Brewers stand up to challenge against Millers as they hit the heights again
BURTON Albion climbed back into League Two's top three with a performance of relentless energy, topped off by two sublime finishes from Billy Kee, to see off promotion rivals Rotherham United.
What a satisfying weekend manager Gary Rowett will have had. This was everything his footballing philosophy asks of his players – hard work, organisation, the team ethic above all else and no little flair.
It could be argued that the injury problems which disrupted the week leading up to the match ended up working in the Brewers' favour, in that it galvanised the players into a massive effort.
But even though one or two, such as Aaron Webster and Kee himself, might ordinarily have sat out the game, to call this a patched-up Burton side would be an insult to those who played.
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Far more positively, it showed the depth of the squad Rowett has assembled. Calvin Zola and Damien McCrory did not recover from injuries in time, while captain Zander Diamond was suspended and fellow centre-half Ian Sharps could not play against his parent club.
Yet the Brewers could replace them with Nathan Stanton and Marcus Holness, who have previously taken Rochdale to promotion as a defensive pair, and they were immaculate.
The full-backs, Webster and Anthony O'Connor, another midweek doubt, were also outstanding and goalkeeper Stuart Tomlinson found himself with the sponsors' man of the match prize after another 90 minutes of assured handling and two crucial saves.
Ahead of them, Robbie Weir, the often under-appreciated midfield engine, was tireless and his passing in good order, while Jacques Maghoma's trickery on the ball lured two Rotherham players into tackles which cost them their place on the pitch.
For the first half-hour, the two sides tested each other in a frantic battle with neither goalkeeper troubled but it was Burton who found the breakthrough after 36 minutes.
The goal had a familiar look to it. A big clearance from Tomlinson was neatly touched on by Michael Symes and Kee's strength did the rest as, back to goal in the inside-right channel, he held off Karl Arnason, turned him and fired a shot across keeper Andy Warrington into the corner.
Kee also had a low shot saved after taking a pass from Maghoma before half-time – that coming between two bookings David Noble picked up within four minutes for trips on Maghoma.
The second yellow card looked harsh but Noble had to go and Rotherham manager Steve Evans made two changes at half-time to reorganise his side.
It made little difference, although Tomlinson made a vital save after 51 minutes when Daniel Nardiello crossed from the right and Liam Ridehalgh met it beyond the far post with a low shot which the keeper blocked away for a throw-in on the other side.
Four minutes later, Kee struck again. Tomlinson was the provider again, with a deep kick which Kee killed on his chest, again turning away from Arnason before finding the corner of the net unerringly from 20 yards.
Rotherham must have known this was not their day when Nardiello, netting an overhead shot expertly after 61 minutes, found an offside flag denying his side a lifeline.
A rare error by Lee Bell led to a corner for Rotherham after 75 minutes but the midfielder redeemed himself by clearing Mark Bradley's header off the line, before a shot from Michael O'Connor was turned away by Tomlinson.
Rotherham's fire went out after that and Michael O'Connor was shown a straight red card for an ugly lunge on Maghoma just inside the area with four minutes left, leaving the visitors with nine men and their manager Evans, no favourite of Burton supporters, raging.
Maghoma would probably have taken the penalty had he not been receiving treatment off the field and Symes spoiled an otherwise sound shift by hitting the spot kick weakly, Warrington saving it to his left.
By then, it hardly mattered, with a rousing victory in the bag.
Belief is coursing through the Brewers at home, where they have now won six in a row, and their promotion hopes are increasingly realistic.