Burton Albion below their best but draw keeps League Two promotion chase on track
IT IS, certainly, a measure of how far Burton Albion's away form has progressed recently that they were left disappointed with a single point from a drab 1-1 draw at Dagenham & Redbridge.
You do not have to be a particularly old Brewers follower to remember when anything at all brought back from Dagenham was a bonus.
But, more relevantly to this season, here were Burton stretching their recent away form to one defeat in six matches, with a return of four points from six on the road in a week.
It was not enough to keep them in second place in League Two, as Port Vale finally rediscovered their lost form, but, in terms of the bigger picture, it was good enough.
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The game itself was largely colourless, though both sides had spells on top and, in truth, it was the sort during which opposition supporters wonder why their opponents are so far up the league.
Many things did not go as well as they often have recently for Burton, with Jacques Maghoma flickering in and out of the action, Calvin Zola looking less than fully fit and even Lee Bell picking the wrong passes from time to time, while Alex MacDonald struggled to make an impact on the right wing.
The Brewers made a keen enough start and Billy Kee turned to shoot over from the edge of the box when one of Stuart Tomlinson's big kicks picked him out after eight minutes.
Zola could not get enough purchase on a header from Zander Diamond's deep cross three minutes later.
Sometimes, Burton's passing reflected their current confidence and Robbie Weir drilled a shot wide after one particularly slick exchange involving Bell, Maghoma and Kee.
Tomlinson kept them level after half-an-hour when he stretched to turn away a 20-yard free kick from Matt Saunders and Burton took the lead after 34 minutes.
Again, there was a busy build-up, full of short passes, before Maghoma wisely chose not to shoot as he cut in from the left, instead teeing up Bell for a low drive from 20 yards which found the corner of the net.
Perhaps the game would have had a different outcome if Burton had doubled their lead three minutes later.
Zola's shot on the turn was cleared off the line by Abu Ogogo, before Maghoma hit the rebound into the sidenetting.
Dagenham are regrouping behind the scenes after the departure of longstanding manager John Still to take over at Luton Town and interim manager Wayne Burnett seems to have a way with a half-time team talk.
His side came out spectacularly well after the break and perhaps took the Brewers by surprise with the intensity of their approach.
Striker Josh Scott had already threatened, slipping as he tried to go round Diamond, before he scored a fine equaliser after 51 minutes.
He slipped away from Bell's mistimed challenge 25 yards out and, at pace, shuffled past Ian Sharps before beating Tomlinson from the edge of the box.
It was a different game for a while, although the only further chance Dagenham created was a shot from Oluwafemi Ilesanmi which Tomlinson held comfortably.
Gradually, Burton weathered what had been a considerable storm and started to come back at Dagenham.
Kee and Weir were off target with shots but the Brewers continued to lack their usual cutting edge going forward.
Perhaps Gary Rowett might have changed things up front sooner than the 77th minute, when he brought on Matt Paterson for Kee and Adam Drury for MacDonald but that is being picky.
As it was, the two substitutes almost did the trick with their first touches, Drury crossing and Paterson turning a first-time shot wide.
The closest the Brewers came, however, was just into stoppage time, when Maghoma got a rare sight of goal from the edge of the box but saw his shot loop off a Dagenham leg and land on the roof of the net.
In this season when so much has gone right for Maghoma, the ball might have been expected to drop under the bar but it cannot happen every time.
While automatic promotion remains a target, perhaps the more significant statistic to reflect on is that, with seven games left, Burton now have an 11-point cushion over the teams outside the play-off places.