Second half goals from Tom O’Connor and Daniel Jebbison seal another defeat for Rovers on the road.
Rovers were able to name Ben Close after a month-long absence while Jordy Hiwula was in the squad for the first time since Scunthorpe United in the Emirates FA Cup. As has been the case so often this season for Richie Wellens, the return of two players was countered by the loss of several others. John Bostock, Rodrigo Vilca and Jon Taylor were all ruled out while birthday boy Joseph Olowu missed the game through suspension but was in the stands to support his team-mates.
This left a young bench with 19-year-old Ben Blythe the oldest outfield player available to Wellens.
Weather conditions had thrown some doubt on football matches up and down the country, but the home side’s ground staff had worked hard to get the game on, though there were plenty of bobbles, and drag lines where pitch covers had been cleared pre match. The icy conditions and blustering wind played havoc for the entire match.
The Brewers registered a very convincing 4-0 win in midweek against Accrington Stanley and began the game full of confidence. They probably should have taken the lead on the fourth minute – a last ditch challenge by Rowe before Pontus Dahlberg collected the ball at the second attempt and Conor Shaughnessy probably should have registered at least a shot on target when he was picked out at the back post by Jonny Smith, but he put the ball wide.
For all the possession and balls into the box for the home side, they did very little to trouble keeper Pontus Dahlberg in the opening exchanges.
At the other end, Ethan Galbraith was attempted to take advantage of a very high back line by threading through-balls between the gaps in the defenders, but Hiwula and Smith were both thwarted by the assistant’s flag on several occasions while a hopeful header from Ryan Leak just about took the ball away from Aidan Barlow.
Barlow did go closest for Rovers when his attempted cross was caught by the wind and nearly caught Ben Garratt out at his near post, but the keeper recovered to tip the ball out for a corner.
As the half went on, chances were a premium with both sides turning possession over in the middle of the park cheaply. Rovers created a half-chance when Barlow refused to give up on a hopeful ball forward, keeping it alive to win a corner but Tommy Rowe’s delivery was volleyed wide by Hiwula.
The best chance for either side in the first half came in the 41st minute. Burton changed things up when they opted to go short from a throw in instead of using a Tom Hammer long throw. The ball was worked back to Hammer whose cross was headed on target by Kane Hemmings but was somehow clawed off the line by Dahlberg. Jonny Smith met the loose ball, looping it up to the back post but all three men in yellow at the back post left it to each other and it rolled for a goal kick.
Both Close and Tom Anderson needed treatment in injury time and while the latter was back out for the second half, the former was not. Lirak Hasani replaced him.
It was another Academy graduate, Branden Horton, who had the first big say of the second half for Rovers as he put his body in the way of what had looked a certain goal. A cross-field pass found Lucas Akins – his cross was met well by Hemmings but Horton was on hand to make the block.
Just minutes later, Burton did take the lead.
Rovers conceded a free kick in a dangerous area. O’Connor’s ball in evaded everybody and crept in at the near post to give the home side the lead.
Joe Dodoo nearly handed Rovers an immediate response – a through ball allowed the striker to stride away from his marker. He touched the ball around Garratt, but his second touch was too heavy and rolled away for a goal kick.
What followed was immense pressure from Burton as Rovers faced a series of corners in quick succession – Hemmings went the closest in this period heading narrowly wide.
With just over 25 minutes remaining Rovers switched formation with Horton sacrificed at Wellens went to a back three introducing Tiago Cukur into a two with Dodoo.
While Rovers tried to grapple with their new formation, Burton wasted two big chances to extend their lead: Jonny Smith curled an effort narrowly wide of the far post before Daniel Jebbison passed up a chance of a tap in pursuit of scoring with a backheel which Dahlberg saved. Jonny Smith then had another attempt which found the inside of the post and bounced out.
At the other end, Rowe drove forward from his position on the left side of the back three and picked out Dodoo with his cutback. The striker was unable to find the target.
The home side continued to pile on the pressure, but Rovers were just about managing to keep them out.
Burton extended the lead in somewhat bizarre fashion with just over 10 minutes remaining. A scramble of bodies and limbs in the Rovers box eventually saw the ball land to Jebbison who riffled it into the top of the net.
The assistant referee raised his flag to rule it out for offside, but referee Peter Wright – after some lengthy consultation with his assistant – overruled him and awarded the goal.
Barlow had a goalward effort deflected after being picked out by Cukur at the edge of the box – the loose ball left Dodoo in a foot race with Garratt which the keeper just about won.
Burton continued to have chances and passed up another big opportunity in injury time when Hamer dragged a shot wide of the far post.