BURTON ALBION 2 - 0 BIRMINGHAM CITYLloyd Dyer and Jamie Ward capped another excellent night in front of the Sky cameras for Burton Albion with the goals that secured a 2-0 win over Birmingham City in Gary Rowett's first competitive return to the Pirelli Stadium.
The two former Aston Villa trainees produced clinical finishes just after the half hour and the hour marks to give Albion just their second win in nine Championship games as Birmingham joined Sheffield Wednesday, Derby County and Cardiff City to have failed to take so much as a point from Nigel Clough's side. After two successive away games, which had yielded just a single point it was a case of home comforts for Albion who are making the Pirelli an extremely difficult place for Championship sides to come to.
Tom Naylor for John Mousinho was the only change to the side that played well but ultimately came home with nothing to show for their efforts at Ipswich on Tuesday evening. Naylor slotted into a central midfield role as John Brayford reverted to a role in the back three and Lucas Akins moved to right wing back, Jamie Ward returning to the front two to partner Chris O'Grady.
Birmingham showed their attacking intent from the off and a fizzing cross from David Davis flew through the six yard box on three minutes with none of his team mates able to make up the ground to get on the end of it.
Jacques Maghoma, keen to impress on his return to the Pirelli Stadium sprayed a lovely ball out to the right for David Cotterill to run on to but fortunately for Albion Ben Turner had tracked his run into the box and got back to make an excellent block to cut out the cross.
It took a while for Albion to find their attacking flow in the first half but they began to look brighter once they found their target of O'Grady at the front. Ryan Shotton did his best to bully him off the ball but O'Grady was having none of it and managed to work room for a cross that was aimed for Ward in the middle but he was adjudged to have jumped into Jonathan Spector in challenging for the ball.
It perked the Brewers up and Ward was close with a first time shot from the edge of the box after good work by Lloyd Dyer on the left. The same combination linked well again on 20 minutes. Dyer again got the better of Spector on the outside before laying a low cross in that bobbled on Ward, who from closer in, lifted a shot over the bar.
Albion's best chance yet came on 26 minutes. Excellent link up play on the right between McFadzean, O'Grady and Naylor resulted in a superb curling cross that Ward was able to get the merest touch to send it into the path of Irvine on the overlap and with the goal opening up for the first time the Brewer's leading marksman was only denied by a sprawling save from ex-Burton keeper Adam Legzdins.
Lucas Akins was the first name taken by referee Tim Robinson for a sliding challenge on Maikel Kieftenbeld. The Burton man seemed to win the ball but the referee was not happy with how Akins slid into the challenge judging it a dangerous tackle.
Albion finally grabbed the lead on 32 minutes with a superb finish. A quickly taken free kick was worked to Ward who showed good skill to turn his man and break towards goal. Getting to the edge of the box he opted to slip the ball to his left rather than shoot and running into the box was DYER who steered the ball beyond Legzdins with the outside of his left boot, a superb finish that deserved to see the ball nestle in the back of the net.
Maghoma picked up a yellow as well for bundling Akins over as the Burton man looked to break away from him and Albion almost had a second when O'Grady was able to loop a header that Legzdins plucked out of the air above his head.
Naylor also went in the book as he brought Maghoma's run to an abrupt end with strong challenges continuing to fly in, both sides looking for that extra edge in the battle for control of the midfield.
O'Grady did well to make the most of a cross from Akins on 43 minutes. At full stretch he managed to steer a header towards the back post but Legzdins was ultimately able to watch it drop wide of the post.
Shotton came to the resue of his side a minute later getting between Naylor and the ball to guide the ball back to his keeper after O'Grady had once again won an aerial duel inside the box.
Legzdins had to save smartly to deny Ward as the Brewers produced a grandstand end to the half. O'Grady picked up the ball inside the penalty area and as a query of offside was waved away Ward stepped in and lashed in a shot to the near post that was beaten away.
Half time: Burton Albion 1-0 Birmingham City
The Brewers quickly had a chance for a second after some ponderous defending by Blues skipper Michael Morrison. Hassled by Ward inside the box the ball bounced around dangerously before landing at the feet of Akins who put his shot wide.
Birmingham made a double change on 56 minutes to try and wrestle control of the game back. Clayton Donaldson and Che Adams, a former Nigel Clough signing for Sheffield United, were sent on in place of David Davis and David Cotterill.
Maghoma tried to find the back of the net with an ambitious free kick from 25 yards out after Dyer had unceremoniously brought Spector crashing to the ground. The ball conitnued to rise and rise sailing high over McLaughlin's bar.
Albion quickly went up the other end and showed their ruthless side to double their lead. A long ball forward from Brayford had the Birmingham defence on the turn and WARD was onto it in a flash to control and drill a shot past Legzdins for 2-0. There was a hint of offside about the goal as Ward was on his way back towards an onside position when Brayford looped his header back into the danger area but the flag stayed down and Ward gleefully took full advantage.
Maghoma was perhaps lucky to avoid a second yellow card for a poor challenge on Irvine but Rowett quickly took him off, replaced by Greg Stewart to ensure keeping eleven men on the field.
Ward was everywhere and another darting run opened up another attack for Albion on 75 minutes with O'Grady the man to benefit to turn and fire a left foot shot just wide.
When the Forest loanee was substituted it was to a standing ovation from all those in yellow and black as youngster Will Miller provided the fresh legs alongside O'Grady.
Birmingham continued to look for their main frontman Lukas Jutkiewicz but he was excellently marshalled by the Burton defence and when he did break through to get a run on goal McLaughlin was out quickly to sweep up and clear the danger.
With the cushion of the second goal Albion were able to play with more confidence and assurance as Birmingham continued to look frustrated at their inability to seriously test McLaughlin. when Jutkiewicz did find a little bit of space to hit a first time effort on his left foot Turner was once again the man in the way with the perfectly timed block
Their only real threat came late on when Adams saw a shot from just outside the box deflected over the bar and from the resulting corner Blues skipper Michael Morrison contrived to put a free header wide of the post from no more than six yards after a slip by Kyle McFadzean opened up the opportunity. It was perhaps the chance that told the visitors that it was not going to be their night.
Irvine put a difficult headed chance over the bar and that was followed by a shot from Naylor that also failed to threaten Legzdins but Albion had already done more than enough.
Birmingham lacked the quality to carve out any clear cut chances to reduce the deficit and for the second home game in a row a 2-0 victory had sealed a precious three point haul.