NORWICH CITY 3-1 BURTON ALBIONThe Brewers suffered their heaviest defeat of the season so far in Norfolk after a 3-1 defeat to Norwich City.
A frustrating afternoon for Albion also saw them finish with ten men with first half substitute Tom Flanagan seeing red for two yellow cards just when Albion were threatening to level things up in an improved second half performance. Full back Martin Olsson fired the Canaries ahead just before the half hour mark before a mad start to the second half saw two goals within the same number of minutes as Lucas Akins poked home seconds after the restart only for a deflected Jacob Murphy effort to restore the home side's lead before Albion cheers had died down.
Flanagan's second yellow card, for handball, handed Norwich a penalty that Jon McLaughlin superbly saved before Ivo Pinto raided forward from right back to seal Norwich's ascent to the top of the League in the closing moments of the game. It was the first time that Albion had lost a Championship game by more than one goal but there would have been frustration in the Burton camp after several good chances went begging during the second half as the home supporters grew restless at their team's inability to put the game to bed.
Manager Nigel Clough was able to reinforce his squad with several returning players. Although free of suspension, Ben Turner didnt make the eighteen on duty due to a calf injury but with two home games to come the aim was to have the big defender hopefully ready for Tuesday's clash with QPR. The good news was that skipper John Mousinho was fit again after a hamstring injury to return in the back three, alongside Tom Naylor and John Brayford. There was more good news with Akins also making a welcome return to action in the right wing back role, Lloyd Dyer continuing on the opposite flank. The engine room of midfield was made up of Jackson Irvine, Matty Palmer and Hamza Choudhury in a rather youthful trio. Up front Chris O'Grady was recalled having been ineligible to play against parent club Brighton last time out but the influential striker was ultimately unable to start the game, pulling up in the warm up meaning a return to the starting line-up for Stuart Beavon. He partnered Jamie Ward in attack.
Albion started brightly in the late September sunshine and there were early shouts for a penalty in the fifth minute when Beavon looked to have been eased off the ball by Timm Klose in the box but referee Jeremy Simpson showed no inclination to award a spot kick.
Norwich began to dominate and the Burton defence found themselves increasingly penned inside their own penalty as Murphy opened up space on the Norwich right. Both Beavon and Dyer were called upon to help out defensively with vital blocks and headers inside their own box as the home side pressed without ever being allowed time or space to get a telling shot away as Albion defended manfully.
After surviving the early barrage from Norwich the Brewers almost grabbed the lead for themselves on 14 minutes. Patient work in midfield, particularly by Choudhury finding plenty of space to work in, picked out Dyer on the left and he was able to cut inside and send an angled drive just over the target.
Akins was also able to meet a corner from Palmer only for his goalbound header to rebound off Canaries skipper Russell Martin deep inside the Norwich penalty area.
Murphy was causing problems aplenty on the right with his pace and direct running and after skipping around Choudhury all too easily to come inside and create danger a chance opened up for Robbie Brady, the Irish international having a shot blocked and deflected wide from 15 yards out.
Brady was also denied by the defensive wall when Norwich were awarded a free kick 25 yards from goal. Matty Palmer bringing down Wes Hoolahan before he could find a telling ball into the area with Albion retreating at pace to avert the danger.
Albion were forced onto the back foot again as the half hour mark approached and they were finally undone on 29 minutes as Norwich grabbed the lead. Graham Dorrans was able to pick up the ball in an advanced area and pick out left back Martin OLSSON who had found his way forward into the box. Allowed to turn all too easily the defender set himself and lashed a rising effort beyond McLaughlin and into the net.
Clough's men almost found the perfect response moments later as Ward and Beavon combined well around the edge of the Norwich box, Beavon firing in a shot that Canaries keeper Michael McGovern initially appeared to fumble before grabbing it to his chest at the second attempt.
Naylor picked up a yellow card for a block on Murphy who was looking to create more mayhem but it was Beavon, at the other end, doing well to carve out a crossing opportunity that Choudhury got a head to at the back post without really timing properly or troubling McGovern.
The Brewers needed to make sure they got to half time just the one goal down and Cameron Jerome almost doubled the lead for the home side on 39 minutes, towering above Naylor from a Murphy corner the striker was inches away from making contact on the edge of the six yard box.
There was more injury concern for Albion as half time approached. Turning to chase after a long ball forward Brayford pulled up with what looked like a groin problem. Bizarrely the ball did not go out but Norwich did not look to take advantage, Lloyd Dyer eventually putting the ball out to allow treatment to be administered to the stricken centre back. No chances were taken and Brayford was immediately withdrawn and Tom Flanagan slotting into the back three.
Albion almost gifted Norwich a second on the stroke of half time in bizarre circumstances. McLaughlin came hareing out to meet a ball on the edge of his box but missed it completely. Fortunately it was wide enough out that when Jerome picked up the loose ball and tried to find the open net with a first time shot he only found the side netting. The striker could easily have run in unchallenged on goal but it proved ot be a let off for the Brewers.
HALF TIME: NORWICH CITY 1-0 BURTON ALBION
Forty seconds after the restart and Albion were level as they stunned the hosts straight from the restart. Beavon and Ward linked up well down the right and although Dyer fluffed his chance when one on one with the keeper the ball looped to the back post where Choudhury headed back into the six yard box for AKINS to fire home from close range for his second goal of the season.
Albion's joy was short lived as Norwich regained their advantage barely a minute later. There was more than an element of good fortune about it though as MURPHY was given room to get a shot away from the edge of the D. It was debateable whether the shot was going on target but a telling deflection off Mousinho, trying to get out of the way, helped it nestle in the bottom corner with McLaughlin stranded.
Jamie Ward went into referee Simpson's book for a challenge on Martin with first team coach Andy Garner getting into a heated exchange with the Norwich skipper as he got to his feet again.
Albion squandered a glorious opportunity to equalise on 56 minutes. A hopeful ball by Akins was turned into a promising chance by Ward as he skipped away from his man and bore down on goal. McGovern came out of his goal to challenge and was caught in no mans land when Ward skipped around him as well but having done the hard part and getting into the box the forward, on loan from Forest, got caught in two minds as to whether to set up Beavon or Dyer and sold his pass short to both of them allowing Norwich to gratefully clear their lines.
The Brewers were quick to launch another counter just after the hour mark when Akins out muscled Olsson on the right and set Albion on their way. A raking ball out to the left picked out Dyer but his eventual cross was just too strong for Choudhury, racing in at the back stick. Olsson also picked up a yellow card for protesting to referee Simpson that he had been fouled by Akins initially. The truth was that the Norwich mad had allowed himself to be outfought in possession. The yellow card was out again shortly after when Flanagan slid into a challenge with his foot slightly raised. It didnt look a particularly bad challenge but it was one that the former MK Dons defender would rue later on in the game.
Chances were continuing to come Burton's way and another hopeful cross from Dyer, after more good work from Beavon, was hacked away by Brady, defending deep inside his own penalty area.
McGovern had to show a clean pair of hands to deal with a rasping drive from Ward on 72 minutes. A deep Akins cross was recycled by Dyer with Beavon laying the ball into the path of Ward, the striker instinctively having a go from range to test out his Northern Irish compatriot.
Ward was then replaced for the fresh legs of Will Miller on 74 minutes, the Spurs loanee hoping for the same impact as at Wolves a fortnight ago when he bagged a late equaliser.
Albion were then reduced to ten men for the remaining 15 minutes of the game. Jerome led a break out and set Dorrans up for a shot. Unfortunately for Albion it was stopped by the arm of Flanagan inside the box. Referee Simpson awarded the penalty before producing the yellow card, Flanagan's second and the obligatory red. Robbie Brady stepped up to take the penalty but an outstanding save from McLaughlin, low to his right kept it out. Albion were hoping that it was the beak they needed to still get something out of the game despite their numerical disadvantage.
An inspired few minutes for the Brewers keeper followed with a point blank save with the legs from Jerome also denying Norwich a third. When Olsson connected with a low cross moments later there was nothing McLaughlin could do about it but fortunately for him the shot whistled inches past the upright.
Murphy was replaced by his twin, Josh, with a little over five minutes remaining and there was almost a goal for each of the siblings when Josh let fly with a dipping effort that was dealt with by Burton's stopper.
Norwich thought they had wrapped it up late on when Jerome set up Brady only for the Irishman to lash into the side netting and as the game ticked away Nelson Oliveira was sent on to try and seal the deal for the Canaries. Albion also made their last change with Shaun Barker coming on for Beavon.
In the end neither substitution affected the outcome with the third goal that Norwich had been threatening coming on 89 minutes. Murphy slotted a ball through the Brewers defence and even though Miller was tracking the run of full back Ivo PINTO, the Spaniard managed to get a rising shot away from a tight angle that completed victory and took Alex Neil's side top of the Championship, condemning Albion to a second straight defeat. Albion will know though that if they can carry their all round performances into the next two home games against QPR and Cardiff then a return to winning, or at least, point gaining ways is not far away.