COVENTRY CITY 0-2 BURTON ALBIONSecond half goals from Calum Butcher and Stuart Beavon sealed an outstanding victory for Nigel Clough's Brewers at the Ricoh Arena as fellow promotion contenders Coventry City were ruthlessly put to the sword.
This was the third time that Albion had pitched up at a promotion chasing side boasting an unbeaten home League record and left the home side with nothing to show for their efforts. Wigan Athletic and Gillingham can lay testament to Albion's new found title of Kings of the Road in League One and Tony Mowbray's side can now be added to that list as the Brewers reinforced their promotion credentials in style against a side packed with youthful talent and experienced know-how.
Coventry had probably edged the game up until the moment when Butcher capitalised on a defensive howler by Aaron Phillips to bag his third Brewers goal just four minutes into the second half. The midfielder looked well offside as Mark Duffy put a ball into the area but when Phillips tried to guide it back to his keeper it fell woefully short and Butcher was quick to smash the ball in. Beavon's goal, his first since Chesterfield away in September, almost broke the back of the net as it flashed past Reice Charles-Cook in the Coventry goal in the 72nd minute.
After a fortnight of inactivity due to the FA Cup Albion named two changes to their starting line-up. Robbie Weir was able to start his two match ban following his red card against Blackpool last time out, Anthony O'Connor returning to the side in his place. Looking for a solid midfield performance away from home Calum Butcher also returned to first team duty as Lucas Akins dropped to the bench to make way. Mark Duffy, impressive in scoring the winner against the Seasiders, moved back out to a wide role. Coventry born Marcus Harness was involved with the first team squad on the bench where he was joined by midweek signings Stephen Bywater and Mason Bennett.
With two sides at the top of the League One table in opposition it was no surprise that the opening stages were quite cagey. Albion were quite content for their hosts to have the bulk of the early possession, particularly when most of it was around the half way line and switching the ball from flank to flank. In disciplined shape across the pitch Albion bided their time to press and look to break.
When Aaron Phillips bumped Stuart Beavon off the ball just inside the area Premier League referee Andre Marriner had a decision to make but he decided there was nothing in it and waved away Brewers shouts for a penalty. By this stage Albion had warmed to their task and were enjoying a good spell of possession, probing around the Coventry penalty area.
A rare miskick by Shane Cansdell-Sherriff gave Coventry a corner on eleven minutes and the threate did not go away when Adam Armstrong was upended just outside the box as Albion tried to clear. Although James Maddison's curling effort was on target it was a comfortable catch for Jon McLaughlin in the Burton goal.
Albion's first real shot in anger came on seventeen minutes as good closing down by Butcher won a corner off experienced Sky Blues skipper Sam Ricketts, dwelling on the ball. The midfielder then dropped off in to space as the corner came in and was well placed to hit a drive that flew well over failing to trouble Reice Charles-Cook in the Coventry goal.
Coventry came closest yet on 19 minutes as a through ball picked out the run of Armstrong in the inside right channel. Keeping the ball in he drove a low cross across the six yard box that evaded the outstretched hand of McLaughlin and, fortunately from an Albion perspective, also eluded the tumbling Jacob Murphy inside the six yard box. An inquiry to the referee for a penalty again falling on deaf ears.
John Mousinho was the first player into the referee's book for a stretching challenge on Maddison. Armstrong burst through the middle with referee Marriner playing on when his run was unceremoniously halted by Cansdell-Sherriff but the ball broke for Coventry's other in form youngster who got as far as the edge of the box before being fouled. Maddison got up and curled the free kick in himself but McLaughlin caught the ball calmly to deny him.
McLaughlin had to produce what is now becoming his trademark, excellent flying save to deny Maddison moments later. In a tight congested area around the edge of the box Maddison shifted the ball to his right and fired on goal. The ball was certainly dipping under the crossbar until Albion's in form stopper threw up an instinctive hand to deny him once more.
It was the turn of Charles-Cook to produce a good save next denying Tom Naylor. An Albion corner was pulled back to the edge of the area for the ex Rams man to aim for the bottom corner only for an outstretched hand to push the ball around the post.
Mousinho almost found himself on the scoresheet for the first time this season on 36 minutes. When Duffy was upended looking for the chance to cross he was given a free try from a free kick and picked out the head of the Burton skipper in the six yard box but hhis glancing header flew inches wide.
A snapshot effort from Murphy brought to an end another spell of Coventry possession and pressure. The shot almost came in frustration as the hosts were once again forced to play the ball across from side to side in the face of Albion's organised defence. Murphy and Armstrong almost conjured up a goal in first half stoppage time moving onto a lobbed pass into the area but both perhaps got in each others way allowing Phil Edwards to come across and make a timely intervention and ensure that the first half ended goalless.
Half time: Coventry City 0-0 Burton Albion
The Sky Blues started the second half very much on the front foot. Just as they finished the first period but it was Albion who stung their hosts with the opening goal on 49 minutes. Mark Duffy's ball into the box looked harmless enough until Aaron Phillips tried to knock it back to his keeper but all that did was put the ball on a plate for Calum BUTCHER who smashed it in despite Charles-Cook getting a hand to it. Butcher had initially not gone for the cross because he was offside but the defender's intervention proved pivotal.
Mousinho almost made it two shortly after swinging a leg at a teasing cross. Had he made contact it would surely have found its way into the back of the net but he could not quite connect and Coventry were able to break.
Duffy used all of his experience to draw a clumsy foul from John Fleck that saw the Scotsman booked for his troubles. Albion were able to maintain the pressure on the home defence and Beavon was inches away from doubling the lead from a cleverly worked free kick. Sliding the ball into the vacant right channel Duffy played in the Brewers striker who smashed a rising shot that crashed down off the crossbar much to the relief of Charles-Cook.
Coventry sent on experienced frontman Marcus Tudgay, a scorer at the Pirelli earlier in the season, and also Newcastle loanee Gael Bigirimana, a former Sky Blue before his move to Tyneside. At this stage it was all Albion, searching for a second to try and kill the game off but Coventry were looking to exploit their pace on the counter.
Lucas Akins came on for Ell Khayati just after the hour mark to give the Sky Blues something else to think about on the left hand side.
Damien McCrory was rather harshly penalised for handball just outside the box giving Coventry the chance to swing in a dangerous set piece that Romain Vincelot headed wide. Another set piece, this time conceded by Cansdell-Sherriff for a foul that earned the Australian a yellow card gave Maddison another chance. This time though he disappointed the home faithful by firing well over.
Moments later and Albion were celebrating a second goal. Coventry dallied at the back until Anthony O'Connor hooked a hopeful ball forwards. When Stuart Beavon is around there is always hope and this time, from almost exactly the same spot as he rattled the crossbar, this time he made no mistake with a comprehensive finish.
Coventry felt that it was the right time to introduce former England and Chelsea winger Joe Cole. Instantly the 34 year old started to spray passes around trying to prompt Coventry into a response but as the game entered the final quarter of an hour Albion's defence was holding firm.
Fresh legs were needed in the Burton midfield and goalscorer Butcher took his leave on 78 minutes as former Birmingham City midfielder Callum Reilly.
Within two minutes Albion's other goalscorer had earned himself a rest with Albion fans getting their first glimpse of Mason Bennett. The youngster quickly made an impression as Vincelot seemed to forget that it was football at the Ricoh this weekend as opposed to rugby with a cynical foul to earn himself a booking.
That second Albion goal took the heat out of the game though and allowed Albion to contain the threat of the Sky Blues on their forrays forwards. It almost got better for Albion as the game ticked over into stoppage time. Akins burst up the left and although the usual mantra is to not put the ball into dangerous area in added on time the run of Bennett into the middle was too tempting although the covering of Peter Ramage denied him a tap in.
Coventry were a beaten side and the 1,542 travelling Burton fans were those in full voice at the final whistle as the Brewers stranglehold on a top two position tightened a little further.