough's men piled on the pressure in the second half in search of what would have been a more than deserved equaliser but, marshalled by skipper Jamaal Lascelles, Newcastle held out but were lucky to avoid conceding a penalty at the death when John Brayford was dragged down inside the box at a corner, unseen by referee Lee Probert.
After the disappointment of defeat to Huddersfield Town on Tuesday night there were two changes for the visit of league leaders Newcastle United. Both Jamie Ward and Hamza Choudhury dropped to the bench as skipper John Mousinho and Tom Naylor were restored to the starting line-up. Mousinho dropped straight into the back three which allowed John Brayford to move out to the right wing back role. That switch allowed Lucas Akins to push up into a central attacking role alongside Chris O'Grady. Naylor came in as a direct replacement for Choudhury in the centre of midfield.
Albion had the first sniff of goal in the opening minutes with Akins lashing in a left foot shot that was blocked by Lascelles.
Newcastle had the quality to be patient in midfield and spring the pace of Dwight Gayle on the Brewers but on five minutes while all the attention was on the former Crystal Palace striker, struggling to stay onside, Christian Atsu sprinted onto a delightful ball from Jonjo Shelvey. With Albion's defence racing to get back it was down to keeper Jon McLaughlin to come darting off his line and foil the Chelsea loanee.
It was Shelvey again with the telling pass as Newcastle made the breakthrough on the quarter of an hour mark. A searching ball out to the left sent Matt Ritchie away and skipping past the challenge of Mousinho. With time to look up and pick a pass he drilled a low ball to the near post with GAYLE there to apply a sublime flicked finish.
Naylor found himself in referee Probert's book shortly after the goal. A loose pass from the midfielder was quickly cut out but in trying to atone for his error he flew into a full blooded attempt to win it back off Shelvey but a little too forcefully for the liking of the man in the middle.
Albion were only behind for a little under five minutes. Brayford exploited the chance to get forward in the wing back position and after exchanging passes on the right drilled a low ball across the six yard box. Akins failed to get a telling touch but steaming in at the back post was DYER to apply the simplest of finishes for his fourth goal of the campaign.
O'Grady was enjoying a great physical battle with Newcastle skipper Lascelles and when he went to ground in the box on 27 minutes there were vociferous shouts for a penalty from all those in yellow and black.
A second goal almost came for Albion just after the half hour mark. O'Grady and Irvine combined superbly in the middle before spreading the ball out wide to Dyer. Sending in a low cross Akins was there but so was Paul Dummett to make a crucial intervention and keep the leaders on terms.
As so often happens after a near miss a goal quickly follows at the other end and so it proved in this game. When the ball was played up to Mo Diame just outside the box he was marked tightly by McCrory but using his considerable strength he out muscled the Albion man before unerringly finding the bottom corner of the net from just inside the box. A very accomplished finish from the big man.
Naylor required lengthy treatment for a head wound but was able to continue, complete with large bandage applied to his head.
Albion were having to do more and more defending as the half wore on and Newcastle began to find a little more time and space to spray their passes around. Set pieces were causing the Brewers problems as well with DeAndre Yedlin and Gayle drawing fouls as half time approached allowing Shelvey to send in more dangerous crosses, Albion doing what they needed to do in order to keep themselves just the one goal in arrears as the half time whistle went.
Half time: Burton Albion 1-2 Newcastle United
A lively start to the second period saw Atsu once again trying to use his pace down the right for the Magpies but McLaughlin was out smartly to cut out his cross.
Albion were awarded a free kick on 53 minutes after Isaac Hayden had brought down O'Grady. Both Irvine and McCrory shaped to take it but it was the Australian top scorer who fancied his chances more, lashing his effort into the defensive wall.
Matt Ritchie was offered a glimpse of goal just after the hour mark when Atsu gallopped away again down the right but Mousinho was in the right place to block the winger's shot as he tried to find the net on his weaker right foot.
The chance that Albion were searching for to grab an equaliser presented itself with fifteen minutes to go. Dyer's pull back presented Akins with a glorious chance but a horrible bobble as it came to him meant that his shot was skied well over the bar.
It was the last chance for the popular Albion attacker as he was replaced by Jamie Ward for closing stages of the game.
Albion, to their credit, kept pushing and Ward lashed a low shot just wide of the upright after O'Grady's hold up play had forced a hurried clearance from the Newcastle defence.
The Forest loanee embarked on a one man battle with Darlow in the Newcastle goal with the ex-Reds keeper denying Ward on more than one occasion, the best save coming from a rasping drive from outside the box that the keeper clawed away before dropping on the ball before a yellow shirted player could pounce on the loose ball.
As Albion piled on the pressure in stoppage time, Brayford seemed to be hauled down inside the box as a corner came in - Albion have seen penalties given against them for similar this season - and Kyle McFadzean sneaking in at the back post lashing a shot just into the side netting from a tight angle before referee Probert brought the game to a close.
The league leaders knew they had been in a game and surely, surely Albion's luck has to turn soon. They have not been in the bottom three all season, having been pre-season relegation favourites, but their performances have deserved much more. If they keep playing like they did against top of the league Newcastle things have to change.