PORT VALE 0-4 BURTON ALBIONBurton Albion chose the perfect game to produce their best away performance of the season as a 4-0 victory saw Staffordshire bragging rights head back along the A50 to the Pirelli Stadium.
Vale had only lost once at home all season and were unbeaten on their own patch since September but Albion ensured that the wheels came off in spectacular fashion at Vale Park.
The Brewers had never picked up so much as a point in four previous encounters in the Potteries but once Lucas Akins swept in the opener on a counter attack Nigel Clough's men were in control and Anthony Grant's own goal from a Mark Duffy free kick in first half stoppage time put Nigel Clough's side in the box seat. By the hour mark Albion were in cruise control with Duffy and Calum Butcher adding further goals to seal victory and make it a comfortable coast to victory and enable the manager to enjoy his 50th birthday in style.
After an impressive full debut for the Brewers against Fleetwood, Hamza Choudhury kept his place in the starting line up at Vale Park with Robbie Weir once more having to be content with a place on the substitutes bench. The one change from manager Nigel Clough was in the centre of defence. Tom Flanagan, who has had to wait patiently for another chance after appendix surgery around New Year, was preferred to Shane Cansdell-Sherriff alongside skipper John Mousinho.
Vale, with one of the best home records in the country and unbeaten on their home turf since September were eyeing a place in the play-offs starting the game just three points shy of the top six but having played a game more than their rivals.
Vale had the first real chance on goal when they were awarded a free kick after seven minutes. Sam Foley originally tripped over the ball but was finally brought to the ground by Tom Naylor battling for the ball. A curling ball in to the six yard box from the left picked out the head of Richard Duffy who saw his effort loop wide of the upright.
Burton looked dangerous on the break and Mark Duffy saw a shot blocked when Naylor dummied a cross from the right and Flanagan was denied twice from a corner as the tall centre back made his presence felt in the opposing penalty area. A set piece from Duffy then picked out Mousinho at the back post but as the ball dropped over the head of a back pedalling defender the skipper could not quite volley his effort on target from an acute angle.
Vale spurned the best chance yet on 18 minutes when Burton's defence was stretched. A diagonal ball in picked out striker JJ Hooper who had Foley in support. Phil Edwards got a challenge in but the ball still sat up nicely for the ex-Northampton youngster who pulled his shot from the edge of the box wide of McLaughlin's goal.
Albion had an excellent chance on 32 minutes after good interplay between Naylor and his central midfield partner Calum Butcher. Naylor recovered the ball as it bounced around inside the area and laid it into the path of Butcher whose shot was arrowing towards the bottom corner until Jak Alnwick got a vital touch to put it around the post.
The goal Albion wanted came on 34 minutes from a breakaway. Beavon was clattered challenging for Choudhury's punt out from the back but the bounce was kind and Albion were three on two. Naylor picked out the pass to Lucas AKINS breaking in support on the left before calmly slotting in past Alnwick.
Vale pressed forward in search of an equaliser but Foley drilled a low effort over the bar. McLaughlin had it covered but it emphasised to the Brewers that they needed to close down around their own box to deny the hosts chances.
Albion also got a dream end to the first period. Beavon was tripped by Duffy as the Brewers broke once more, the Vale centre back picking up a yellow card for his trouble. The punishment did not end there though as Burton's Duffy curled the free kick into the danger area where it looped up off the head of Anthony GRANT bamboozling Alnwick in the Vale goal and dropping in the back of the net.
Albion needed to beware though. Vale were two down at Peterborough a week ago and came back to win. At half time this game was far from won.
Half time: Port Vale 0-2 Burton Albion
Five minutes into the second half and Albion suddenly found themselves three goals in front. A long ball forwards was chased down by Beavon with Alnwick coming way out of his goal to challenge the striker. The keeper was never going to get there and Beavon found DUFFY on the edge of the box. Cutting inside onto his left foot he surled another sumptuous goal of the season contender beyond Alnwick who by now had got back into his goal.
Vale boss Rob Page quickly made a triple substitution as the game threatened to get away from the hosts. Foley, Byron Moore and Louis Dodds all made way as Matty Kennedy, Sam Kelly and Theo Robinson were sent on to try and get the Valiants back into it.
Before the hour mark Albion unbelievably made it four. A superb spell of possession in and around the Vale box finally paid dividends as Beavon and Akins combined to set up as chance for BUTCHER. The midfielder had time and space to control the ball inside the box before lashing home a shot that Alnwick was powerless to stop.
It was the last act for Butcher who was involved in the first substitution for Albion on 62 minutes. Mason Bennett provided the fresh legs as the Brewers sought to see out the final half an hour.
Choudhury did well defensively to get a foot in as Hooper went to shoot conceding a corner for his troubles and Albion were able to regroup and clear the danger.
Damien McCrory also took a rare and well earned rest with twenty five minutes remaining. Callum Reilly slotted in at left back.
Jon McLaughlin needed treatment after pouncing on the ball at the second attempt after spilling a well hit shot from substitute Robinson but there were no after effects as the Burton keeper showed superb reflexes to keep out a well hit shot from Hooper who held off the challenge of Flanagan to get his shot away.
Marcus Harness was sent on for the final quarter of an hour or so in place of Beavon who left the field to a superb ovation from the travelling Burton contingent.
Kennedy also had a chance to test out McLaughlin with a shot on the turn inside the box but it was straight at the Burton stopper who did his job.
It was easy for the Brewers from here on in. The home side were shellshocked and had no answer to the Brewers dominance at the end. Even a deflected clearance by Flanagan that flew towards goal off Theo Robinson could not find the back of the net. This was most definitely Albion's afternoon.
Even a late winner for Walsall at home to Colchester couldnt dampen Albion spirits after overcoming another tricky hurdle on the run in. Nine games remaining and it is all still in Burton's hands. Just how they want it to be.