ROTHERHAM UNITED 1 - 2 BURTON ALBIONFirst half goals from Chris O'Grady and Jackson Irvine ultimately secured a first win away from the Pirelli Stadium for the Brewers as bottom of the table Rotherham United were beaten 2-1 at the AESSEAL New York Stadium.
Tom Adeyemi set up a tense second half with a goal for the Millers deep into first half stoppage time but a backs to the wall rearguard from the Brewers clinched a much needed victory to ensure that Albion will not be in the bottom three of the Sky Bet Championship when 2017 arrives in a little over two days time.
It was a far from vintage performance from Albion who looked edgy in the first half but found themselves in control with two goals in five first half minutes despite not having been anywhere near their best. Albion have produced some excellent vibrant play on the road this season without getting their just rewards. The performance in this victory was not the greatest but with plenty of grit and determination they saw it through to the end but not without some serious close shaves.
O'Grady bagged his first goal in over a year when he pounced on a loose ball inside the six yard box, Rotherham keeper Lewis Price failing to gather a Lucas Akins shot cleanly and handing the former Millers striker a simple finish that he could not miss on 36 minutes.
Leading scorer Irvine had Albion well in control with a majestic header five minutes later jumping superbly to finish John Brayford's cross and bag his eighth goal of an impressive first six months in English football.
There was always the feeling that if Albion could hold onto their lead into the half time break it would probably be sufficient to see off a doughty Millers side but when Adeyemi poked home on the stroke of half time the game was on a knife edge, As the temperatures in South Yorkshire dropped and the heat on the Brewers defence increased a stoic rearguard action saw Albion through to a hard earned and crucial victory.
Nigel Clough was fortunate to be able to call on some of his injured troops for the last game of the year. Kyle McFadzean shook off the effects of his knock to resume his place in the Brewers back line. Jamie Ward, scorer at Villa on Monday, only made it as far as the substitutes bench for the rematch with the Millers, barely a month after the sides had met at the Pirelli with Albion edging a 2-1 victory over Paul Warne's side.
After a bright start from the home side, looking to build on successive home wins, Albion had an early chance when Lloyd Dyer whipped in a dangerous cross from the left, nobody in the six yard box able to rise and convert the chance.
Rotherham began to knock the ball about with a degree of confidence and were unlucky not to take the lead after a well crafted move on 8 minutes. Neat interplay on the left allowed Joe Newell to find himself space for a left foot shot across the goal, a Burton leg doing what it needed to do to send it wide of the post for a corner that Albion were able to safely defend.
As has been the norm under their caretaker manager, Rotherham applied plenty of pressure in the opening stages with both Mousinho and McFadzean forced into conceding clumsy fouls in dangerous areas around the Brewers box. Whilst the skipper got away with a warning for his foul on Lee Frecklington, McFadzean saw yellow for his foul on Aimen Belaid. Danny Ward almost made him pay for his indiscretion with a piledriver free kick that Jon McLaughlin got hands to before Richard Wood fired into the side netting from a tight angle on the rebound.
Newell showed food skill again on 26 minutes when the ball broke to him inside the box. Evading a couple of challenges he got as far as the edge of the six yard box before a combination of McFadzean and McLaughlin ensured that the chance was snuffed out. Another chance not taken for the hosts and another let off for Albion.
Moments later Rotherham had a let off themselves. Matt Palmer did superbly well in midfield to snap up a loose ball and drive forwards releasing Dyer on the left. His ball in picked out Lucas Akins but the striker got his feet all wrong and volleyed wide of the post. Albion's best chance so far gone begging.
Tom Adeyemi, scorer of the Millers goal at the Pirelli, chanced his arm from much further out on the half hour. Patient build up on the left picked out the midfielder sitting deep and when the ball was played across to him he took up the invitation to drive a long range effort not that far over.
Home midfielder Frecklington went into referee Harrington's book on 33 minutes much to the bewilderment of the locals. Damien McCrory got a shove off the Millers man that took him into McLaughlin as he came to claim a high ball into the box. The eagle eyed official spotted in and booked him for unsporting behaviour.
Moments later and Albion had a lead that they barely deserved on the balance of play. Again it came down Albion's left and from the anticipation of Palmer once more. The playmaker found Akins on the edge of the box and although the obvious ball was out to Dyer to swing in a cross, the striker turned and hit a low shot that Price looked to have covered but could not hold onto. There waiting to pounce and apply the simplest of finishes was ex-Rotherham striker O'GRADY. It was a moment to savour for the hard working striker who was mobbed by his team mates delighted for him to have broken his duck.
In all the joy of the goal there was concern for a prostrate John Brayford who collided with O'Grady somewhere in the melee of Albion's goal. After lengthy treatment the wing back was able to continue and showed no ill effects when he provided a wonderful assist for Albion's second goal on 41 minutes. When a throw in was played back to the Sheffield United loanee he boomed a curling cross in at the first time of asking and there with a towering, powerful header was IRVINE to send the ball flying past Lewis Price.
As Rotherham fought to get something back to give them a fighting chance before half time. Darnell Fisher fizzed a low effort through the six yard box as Albion struggled to clear their lines after a foraging run from Ward had opened up Albion's left hand side.
The chance they wanted came deep into five minutes of first half added time. Chelsea loanee Izzy Brown was brought down just outside the Burton box and a whipped in free kick wasnt dealt with as McLaughlin was forced to save at close range, the rebound falling perfectly for ADEYEMI to tap home.
Half time: Rotherham United 1-2 Burton Albion
With Brayford still feeling the effects of his blow to the head in the aftermath of O'Grady's goal the Brewers were forced into a change for the second half. Tom Flanagan was brought on and with it a change of formation. 4-5-1 became the order of the day with Flanagan dropping into right back and Akins withdrawing to the right wing leaving O'Grady up top on his own.
Just 15 seconds into the second period and Albion were close to restoring their two goal advantage. Akins advanced down the right unchallenged and put a tempting ball back into the box. It was just out of reach for Irvine but came nicely for Dyer who took a touch before hitting a rising shot over the bar.
O'Grady also scooped a shot over the bar as the Brewers started the second half brightly. Rotherham bucked their ideas up after that and former Walsall midfielder Anthony Forde was picked out on the right as Albion's defence got stretched and his low shot was fielded by McLaughlin with little problem.
Ward, after a period of treatment himself got himself on the end of a pass into the penalty area and after a sharp turn fired in a shot that McLaughlin was equal to.
The hosts, as they had done in the first half, were increasing the pressure on Albion's defence and on 65 minutes they turned to the experience of Peter Odemwingie.
Izzy Brown lashed a shot wide after showing good control inside the box and right back Darnell Fisher failed to punish a Burton header that went astray on 70 minutes. The ball came to him quickly but he had more time than he realised before planting a volley wide of the mark.
O'Grady took his leave of the game on 72 minutes and was replaced by youngster Marcus Harness, the winger swapped places with Akins and quickly won his side a corner to relieve some pressure.
Palmer was yellow carded for trying to take a free kick too quickly for the liking of referee Harrington and he was quickly followed into the book by Damien McCrory who was guilty of pulling Odemwingie down to the ground as he tried to skip by him on the outside. The former Stoke man then tested McLaughlin with a stinging left foot effort that spat up off the turf at the Burton keeper who showed exemplary handling to hold on to the shot.
Brown went closest yet for the Millers in the second half with some more neat footwork in the box culminating in a shot that flew through the six yard box and just wide of the post.
As the temperatures dropped in South Yorkshire conditions underfoot became trickier and a clumsily conceded free kick game Rotherham another shot at goal from 30 yards. This time it was Odemwingie that lashed it goalwards and again McLaughlin was right behind it. The Millers also threw on Dexter Blackstock in a last bid to salvage something from the game.
With the game into five added minutes Shaun Barker was sent on to try and shore things up at the back for a rocking Burton back line. The former Millers defender was quickly involved and in the book for a mistimed challenge on Frecklington.
Once Albion had seen off a late corner for which Rotherham threw keeper Lewis Price into the mix it was the perfect moment for referee Harrington to bring a tense game to a close and secure Albion's first Championship away win of the campaign. Crucially it gave Albion a five point cushion over the bottom three ahead of the rest of the games that bring 2016 to a close. And what a 2016 it has been for Burton Albion.