BILLY Kee’s 10th goal of the season salvaged a 1-1 draw for Burton Albion against 10-man Dagenham & Redbridge at the Pirelli Stadium.
The Brewers had to be content with a point on Saturday as they failed to capitalise on Jack Connors’ sending off just after half-time.
Boss Gary Rowett had predicted that the Daggers would be no pushovers – and he was proved correct as they sat deep and counter attacked at pace.
They took the lead on the stroke of half-time as Lawson D’Ath smashed an unstoppable piledriver past home debutant Rob Lainton in the Albion goal.
It was the fourth match running at the Pirelli that the Brewers had fallen behind, and they have won just one of those games.
The goal was a sucker punch after Burton had thoroughly bossed the visitors but only really created one or two clear-cut chances.
When Connors went for a second yellow card for two fouls on the impressive Zeli Ismail – who put in a terrific display on the wing, especially in the second half – it looked like the points were there for the taking.
Kee hit another cracker with just over 20 minutes to go, but Albion, inspired by young Ismail, could not quite find a winner as Dagenham held on, Robbie Weir unluckily hitting a post in added time.
The Londoners have been effective party poopers among the promotion contenders this season, getting draws at Chesterfield and Scunthorpe and beating Rochdale and Southend on the road.
They are a dangerous outfit visiting top sides who are looking to dominate on their own patch.
Saturday’s first half was almost entirely one-sided until D’Ath popped up to break the deadlock with a classic sucker punch – one shot on target all half, one goal.
Dagenham then had a couple of chances after the break but once Connors went there was only one side in it, but determined defending from a back four led by the solid Scott Doe was enough to keep Albion out.
A draw is hardly the end of the world, though, with the top of the League Two table still tight.
The Brewers have also only lost one of their last 14 matches and have a run of three away games in a week starting on Tuesday.
They could prove pivotal, but with 16 games remaining nothing has yet been decided.
Rowett made one change on Saturday from the side which beat Morecambe away 1-0.
Ismail returned on the right wing in place of Alex MacDonald, who dropped down to the bench.
Zander Diamond and Marcus Holness missed the matchday squad altogether, with right-back David Gray, signed in January, coming into a squad for the first time.
Lainton continued in goal as Dean Lyness rests his damaged thigh.
Dagenham set up with a defensive 4-1-3-2 formation to stymie Albion, with Billy Bingham sat protecting the back four.
After 10 minutes Albion had a big shout for a penalty – and it looked like they had a case.
As Ian Sharps went to head Matty Palmer’s free kick at goal, Connors almost pulled the big defender’s shirt clean off.
But referee Kevin Wright was not interested.
Four minutes later, a long corner from Palmer found Adam McGurk in space beyond the back post but his looping header was kicked away off the line by Connors.
McGurk had a decent opportunity to fashion a chance on 24 minutes as he gathered Doe’s poor header clear. But the striker got it all wrong and lifted a cross-shot well over the bar from just inside the area.
On the half-hour, Gary Alexander – on his full home debut – found Jimmy Phillips in space on the left with a clever ball and the winger cut inside Gavin Hoyte before rifling a low shot which Doe bravely blocked with his body six yards out.
Three minutes later, Weir skied a shot well over from 16 yards after a tidy Albion move involving McGurk and Phillips. Again, Doe did enough to put the midfielder off with another block.
The pressure was maintained and seconds later Burton broke, with McGurk finding Palmer in space in the area.
The young midfielder tried to place a shot inside the near post but put it just wide when he probably should have hit the target.
Half-time was looming when Dagenham got their first effort on goal – and what an effort it was.
They broke away at pace and Medy Elito, under pressure from Phil Edwards, got the ball to D’Ath 25 yards out. He took a touch and fired a curling effort past Lainton and into the top left corner.
It was an excellent goal and totally out of the blue from the Daggers.
After the break, the visitors could have extended their lead.
Connors found Elito 15 yards out and the wide-man blazed a powerful shot which Lainton managed to acrobatically touch around his left post.
On 54 minutes, Mr Wright gave Connors his marching orders.
The young left-back had tripped livewire Ismail on 37 minutes and hauled him down again as he surged past him down the by-line.
Daggers boss Wayne Burnett immediately put Femi Ilesanmi on at left-back, but he too struggled against the pace of Ismail, who became an increasing thorn in the visitors’ side.
Just short of the hour, the winger tore past Ilesanmi after turning this way and that and charged into the area, only to drag a shot wide of the near post instead of taking the better option of a pass to Palmer in space.
Kee entered the fray for McGurk and on 69 minutes he does what he does best.
Lainton found Ismail with a quick ball out and he beat Ilesanmi – again – before getting the ball to Phillips. He passed the ball to Kee, who turned Luke Wilkinson on the edge of the box with his first touch before firing the ball past Chris Lewington with his second.
It was game on – but Dagenham, who soon lost substitute Ilesanmi with a case of twisted blood, kept on frustrating Albion.
Weir skied another effort over after good work from Kee and Shane Cansdell-Sherriff headed a Damien McCrory corner just over.
In stoppage time the Brewers had their final chance as Kee, who was very bright after coming on, found Weir in a crowded area. His low shot came back off the post, summing up Albion’s afternoon – close, but no cigar.