BILLY Kee believes Burton Albion are entering the most important phase of the campaign — but is convinced there will be no second half of the season collapse this time around.
The Brewers have been in promising positions at the end of the year in each of the last two campaigns only to end up in relegation battles.
The 3-2 Boxing Day victory over Rochdale left Albion out of the play-off positions only on goal difference and striker Kee says the squad is strong enough this time around to maintain a promotion push.
He said: “The Christmas period is always difficult, but I think the important bit is kicking on after Christmas.
“If we can kick on and keep up the same form we had before Christmas, I think we’ll be fine.”
The Brewers entered 2012 in seventh place but ended up a lowly 17th after a run of 16 games without a win which cost former boss Paul Peschisolido his job.
The previous season, Albion ended 2010 six points off a play-off spot, but only ensured their safety on the penultimate weekend of the campaign.
The squad manager Gary Rowett has at his disposal this time around is certainly a lot stronger on paper and Kee is convinced there will be no repeat of the last two seasons.
“Gaz (Rowett) will not let what has happened in the last two seasons happen.
“You can see the players we’ve got on the bench and the players who are left out, like today, Justin’s (Richards) left out. How can you have a player like Justin left out of the squad? Any team in the league would take him.
“You can see that we’re stronger this season and all the lads have a great attitude, we don’t sulk when we’re on the bench.”
Kee scored twice in the victory over Rochdale — making it three goals in two games — and he has backed Albion to secure another home victory on Saturday when a Southend United team who are unbeaten in 10 games in the league visit the Pirelli Stadium.
The 22-year-old striker said: “We’ve got another home game on Saturday. Hopefully we can rest up and get ready for that game, and hopefully we can get three points.
“Southend are a team in great form, but they’ve got to come to our place and take three points off us, and I don’t think that’ll be easy.
“They’ll be after a bit of revenge after our nick and run down there when we robbed them, but I think it will be different this time — we’re at home and we can play football and settle it down.”
Kee was delighted with the Rochdale victory having surrendered a lead on their way to a 3-2 defeat at Barnet last Friday, and hailed Burton’s character after Dale had got back on level terms having been 2-0 down after 25 minutes.
Kee got the ball rolling for the Brewers when firing home a free-kick with 15 minutes gone before setting up strike partner Calvin Zola for the second 10 minutes later.
However, skipper Peter Cavanagh reduced the deficit with a stunning volley three minutes before half-time, while a dreadful back-pass from recalled central defender Nathan Stanton allowed visiting striker Bobby Grant to level matters nine minutes into the second half.
Crucially, Kee grabbed what proved to be the winner just three minutes later, chesting home Zola’s driven cross virtually on the goal-line.
He said: “Yeah, it was a terrific result and a great team performance after the result against Barnet, who were bottom of the league.
“Anyone can beat anyone in this league and I thought they (Rochdale) tried to come here and play, and they tried to do what they’re good at.
“They played well and they tried to play nice football, but sometimes that isn’t the key in this league, as we know.
“I thought Mags (Jacques Maghoma), Zola and all the team really were outstanding.
“I think we all knew that it was important to bounce back from the Barnet defeat and we had yesterday off, which was a big thing that the gaffer put trust in us, and I think we’ve repaid him in a way.
“That’s what he asked for, three points today, and it puts us right in the mix, which is where we need to be in January.
“I think it was a game where it was 10 minutes to us, 10 minutes to them, those sort of spells in the game.
“We started off quick and second half we started off quick, and that goal killed us. It’s not very often Stanno (Stanton) does that to be fair, he ain’t one of them players and I thought he was outstanding today overall.
“I think we showed what we’re about and we went and won the game.
“I think a lot of times this season the other team’s took the lead and we’ve come back, so we’ve shown the fight in us.
“We can drop our heads, but Calvin said to me ‘come on Billy, let’s dig in’, and I think we did and we showed what we are about.
“To get the third goal so quickly after they had equalised kills them then. It does kill them when you do that and it puts it in their minds then.
“It was a big thing and at the end of the game we didn’t really need to chase and try and get another goal.
“I think it was important to get that goal early after they had scored.
“I think we did well today and, attacking-wise, we could have scored a lot more goals.”