PRESTON NORTH END 1 - 1 BURTON ALBIONJackson Irvine brought Albion's goal drought on the road to an end but it was still not quite enough to secure an away victory as Preston North End secured a share of the spoils through Callum Robinson's equaliser in first half stoppage time.
The Brewers had not found the back of the net on their travels since Carrow Road at the end of September and were desperate to score to ease the pressure, especially having gone three games in a row without scoring since the home victory over Birmingham City in October.
Irvine's sixth goal of the season, midway through the first half was a just reward for Albion's early efforts with Ben Turner denied by the crossbar as early as the second minute and home keeper Chris Maxwell making a couple of excellent saves to keep out the Brewers attack during a vibrant start. When the Australian international pounced to convert Matt Palmer's corner on 23 minutes the signs were good for Albion but a momentary lapse on the stroke on half time allowed Robinson to somehow bundle the ball home from Greg Cunningham's cross as the Brewers tried to hold onto their lead until the break.
Although the home side had the lions share of the second half they could not force their way through and Albion's record of taking something from the game when scoring first continued at Deepdale.
In search of a change of luck on the road manager Nigel Clough opted to tweak his formation for the clubs first ever visit to the home of the Lilywhites. A flat back four meant a recall at left back for Damien McCrory who had made one previous Championship appearance this season, in the away game at Fulham where Albion, coincidentally, also earned a precious away point thanks to Irvine's finishing. Tom Naylor was the second player recalled to the starting line up, switching with Lee Williamson, the former Preston loanee dropping to the bench as Albion reverted to a 4-4-1-1 formation. The switch saw Chris O'Grady deployed as the lone front man with Irvine given licence to support his from the advanced midfield role. Whilst ex-Preston men John Mousinho and Williamson made the squad there was, unfortunately, no place in either the team or substitutes for striker Stuart Beavon. Skipper Mousinho was playing wearing a protective face mask having suffered a broken nose in an unfortunate training ground accident earlier in the week.
Albion posed the first real threat on goal inside two minutes. Chris O'Grady capitalised on a poor touch in the Preston defence to drive into the box and cross in low. Lucas Akins was unable to get a decisive touch inside the six yard box but did more than enough to win a corner. From Matt Palmer's delivery Ben Turner got up highest to thump a header against the crossbar. If that was close then it almost got better for Albion less than two minutes later. Lloyd Dyer needed two attempts on the lft to deliver a telling cross and when the ball was pulled back to Irvine, just beyond the penalty spot, his shot took a wicked deflection that forced North End keeper Chris Maxwell to make an excellent save to divert the ball just over his bar.
Akins also saw a header claimed relatively comfrortably by Maxwell as Burton's bright start continued with a flowing move from left to right, the popular winger drifting inside to flick John Brayford's cross towards the far corner but not quite getting the elevation to beat the former Fleetwood keeper.
Preston grew into the game with Irish international Aiden McGeady at the heart of most of the good things the home side were trying. A neat twist and turn opened up a shooting opportunity on 19 minutes but a rising effort was never seriously troubling Jon McLaughlin.
Albion's long wait for a goal, let alone an away goal was over midway through the first period. More good play down the right enabled Brayford to win a corner and when Palmer sent in another excellent centre the ball fell kindly for IRVINE to drill home his sixth goal of the campaign.
With Preston at sixes and sevens Albion could, and probably should, have had a second on 27 minutes. Some delightful one touch passing on the left freed Dyer for a burst into the box but with at least two yellow shirts racing into the middle the winger fired disappointingly into the side netting.
Preston roused themselves and could have been level on 33 minutes were it not for some excellent defending from McLaughlin and Mousinho. The former Aston Villa pair of Daniel Johnson and Callum Robinson combined in the heart of midfield for the latter to dummy and make room for a low drive that was too hot to handle for the Albion keeper. Fortunately the skipper was there to clear his lines as Jordan Hugill looked to pounce on the rebound.
The Brewers were indebted to McLaughlin on 41 minutes as North End strung together a flowing move to carve Albion open. Worryingly it came from Albion's own free kick but from the edge of their own penalty area Preston were able to break and Johnson again found Robinson with a defence splitting pass but having used his pace to get beyond the last man he was denied a goal as McLaughlin raced off his line to deflect the ball wide.
On the stroke of half time Preston had their equaliser. The game was deep into the two added minutes signalled by the officials when the home side patiently worked the ball across the field from right to left as Albion got men back to defend. McGeady fed the ball out to Greg Cunningham and he sent in a cross that ROBINSON was able to bundle in from close range. A disappointing end to the half from an Albion perspective. The Brewers had defended well up to that point and had the home side and fans frustrated. A shame they could not carry that into the half time interval.
Half time: Preston North End 1-1 Burton Albion
Clearly buoyed by their equaliser just before the break Preston came out strongly at the start of the second half and Albion were once again thankful for McLaughlin's intervention to keep out the home side. Johnson's speculative shot took a kind deflection that took it into the path of former Albion loanee Alex Baptiste. Thankfully the ball had fallen to a defender and his shot was straight at the Albion stopper who was able to beat it away.
Albion were having to weather a storm of pressure and another defender, skipper Tom Clarke watched on as his towering header from a corner rippled the roof of the net.
McGeady fancied having a go himself from the edge of the box and he lashed in a low drive that McLaughlin had to hold on to. Had he not, Robinson and Hugill were both there waiting to pounce.
Albion were having to defend manfully and Preston were finding it hard to find a route through to goal with Ben Pearson letting fly from 25 yards on the hour mark and sending his effort just wide of the mark.
From facing a severe test of their defensive mettle Albion almost broke away to nick the lead again. A slip on the half way line gave O'Grady the chance to race away and slip the ball through for an on rushing Dyer. Both Dyer and Baptiste seemed to get there at the same time and the ball cannoned off the advancing Maxwell and away from danger.
The home side sent on man mountain substitute Simon Makienok to add further power to their attacking options and it was not long before he was putting himself about jumping into a challenge on McLaughlin that referee Darren Bond saw as a foul as the ball dropped towards the goal.
Things got a little bit feisty as the game moved towards the final ten minutes. Tempers flared as Preston prepared to take a free kick conceded by skipper Mousinho for a foul on Robinson. It wasnt clear what went on but amidsy a bout of pushing and shoving the yellow card was shown to O'Grady who played his part in helping to clear the danger from the free kick and wasd then promptly substituted to allow Marcus Harness to enter the fray.
The yellow card was out again on 86 minutes as Harness made a dash towards the box and was blocked off by Cunningham standing his ground. Pearson also picked up a card for a clumsy challenge on Irvine that allowed Palmer to send the free kick deep into Preston territory and relieve some more pressure.
It was probably the last serious action of the game. The officials board went up to indicate three added minutes and this time Albion safely saw out the time at the end of the game to secure another precious point. It was not the away win that Clough's men had desired but it was still a good result on the road.