BURTON ALBION 1-0 BLACKPOOLIt was a case of 'Happy New Year' Brewers as Mark Duffy gave ten man Burton Albion the perfect start to 2016 with the only goal of the game against Blackpool. The on loan winger curled a precise shot beyond the reach of keeper Colin Doyle from the edge of the penalty area midway through the second half as Albion, a man light after the dismissal of midfielder Robbie Weir towards the end of the first half, absolutely battered the Seasiders in the opening stages of the second half. It was a fitting goal to mark Albion's milestone 400th goal in the Football League in their 300th fixture as a League club and perhaps apt that it took Nigel Clough's men back to the top of League One.
To the naked eye it certainly did not look as if Albion were playing with a man disadvantage as they set about their task with gusto after a first half lacking the real quality to see either side grab the lead. Jon McLaughlin pulled off one, what for him is now becoming, routine save to deny Bright Osayi-Samuel but on the whole it was Doyle, recalled after injury due to Dean Lyness being unable to play against his parent club.
Two changes were made by Clough for the first ever visit of the Seasiders to the Pirelli Stadium. The first switch was enforced as Tom Flanagan was forced to withdraw after requiring surgery on his appendix. Shane Cansdell-Sherriff returned at the expense of the unlucky Irishman. Having made an impact from the bench against Swindon Lucas Akins returned to the starting line-up in place of the man he replaced against the Robins, Calum Butcher.
Mark Duffy was off target with the first real chance of the game, a corner played short allowing the forward to get to the angle of the box and hit a rising drive that was just too high to test returning keeper Colin Doyle. Blackpool's response was to break forwards and create a chance for winger Bright Osayi-Samuel inside the box. Setting his sights on the top corner he curled the ball goalwards only for Albion keeper Jon McLaughlin to carry on his excellent form from Swindon by turning the ball around the post at full stretch.
A second chance for the Brewers went begging on the quarter of an hour mark when Duffy pulled a free kick to the edge of the box where Damien McCrory had made space for himself. Taking a touch to tee himself up his aim was not true enough to find the target and test Doyle.
In wet and difficult conditions there were a number of passes going astray making flowing football difficult and frustrating for the viewing spectators.
Nasser El Khayati was close to breaking the deadlock just after the half hour with a 25 yard free kick. Will Aimson was rather harshly yellow carded for handball as Robbie Weir tried to knock the ball past him at close range and Albion's leading scorer was only denied by a deflection that took the ball wide of Doyle's post.
Burton were starting to turn the screw and pen Blackpool into their own half and increasingly their own penalty box and it took a rapier like thrust through their ranks to create a chance that truly tested Doyle. Down the left hand side good link up play from Duffy and Beavon allowed the Albion striker to burst forwards before unleashing a low shot that the tall keeper did well to get down to and turn around the post.
Robbie Weir followed Aimson into referee Clark's book for a foul on the Hull City loanee. Albion were threatening to slice Blackpool open once more only for a heavy touch from Duffy to allow the Seasiders to break. Weir slid in on the half way line and brought down Aimson right in front of the referee. Two minutes later and Weir departed the game for good after picking up a second card in as many minutes. David Ferguson was in a tussle with the Albion midfielder on the Blackpool left and the referee deemed Weir's challenge worthy of a second card and the customary red that followed. Just what Albion could do without after a frustrating 45 minutes trying to unlock the sea of Tangerine in front of them.
Half time: Burton Albion 0-0 Blackpool
Clough opted not to change his side at the break sending his ten men back out to try and win the game as they were and they certainly started on the front foot. In fact it was the visitors who were forced into an early change with striker Mark Cullen limping off to be replaced by Jarrett Rivers.
Albion were starting to see what Doyle was made of in the Blackpool goal. Akins and Duffy both tested him but could not beat him before a superb ball in from Tom Naylor picked out Phil Edwards unmarked in the box. Unfortunately he tried a first time volley but got it wrong, failing to test the big Irish keeper. As the ten men cranked up the pressure Stuart Beavon gathered the ball in with his back to goal before wriggling and turning to make room for a shot that flew agonisingly wide of the upright.
He may not have scored it but Beavon had a big part to play in Albion breaking through to grab the lead on 63 minutes. The ball still went in to Beavon with his back to goal but this time he laid it perfectly back into the path of DUFFY who unerringly found the top corner from the edge of the box.
Blackpool suffered another blow as central defender Clark Robertson had to limp off and much as Neil McDonald probably wanted to throw another attacker on he had to bring on the experience of Emmerson Boyce to try and plug the hole at the back.
The former Wigan defender hardly covered himself in glory with his first touch gifting possession to Beavon on the edge of the box. The right back was mightily relieved to see his keeper stretch out an arm to tip away El Khayati's cross cum shot.
After almost half an hour of being under the cosh to the ten men Blackpool finally managed to build a little bit of pressure inside the Burton half. McLaughlin was called into action to drop onto a Brad Potts header from a rare Seasiders corner. It was soon business as usual though as Beavon once again refused to give up on a seemingly lost cause by the goal line laying the ball back for Akins who was only denied by a block from Tom Aldred on his own six yard line.
As the game entered the final ten minutes Blackpool started to push forwards once more but again McLaughlin was there to snuff out the threat when Ferguson let fly from a corner.
Akins would have put the game to bed had it not been for another excellent save from Doyle. Edwards had time on the right to pick out Akins in the middle but the big keeper pulled out an outstanding stop to deny him.
Anthony O'Connor and Timmy Thiele were sent on as the clock ticked into added time with Thiele in particular going on one lung bursting run into the corner but trying to find a second goal almost cost Albion as Blackpool broke in desperate search of the equaliser. Another chance came Albion's way deep into stoppage time as Naylor won a tussle for the ball on half way and broke clear unchecked until Doyle once again foiled the Brewers a goal. He even got up well to foil the follow-up attempt from Akins who had got up to support.
In the end Albion's profligacy did not cost them the points to stop them going back to the summit of League One for the start of the new year.