BURTON Albion overcame plucky Altrincham at Moss Lane last night to book their place in the second round of the FA Cup.
The Blue Square Bet North side were never quite able to touch the heights of their 3-3 draw at the Pirelli Stadium 11 days ago as the Brewers wore them down in the first round replay to clinch a trip to Crewe Alexandra on December 1.
Albion had to work hard for their win in front of the ESPN cameras, but Chris Palmer emerged as the star of the show when he broke the stalemate with a stunning 30-yard free-kick in the 65th minute.
And Calvin Zola sealed Albion’s passage to the next round with his eighth goal of the season 10 minutes later.
Albion boss Gary Rowett showed plenty of attacking intent by opting for a 4-3-3 formation, with Robbie Weir, Lee Bell and Palmer in midfield while Cleveland Taylor and fit-again Jacques Maghoma operated either side of Zola.
Rowett chose to make only one change, in defence, as Damien McCrory returned from suspension at left-back and Nathan Stanton dropped to the bench.
Alty were without the injured Carl Rodgers — scorer of the first goal in the 3-3 draw at the Pirelli Stadium — and suspended full-back Shaun Densmore.
Albion were unable to make the most of an early Palmer corner kick, which ended with Taylor hooking the ball into the side netting from an almost impossible angle.
Bell then drilled a low shot into the area and home keeper Stuart Coburn was wrong-footed by a ricochet off Taylor, but the ball flew well wide.
But it was the hosts who had the best opportunity to take an early lead.
Albion were exposed as Scott Leather and Duncan Watmore exchanged crisp passes on the right but Damian Reeves swept a rightfoot shot high from 15 yards.
Alty moved the ball around well in pockets of pressure just as they had done in the first half of the original tie — but Leather had to take the safe option and concede a corner when Taylor’s excellent low cross flew through the home side’s six-yard box in the 15th minute.
The home side carved out another chance three minutes later as they failed to halt a clever run by Watmore, but Jack Moult drove his shot too high from 12 yards.
It was a warning to the Brewers that Lee Sinnott’s side could not be underestimated, though it was the non-leaguers who had to biggest escape so far when Zola met a Palmer free kick with a towering header that thumped against the crossbar in the 24th minute.
Another chance quickly came Albion’s way when Palmer spotted Maghoma’s run, only for the wide man to miss the target from a yard inside the area.
Brewers keeper Mark Oxley had his first test in the 28th minute and needed two attempts to hold on to a Nicky Clee volley as Watmore steamed in looking to make contact with the loose ball.
Palmer had a snap-shot smothered by Coburn after a great piece of individual skill made room for a shot from outside the area, before Zola could only direct a header at the keeper from a McCrory cross.
Albion had started to enjoy the lion’s share of the possession, though another slick break by the home team ended with Lawrie shooting wide from the edge of the area in the 38th minute and Watmore then drove a shot too high after being slipped through by Lawrie.
Taylor was unable to get on enough power on his shot when he spun onto a loose ball as Albion tried to regain the initiative after the break.
Bur Alty still had plenty of fight in them, Moult having a shot deflected narrowly wide in the 51st minute and then forcing Oxley to make a smart save low to his right.
Albion had looked less threatening this half but Palmer lifted them out of the doldrums when he brilliantly curled a 30-yard free kick inside Coburn’s right post after Maghoma had been upended by Simon Richman.
Oxley tipped over a Moult shot as Alty battled for a quick equaliser but the Brewers stretched their lead in the 75th minute.
There was hint of offside when Taylor broke on the left but the flag stayed down and the winger continued to the byline before pulling the ball for Zola to sweep in a left-foot shot from eight yards out.
Matt Doughty could have reduced the deficit but drove a low shot wide of the far post with only Oxley to beat.
Coburn had to tip over a Zander Diamond header as Albion threatened to inflict nmore damage.
And in the closing minutes Rowett took the opportunity to give skipper John McGrath his first outing almost nine months after a serious foot injury, while also blooding young midfielder Matt Palmer.