MILLWALL 2-0 BURTON ALBIONFirst half goals from Aiden O'Brien and Lee Gregory put another dent in the Brewers promotion challenge as a first trip to the Den turned into a fruitless encounter for Albion.
With the Sky cameras once more on them it was a chance to bounce back from the disappointment of Saturday's home draw with Oldham and reassert their credentials for a top two finish. Instead it was the home side who bounced back from a defeat at Bradford to grab the three points and enhance their own push for promotion.
If Mark Duffy had produced a better finish early on when Burton started so brightly it might have been different but two long balls over the top found Burton wanting and cursing the ruthless finishing of both O'Brien and leading scorer Gregory.
Despite only picking up a draw from the goalless game against Oldham on Saturday, Brewers boss Nigel Clough opted to start with the same side for the trip to the New Den. Fresh from international duty with England's under 20s side on Sunday, new loan signing Tyler Walker linked up with his new team mates for the trip to South London and found himself on the substitutes bench. He took the place of Anthony O'Connor who dropped out of the matchday eighteen on this occasion.
A positive start was needed by the Brewers after the lethargy of Saturday's draw and from the off the Brewers looked bright with some good crisp passing getting both Stuart Beavon and Mark Duffy on the ball.
Duffy almost gave the Brewers a precious lead with just six minutes on the clock. Patient and probing passing found Calum Butcher able to burst into the box. Although the chance to score was quickly closed down there was room for a pass to Duffy on the edge of the box but rather than going for power his precise effort resulted in a comfortable save for Millwall keeper Jordan Archer.
Ten minutes in and Albion were on the attack again with Butcher blazing well over.
Millwall quickly broke out from the back and plundered the opening goal on eleven minutes. Lee Gregory burst away down the right and despite the best attempts of skipper John Mousinho he was able to hold the ball up and cut it back inside to the onrushing Aidan O'BRIEN who found the top corner with unerring precision for his ninth goal of the season.
A second goal was only seven minutes coming for Millwall as they firmly seized control. It was somewhat route one in construction but the home side cared little. Shaun Williams had time to look up and punt a hopeful ball forwards for Lee Gregory to chase. When Jon McLaughlin opted to come out of his goal he always looked second favourite to get there and a collision with Tom Flanagan resulted in GREGORY being able to stroke the ball into the empty net for 2-0.
A high tackle by Ben Thompson on Damien McCrory threatened to raise the make the game boil over as tempers flared. Thompson received a yellow card from referee Keith Stroud and after squaring up to his counterpart Steve Morison, John Mousinho was also shown a card for his reaction.
Butcher headed a cross from McCrory wide as the Brewers looked for a foothold and something to get them back into the game but another chance quickly came the way of the home side with O'Brien swinging in a teasing cross from the left that Gregory could only head over the crossbar.
Albion began to come more into the game but Beavon's frustration's were getting the better of him and a foul on Byron Webster, the striker's second in a couple of minutes earned him a yellow card from the referee as well.
Ultimately it was going to have to be a second half rearguard from Clough's men. Two poor pieces of defending had cost them dearly and left them with an uphill struggle for the second half.
Half time: Millwall 2-0 Burton Albion
Albion certainly needed to change something ahead of the second half and when the teams returned Tom Naylor did not reappear and Walker was on for his Albion debut in a 4-4-2 formation. It was a calculated gamble but with two goals to pull back it was worth the risk.
Walker and Beavon linked up well early on as a cross from the latter was smuggled clear for a corner to deny Akins a clear shot on target.
A slip by Mousinho under pressure from Gregory almost allowed the Millwall man in but having been driven wide his lofted ball was easily caught by McLaughlin preventing further damage to the Brewers via the scoreboard.
Of course the dangers of removing a man from the midfield ranks left the Brewers a little susceptible on the counter and Millwall were certainly keen to try and exploit that fact with quick raids in search of a third goal to kill the game off once and for all. With the bit between their teeth they started to stretch the game and control the midfield. a devilishly teasing centre from Morison proved to be too good with Edwards just getting his head on it to guide it back to McLaughlin who had to hurriedly gather at the back post and the home side were inches away from extending their lead when a free kick form the left was met by a towering header from Morison at the back post with O'Brien rising to try and convert it as it flew towards the opposite corner and just failing to connect, injuring himself in the process as he ended up in the back of the net.
Just after the hour mark Clough rolled the dice once more and sent on Mason Bennett in place of Beavon. Akins moved up top to support Walker as the Derby youngster took up a role on the left hand side.
From his new found central role Akins spurned a chance to seriously test Archer when Bennett did well to engineer room on the left for a cross. With his back to goal inside the box he tried to turn and shoot but the ball squirted away, across the goal.
In an attempt to douse Albion's fire which had been sparked by the second substitution and a series of corners Millwall introduced Ed Upson for O'Brien to try and anchor and solidify the midfield.
Another coming together between Butcher and Mark Beevers had both of them squaring up to one another with referee Stroud again having to step in and show a yellow card to both of them to diffuse another flashpoint in the game.
Albion temporarily found themselves a man light as McCrory wame to the sidelines with what appeared to be a dislocation of a finger and after treatment from the doctor on the touchline he was able to re-enter the field of play.
The Brewers had something of a let off with ten minutes remaining when all eyes were on referee Keith Stroud. Gregory got himself goalside of Flanagan all too easily and appeared to be clipped by the centre back. To his credit Gregory tried to stay on his feet stumbling in to the box but when he gravity eventually got the better of him and he fell to the ground the referee decided not to award a penalty.
Gregory again made a nuisance of himself closing down and hassling Phil Edwards into a mistake on 83 minutes. Sliding a pass through to Thompson it looked all set for 3-0 but Choudhury did just enough to put the youngster off his shot and force him to fire straight at McLaughlin.
Marcus Harness was given another late cameo appearance, this time on place of Duffy although the youngster hardly had chance to show what he is capable of.
To their credit Albion kept battling to the end. Walker forced Byron Webster to concede a corner rather unnecessarily and another left wing cross from Bennett was cleared off the head of Akins just as he looked set to pounce at the back post.
Referee Stroud continued to frustrate the home with a series of free kicks to the Brewers as the game ticked into stoppage time but Albion's game was up and their lead at the top of the division cut to one point. Hardly a cracking Easter for the men in yellow and black.