BILLY Kee turned the clock back to his glory days of last season to clinch a precious victory for Burton Albion at the Pirelli Stadium on Saturday, writes REX PAGE.
Just when it seemed the fatigue of playing for the second time in less than 48 hours would cost the Brewers dear, the enigmatic striker thundered home a 79th minute winner against Dagenham & Redbridge.
Kee’s moment of brilliance came only a minute after the in-form Daggers had levelled the scores in a rollercoaster contest.
He seemed outnumbered when Lee Bell pumped the ball forward but the striker took the ball on his chest, nodded it into space and then beat goalkeeper Chris Lewington with a sumptuous right-foot volley from 25 yards.
It was a magnificent piece of individual skill from a player who could yet prove to be an ace in the pack as the Brewers attempt to add momentum to their push for honours.
The Northern Ireland under-21 international has been beset with fitness and confidence problems since a groin injury so cruelly slammed the brakes on his purple patch of scoring form last season.
However, from the moment he hit the woodwork in the 12th minute, Kee looked more like the man who once terrorised defences and manager Gary Rowett will hoping the blinding finish that sank the Daggers will be a sure sign the striker has regained his Midas touch.
It needed something special for the Brewers to finally get the better of John Still’s side as weariness set in after Thursday’s FA Cup exertions at Altrincham.
They looked in danger of fading to defeat when Sam Williams came off the bench to crown a long spell of Dagenham pressure with the equaliser.
But Kee’s goal immediately deflated the visitors and inspired the Brewers to see the game out without further alarm on an afternoon of mishaps and misfortune.
Dean Lyness had to be called up to make his full League debut after Mark Oxley became the latest victim of Albion’s goalkeeper injury jinx.
The on-loan Hull City player, who was drafted in last month after Stuart Tomlinson suffered a serious knee injury, needs an operation after breaking a hand at Altrincham.
Rowett made other changes by choice, with Nathan Stanton returning to the defence in place of Marcus Holness while Cleveland Taylor dropped to the bench to make way for Kee in a 4-4-2 formation.
The visitors made the better start but Wilkinson’s wayward header was all they had to show from a series of corner kicks.
It was the Dagenham goal that enjoyed a charmed life as Albion hit the woodwork and missed two gilt-edged chances in the space of a minute.
Kee’s perseverance made the first chance in the 12th minute after a forcing a mistake out of Femi Ilesanmi.
The striker nipped in behind the full-back to head the ball over Lewington only for it to strike a post.
With the visitors rattled, the Brewers really should have taken the lead in their next attack.
Kee’s cross from the left was inch-perfect for Zola but the striker could only head against the legs of Lewington and Robbie Weir thudded his follow-up shot into the body of the keeper with the net gaping at him.
Zola came off concussed as a result of an early clash of heads, which probably explained why he missed the chance, but Albion had some momentum now and Lewington did well to react to a free-kick viciously whipped to his near post by Chris Palmer.
Lyness routinely dealt with a Medy Elito shot but then effectively handed the visitors the lead and the initiative in the 28th minute.
The Brewers keeper and Jake Reed found themselves in a race for Michael Spillane’s chip into the area and a rash challenge by Lyness sent the Dagenham striker crashing as both players failed to make contact with the ball.
Lyness bravely tried to redeem himself by pushing Spillane’s spot kick against the inside of his left post but there was to be no reprieve for the Brewers as the ball ran along the line to leave Dwight Gayle with a simple tap-in.
The keeper then had Albion fans applauding with saves from Elito and Spillane, while Matt Saunders also went close with a raking low drive as the Daggers threatened a second goal.
Half-time came with Albion still trailing and wondering what might have been had they taken their early chances - and had erratic referee Trevor Kettle regarded Scott Doe’s barge on substitute Matt Paterson worthy of a penalty three minutes before the interval.
Albion got the break they needed and deserved in the 51st minute.
McCrory and Jacques Maghoma came up with a pair back-heeled passes that put the full-back in on the edge of the area and his right-foot shot appeared to take a deflection as it looped up and over Lewington.
Two minutes later the Brewers were in front thanks to the anticipation and opportunism of Patterson when he stole in to slide home his third goal of the season after Wilkinson’s weak attempt to head the ball back to his keeper.
The Daggers had meekly surrendered their lead but wasted no time in trying to make amends as their energy and pace began to seriously test a tiring home team.
Gayle put a decent headed chance too high, Williams fired tamely at Lyness, who then reacted well to make a save at his near post when Doe got a flick to a corner kick.
But the pressure continued to build steadily and Albion finally succumbed in the 78th minute when Wilkinson made a rather better attempt at header to set up Williams for a tremendous finish high into the net of Lyness.
A betting man would almost certainly have put his money on a Dagenham victory at this stage — but Kee had other ideas.