GETTING out of a run of defeats can be difficult enough with all 11 players on the pitch – but playing most of a game a man down makes it near impossible.
Burton Albion went into Saturday’s match at AFC Wimbledon hoping they would rediscover the form which saw them beat Fleetwood and Accrington in earlier away games and put back-to-back home defeats behind them.
Things looked promising until a moment of sheer madness from Marcus Holness.
The game was just 17 minutes old when the centre-half raised his hands and gave Sammy Moore and good shove in the neck area.
A red card was inevitable and, a man down, the Brewers faced the next 70-odd minutes battling to get anything from Kingsmeadow.
Adam McGurk gave them the lead with another training ground special from a corner.
But in the second half the pressure showed and goals from Michael Smith, Jack Midson and Andy Frampton ended Albion’s unbeaten run away from home in League Two – winger Chris Arthur making a huge difference for the Dons after coming on at half-time.
It is the second game in three that the Brewers have had to play most of the game a man down.
It is not helping their cause.
While Ian Sharps’ dismissal against Oxford was harsh, Holness was asking for trouble when he went for Moore.
Yes, Dave Kitson was not sent off against Burton for a similar offence when he pushed Sharps. But this time it looked like the referee got it right.
It is a real shame for Holness, who has arguably been Albion’s player of the year so far.
He was on his best run of starts for the club since signing in the summer of 2012 and when he returns is unlikely to displace either the returned Sharps or Zander Diamond, who was sent off in the same fixture last season.
There was also a big change up front, with Rene Howe dropped after a series of poor performances leading the line.
Dominic Knowles got his first start in the league and looked bright for 20 minutes before he was brought off in the wake of Holness’ dismissal.
It was hard luck after the young striker had waited patiently for his chance.
He was replaced by 18-year-old Liam Slade for his first senior appearance in defence – and the big teenager’s decent display was one of the high points of a disappointing afternoon in South London.
Rowett made three changes to his side after the 2-1 home defeat to Portsmouth.
Knowles came in for Howe alongside Michael Symes and Robbie Weir replaced Adam Reed in central midfield after missing the last three league games.
The final change saw Jimmy Phillips replaced by Alex MacDonald after he failed to recover from the disgraceful kick he received from Pompey’s Yassin Moutaoukil.
Rory Delap (hip) was ruled out, while Chris Hussey (hamstring) was fit enough only to earn a place on the bench against his former club.
The Dons had the better of the opening quarter-hour, without really taking a solid looking Brewers apart.
Albion had just enjoyed their best opening, with Knowles and Symes combining well, when Holness shoved Moore in the face off the ball.
Mr Russell took his time but the inevitable red card was produced and Burton were left with a mountain to climb.
Slade was immediately brought on for Knowles and Symes was left on his own up front.
With everyone expecting the Dons to draw first blood, it was Albion who took a surprise lead.
MacDonald’s corner from the left looked mis-hit until McGurk, cleverly working the space, finished it into the far corner via a deflection. It was very similar to the goal he scored in the 3-2 win at Fleetwood.
The Dons tried to hit back and Luke Moore landed a header from Midson’s cross on the roof of the net.
Harry Pell then had a deflected 25-yard piledriver parried by Jordan Pickford and the Brewers keeper did enough to put Smith off as he fired across the face of goal.
Smith had a good chance on the stroke of half-time, but he put the ball into orbit from 15 yards after Damien McCrory had been caught in possession by Barry Fuller near the corner flag.
Dons boss Neal Ardley made two changes at the break, with Arthur replacing Callum Kennedy and George Porter coming on for George Francomb.
Arthur, once on trial with Burton when Paul Peschisolido was manager, made an immediate impact with his searing pace and was involved in the equaliser less than 10 minutes into the second half.
After another surging run he hit a cross to the back post which Porter volleyed back in for Smith to finish low to Pickford’s right from 15 yards.
The defending was poor on the goal, with Smith given too much time and space in the box.
Rowett brought on Jack Dyer for MacDonald to shore up the right flank, with Howe on for a tiring Symes.
Albion could then have taken the lead with the hour mark approaching, but McGurk’s clever flicked header from Dyer’s corner flew agonisingly wide across the face of goal.
Soon after, Pickford made a stunning stop from a Smith header and an athletic save from Arthur’s raking shot from 20 yards.
The on-loan keeper had been outstanding – but then cost the Brewers a goal with an unfortunate mistake, nothing new for a young keeper.
Arthur’s cross from the left deflected up off Dyer and Pickford somehow dropped the ball and Midson was on hand to tap in from close range.
With 15 minutes to go, Wimbledon rubbed a bit of salt in Albion’s wounds with a third, Frampton thundering a header from Luke Moore’s corner past Pickford from 12 yards after losing his marker.