BURTON ALBION 1 - 0 NOTTINGHAM FORESTCauley Woodrow's third goal of a productive loan spell secured a precious victory for the Brewers over Nottingham Forest at the Pirelli Stadium.
In a game of few chances the Fulham loanee slotted a 26th minute free kick through the Forest defensive wall and beyond the despairing dive of keeper Jordan Smith to give Albion a lead to cling to and set themselves on their way to another big scalp in this debut Championship season.
The Brewers have found some form when they needed it most and ten points from a six game unbeaten run have given Nigel Clough's side more than a fighting chance of extending their stay in the second tier beyond just this solitary campaign. The loss of two strikers during the game, Marvin Sordell and Luke Varney, both to injury hampered the Brewers attacking intentions but once again the defence stood up manfully and repelled everything that Gary Brazil's side could muster.
Two changes were the order of the day for Albion as they looked to avenge their opening day defeat at the City Ground. Tom Naylor and Varney dropped back to the bench after starting at Sheffield Wednesday meaining returns to the side for on loan pair Luke Murphy and Cauley Woodrow. Having started recent games out wide on the right Sordell was restored to the attack partnering Woodrow.
Albion started purposefully with John Brayford and Lasse Christensen seeing plenty of the ball in the early stages. Despite seeing plenty of play in the Forest half in the opening ten minutes Forest keeper Jordan Smith remained untroubled as the Forest defence remained solid in front of him. Jackson Irvine had probably the best chance in those opening exchanges with a header from a Christensen header that looped over the bar.
Forest's ability to counter at speed was soon apparent although Zach Clough lacked the finishing touch from the Reds first meaningful attack, scuffing a shot wide from just outside the box. The January signing repeated the trick shortly afterwards. It was a warning for Albion though not to allow the January signing too much time and space to get shots away.
Young striker Ben Brereton showed good skill to beat Kyle McFadzean down the left and quickly headed for the box. With the angle against him he still opted for a shot to the near post that failed to beat Jon McLaughlin. As the ball came back into the danger area Ross McCormack and Murphy went for the ball, the Reds having half hearted shouts for a penalty ignored by referee Keith Stroud.
Albion suffered a blow with less than twenty minutes on the clock. Sordell landed awkwardly after going up for a header, hurting his knee, and after initially struggling on indicated that he was unable to continue and was replaced by Varney.
The Brewers were rewarded for their early attacking play with the lead on 26 minutes. More bright approach play by Christensen and Brayford worked a good crossing chance down the right and when Irvine was unceremoniously upended by Joe Worrall as he looked for a shooting opportunity Albion had a free kick in a very promising positions. Those positions are only valuable if you can capitalise and Albion ruthlessly punished their visitors. There was nothing wrong with the strike from WOODROW but the Forest defence were left looking at one another as the ball flew through them leaving Smith floundering as it flew past him.
Christensen and Irvine both had chances to double Albion's lead but Forest dug in. Christensen was unlucky that a pass from Varney was a touch behind him and although he dug out a shot it was always dropping over the bar whilst a typically driving run from Irvine finished with a rising shot over the bar.
Forest began to pose more of a threat, upping their game in search of an equaliser and the on loan McCormack almost caught McLaughlin out with a snap shot from the edge of the area on 42 minutes, the Albion keeper grabbing it at the second attempt to deny the striker.
A foul by Tom Flanagan gave Forest one last first half chance to draw level. Ben Osborn whipped in a curling free kick that was cleared to McCormack on the edge of the box but his ambitious volley flew well wide to the relief of all those in yellow.
Half time: Burton Albion 1-0 Nottingham Forest
Varney, who had not seemed to be moving well after his first half introduction failed to reappear for the second half and the substitute was substituted himself by Lucas Akins.
Albion changed shape slightly with the introduction of Akins, the popular front man dropping in wide on the right leaving Woodrow as the lone striker, Albion looking to bolster their midfield and deny the Reds the chance to overrun them in midfield.
Brereton almost muscled his way in for a chance in the opening exchanges. A long ball into the box looked easy for the Burton defence but a moment of miscommunication between McLaughlin and Flanagan almost allowed the youngster in, Albion conceding a corner at worst. The two Albion men, clearly fired up in trying to keen Albion's sheet clean briefly squared up to one another but it was all good in the end as the Brewers defended manfully to keep out their visitors.
Referee Stroud produced his first yellow card of the afternoon in the direction of Brereton not long after. It was not so much for the push in the back of McFadzean but the kicking the ball away in frustration immediately afterwards that incurred the ire of the match official.
Forest continued to push and midfielder David Vaughan drilled a 25-yard effort wide before the visitors constructed a chance of good quality. Brereton linked well with substitute Matty Cash and it looked as if the midfielder, who had barely been on the pitch a few minutes, was going to equalise until Brayford slid in with an outstanding challenge to deny him.
The youth and vigour of Forest was starting to dominate the experience and discipline of the Burton midfield and it was becoming harder for the Brewers to break free of their defensive shackles. Having said that the Burton defence were standing up superbly to everything that Forest could put in their penalty box with McLaughlin showing good hands on several occasions to deny Forest a sniff of a chance.
Centre back Danny Fox opted for a more direct route to goal stepping forward and hitting a long range effort from 30 plus yards briefly getting the Forest fans excited until it went outside the post.
Forest sent on Greek striker Apostolos Vellios in place of Brereton to try and use a little more brawn to open up the Brewers although the striker only had one half chance with a header to apply any pressure on the Burton rearguard.
Burton opportunities were more sporadic in the second period and more often than not on the breakaway. Irvine volleyed an effort wide of the target and Lloyd Dyer had an angled drive blocked. Substitute Tom Naylor, on for Woodrow and bolstering the midfield effort got into a good advanced position late on before slicing an effort well off target.
There were alarm bells in the Burton defence when Osborn worked a rare opportunity to dart into the box from the left and although his shot cannonned into the yellow wall in front of him the ball still bobbled around dangerously until the impressive McFadzean acrobatically cleared the ball away with an overhead kick.
Time was against Forest as they continued to push for a late equaliser and it was Cash who had the best chance as the game drifted into added on time. Vaughan's chipped ball into the box picked out the youngster but his touch let him down at the vital moment, allied to pressure from Brayford again, and Forest's threat had been snuffed out.
Such are the fine lines of the Championship that defeat to Forest would have sent Albion tumbling into the bottom three. Victory and they have now dragged Forest below them and into the relegation dogfight. Nine games to go and forty one points on the board but this survival battle looks to be heading to the wire.
Burton Albion man of the match (chosen by WT Parker Limited): Jackson Irvine