Burton Albion set club record as they maintain promotion push
BURTON Albion's exceptional home form continues to push them towards the dizzying possibility of automatic promotion from League Two.
An increasingly familiar story unfolded at the Pirelli Stadium on Saturday, as the Brewers first blunted a good start by Cheltenham Town, then punished them with more incisive attacking and good finishing on the way to a comprehensive 3-1 win.
Burton have led 3-0, 4-0 and 3-0 again in their last three home matches and Cheltenham, who had won the last three games between the sides, did not get as close as Morecambe or Exeter City to pulling the deficit back.
The Brewers have now won a club record nine successive home games. Only Crystal Palace in the whole country have score more goals at home, 47 to 43, and no other team can match Albion's 45-point home haul.
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Manager Gary Rowett restored Zander Diamond to the starting line-up following last week's 3-0 defeat at Bristol Rovers and the captain justified a selection which was hard on the dropped Marcus Holness with a typically commanding performance.
The Brewers' midfielders took the honours this time, though. While Jacques Maghoma had a relatively quiet game by his recent standards, fellow winger Alex MacDonald made another strong case for a permanent move to the Pirelli with his first goal for the club on the day his loan renewal was announced.
In the middle, Robbie Weir and Lee Bell were magnificent; Weir all high energy and darting runs, Bell the ideal foil with his calmness on the ball and ability to redirect play.
Cheltenham's bright start did not include troubling goalkeeper Stuart Tomlinson, for all the possession they had in the first 20 minutes and it needed a good tackle from veteran former Derby County defender Steve Elliott to keep Billy Kee out the first time he threatened.
Keeper Scott Brown reached the ball just ahead of Kee when he combined with Michael Symes after 21 minutes but Burton were ahead seconds later.
MacDonald picked up a poor clearance on the right, played it inside for Symes and Jason Taylor could only help the striker's rather laboured back-heeled return into MacDonald's path, allowing him to hit a 16-yard shot which took a deflection, leaving Brown helpless.
MacDonald has threatened a goal a few times and had earned the lucky break.
Four minutes later, he set up a second goal. The Burnley loanee does not hang about when he has a chance to cross and an inviting ball from the right picked out Weir's run, the midfielder glancing a fine header from 12 yards into the top right-hand corner of Brown's net.
Kee, not giving Elliott a moment's peace, almost made it three four minutes before half-time when he darted on to MacDonald's pass but, from a tight angle on the right, Brown saved the shot with his legs.
Cheltenham manager Mark Yates made two half-time switches, former Burton midfielder Russ Penn one of the casualties, but, crucially, the Brewers soon scored the next goal.
Weir burst out of defence when a Cheltenham attack broke down and sent Kee scurrying down the left.
Kee managed a passable impersonation of Maghoma, a step-over leaving centre-half Michael Hector trailing, before crossing precisely for Weir to head in from a couple of yards.
Now Burton were in a comfort zone again, happy to let Cheltenham have the ball around halfway, although they got away with a couple of scrambles in their own area, Damien McCrory completing a clearance when Tomlinson fumbled a header from substitute Byron Harrison.
Burton broke from this, Weir charging away again, before Kee was fouled 20 yards out on the left, MacDonald hitting the free kick a foot wide as he tried to surprise Brown with a low shot towards the near post.
Ian Sharps headed a MacDonald corner wide, while, at the other end, Elliott's header from a free kick was comfortable for Tomlinson and Sharps blocked a shot from Jermaine McGlashan in front of the keeper.
It began to look as if nothing Cheltenham could do would work for them but, once again, the Brewers endured the minor irritation of missing out on a clean sheet.
The game had reached the second minute of stoppage time when Harrison headed in a corner from Kaid Mohamed, thanks to a rare misjudgment from Tomlinson, who charged out and missed the ball.
Cheltenham, who remain fifth, were still well beaten and, not for the first time of late, several other results went Burton's way. Promotion is in their own hands now.