MARCUS Harness scored a stunning hat-trick to send the Brewers to their best win of the season in a 4-0 victory at Rochdale
The Academy product, who had made 48 goalless league appearances for the Brewers prior to this game, mostly as a substitute, had the Brewers two goals ahead by half time with a deft flicked header on 19 minutes followed up by a fine low drive on the half hour mark which left the home side stunned as he continued his fine current form coming from an extended run in the side.
Albion weathered a spell of Rochdale pressure in the second half but a good afternoon got even better as Liam Boyce came off bench and fired home from an assist by that man Harness on 78 minutes before Harness completed a wonderful afternoon by finding the bottom corner with a left foot shot with four minutes remaining.
A second away clean sheet in the space of five days was more than welcome too as Albion moved into ninth place in the League One table as the opening day defeat to Keith Hill's men was more than avenged.
Albion went into the game looking to extend a three game unbeaten run post-Christmas and made two changes for the trip to the Crown Oil Arena. The good news for manager Nigel Clough was that both Scott Fraser and Jamie Allen were ready to come back into the side having sat out the draw at Bristol Rovers on New Years Day. With John Brayford missing out with a tight hamstring there was a chance for Ben Fox to stay in the side, switching to right back to accommodate the changes, Kieran Wallace dropping to the bench as the other change.
Rochdale, looking to bounce back from successive heavy defeats, started brightly and skipper Ian Henderson slid a precise pass between the Burton defence for Bradden Inman to attack and his effort from a tight angle beat Collins but also trickled agonisingly wide of the far post as the winger looked to pick up where he left off on the opening day having bagged a brace at the Pirelli.
Albion fashioned an excellent chance on 12 minutes in a move that involved Quinn in his last action before being substituted early in the game. The Irishman found Templeton on the left and he did superbly to dig out a cross into the middle, Akins just getting too much purchase on his header to steer it wide of the post. Quinn who had struggled earlier in the opening exchanges limped off to be replaced by Wallace.
Rochdale were quick to respond and after bustling Wallace off the ball Matthew Gillam worked an opening from the edge of the box but fired wide. It was end to end stuff and Akins slide a shot wide after being played through by Templeton and a great run from Harness should have given Akins another chance but there was a touch too much weight on the pass forcing him wide. Worry not though for Albion as they quickly won a corner and when Templeton sent the ball into the middle, Buxton's flick gave HARNESS a simple chance to head it into the far corner.
Albion's tails were up now and the winger was full of confidence as he whipped in a wickedly curling delivery that just evaded Allen's lunge to meet it at the near post and he also helped Fraser make deep inroads into the box before the Scot fired into the side netting from a very tight angle.
Rochdale lifted their game in search of an equaliser and only the outstretched boot of Collins denied Jordan Williams as the home side sliced through the Burton defence dangerously. Albion survived that period of pressure and struck to deadly effect to double their lead on the half hour. Akins laid the ball off to HARNESS and as everyone expected a return pass the winger took the ball inside as the space opened up and lashed home a low drive that left Josh Lillis motionless such was his surprise at the strike.
Two or three times Albion threatened to add a third as chances continued to come. Akins waltzed through and was only denied by an outstretched leg whilst Fraser was played in on the right but couldnt quite get his shot on target. Harness almost turned provider as well with a delightful cross that Templeton, in one movement, swivelled and volleyed just over the bar.
The best opportunity came, arguably, on the stroke of half time as Fraser and Fox led a break out and the Scot, having spurned the chance to shoot himself, laid the ball into the path of Allen who saw his rasping drive beaten away by Lillis.
Half time: Rochdale 0-2 Burton Albion
Albion quickly set about the task of trying to get that elusive third goal at the start of the second half. Fraser couldnt quite get his body around a chance to volley the ball at the back post and Akins, on the turn found the arms of Lillis from Fox's probing pass.
But Rochdale were fired up to try and get back into it and Inman forced a food save from Collins at his near post on 52 minutes when Callum Camps nipped in ahead of Allen to feed the ball into the box for the lively winger. And the home side went close again on 55 minutes when a poor clearance only came out to Oliver Rathbone and the midfielder drilled a deflected effort wide of the target at the expense of a corner that Albion were able to clear in order to preserve their lead.
The normally lethal Ian Henderson also managed to fire wide as Rochdale continued to press, particularly down their right with crossing coming in and stretching the Burton defence.
Just before the hour mark saw the introduction of Boyce in place of Templeton who had struggled to have an influence since the break. Akins moved out wide as Boyce went central having been missing for three weeks with a thigh problem.
The Irishman was quickly on the end of a poor challenge from Rathbone that earned the Rochdale man a yellow card and on 69 minutes he was sniffing out a chance for himself with a left foot shot that needed to curl if it was to find the net but didnt as it went wide of the upright.
Rochdale thought they had equalised in similar fashion to Albion's opener on 71 minutes but as MJ Williams' header nestled into the net the flag of the assistant quickly ruled out the goal much to Albion's relief.
Henderson was closer on 76 minutes as he was allowed to cut inside from the left and curl a 25 yard effort that Collins anxiously watched miss his goal by not that much at all.
BOYCE was back on the scoresheet on 78 minutes with a typically lethal finish. Fraser's industry in midfield won the ball back as Rochdale looked to mount an attack and Wallace was able to pick out the run of Harness, the winger spotting the run of Albion's leading scorer and playing him in to slide the ball beyond the approaching Lillis.
The three goal lead afforded Albion the chance to give Reece Hutchinson a breather as Will Miller came on for the final minutes of the game with Akins switching positions again to fill in at left back.
And things just got better when HARNESS danced through the Rochdale defence on 86 minutes to find the bottom corner of the net for a much deserved treble. A first league treble for an Albion man since Lucas Akins at Colchester in League One in April 2016 and the first by an Academy product in the Football League. There was no denying the youngster the matchball on the final whistle.
Things are looking bright for the Brewers. Just the prospect of a trip to take on the Premier League champions to come in midweek. A good time to be a Brewers fan.