Final agony as scruffy winner condemns the Brewers to loss at Cheltenham
BURTON Albion's recent luck ran out as Cheltenham Town scrambled a late win with the scruffiest of goals at Whaddon Road.
An old adversary, Chris Zebroski, previously of Oxford United, Torquay United, Wycombe Wanderers and Bristol Rovers, poked in the only goal of the game after 85 minutes and, on the balance of play, the Robins probably deserved the points.
The Brewers have picked up some scrappy points themselves in recent weeks, not least in the wins at Southend United last month and Plymouth last week and as manager Gary Rowett ruefully acknowledged, to be on the wrong end of one was probably due.
Burton can take some consolation from the fact that they have lost only to Cheltenham and leaders Gillingham in the last 13 League Two games – that is top-half form at the very least.
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Beyond the top three, which also includes Port Vale, the division is looking very tight indeed, with the Brewers among six clubs separated by three points.
The pattern of the Cheltenham game was set early. All free kicks and corners were swung in to good effect by left-back Billy Jones and if it was a throw in within range, Marlon Pack was able to send those as deep as Jones' kicks.
Former Burton midfielders Russ Penn won two cheap early free kicks on the left and from the second of them, Alan Bennett headed Jones' kick against the bar before Anthony O'Connor got the ball away.
The Brewers were occasionally looking promising on the break but Calvin Zola fired well over from 25 yards after 12 minutes and Robbie Weir scuffed a shot a long way wide from distance four minutes later.
At the other end, a terrific battle was developing between Robins winger Jermaine McGlashan and stand-in left-back Nathan Stanton but it was a battle Stanton continued to win throughout the game, eventually forcing McGlashan to switch wings.
Jack Dyer shot over after a Chris Palmer corner was half-cleared in the 30th minute but still Cheltenham looked more dangerous, with Steve Elliott heading wide and both Sido Jombati and Zebroski having headers blocked close to goal.
Zola saw a close-range shot deflected into the side-netting four minutes before half-time but Burton keeper Mark Oxley had to get down to save a Penn header from Pack's cross soon after.
A quick Burton break in first-half stoppage time saw Matt Paterson slip the ball into the net from Dyer's pass but the offside flag was a formality.
The second half followed a similar pattern and Penn came close to breaking through after 52 minutes.
Cheltenham had created almost nothing from open play but the former Burton man went on a powerful run, played a one-two and hit a shot from 15 yards that was well gathered to his right by Oxley. The Robins, having played one-up for the first hour, brought on two strikers, Jeff Goulding and former Burton favourite Shaun Harrad, as they tried to find a way through, while for the Brewers, Billy Kee replaced Paterson.
Palmer had a deflected shot pushed over by Brown but just when it seemed that Cheltenham were running out of steam, they finally broke through.
The limit of Zebroski's ambition as he ran at Stanton on the right seemed to be to play it off the defender for a corner but given what had gone before, that was not a bad idea.
Jones delivered again into the heart of the six-yard box and the ball pinged around, Bennett having a shot blocked and several knees, shins and heads having a touch.
Oxley almost clawed the ball away, then appeared to drop safely on to it near his right-hand post but the ball squirmed away and Zebroski poked it in from two yards.
It was a horrible goal to concede, although a good poacher's effort from the striker's point of view and it was enough.
Kee, stretching, headed Cleveland Taylor's cross over the bar with a minute left before Brown dived to his right to turn a Zola header away but there was no way back for Burton this time.