IT WAS imperative that Burton Albion beat Accrington Stanley on Saturday to get their bid for automatic promotion back on track.
How they did it was far less important in the grand scheme of things after one win in their previous six matches.
And it was never likely to be a classic against an Accy side once again fighting for their Football League lives.
It took a late penalty from Billy Kee to see off the Lancashire outfit’s resistance as referee Andy Haines, who could have awarded at least two earlier penalties, finally got wise to constant fouls on Albion players in the visiting box.
Kee’s penalty came after Dean Winnard had levelled for the visitors in the second half after Rob Lainton’s error.
Kee had earlier given the hosts the lead in the first half at the Pirelli Stadium.
The three vital points lifted the Brewers up to fourth spot in the League Two table, above Oxford, who were stuffed 3-0 at Rochdale.
While their recent run was hardly disastrous, Albion badly needed a win after picking up just two points from three away trips.
They also needed Kee, their most prolific striker, back in the goals. He tends to score them in gluts, so it bodes well for the remaining dozen games.
If they can also repeat the resolve they displayed against a physical Accrington side the top three should not be far away come the end of the season.
As for giving an opponent a good beating, that will have to wait for another day – but if boss Gary Rowett was offered 2-1 wins in the five remaining home matches he would snatch your hand off.
The Brewers chief made three changes to the side which drew 1-1 at Torquay in midweek.
The 5-2-3 formation was dropped and Albion lined up in their familiar 4-4-2 shape.
Out went David Gray – a touch unfortunately – Gary Alexander and Adam McGurk and in came Jimmy Phillips, Kee and Dominic Knowles, the latter two after an impressive half hour against Torquay.
Burton could have been three up in the first 10 minutes as they made probably their best start to a home game this season.
The players really answered Rowett’s call for an up-and-at-’em start and Accy were hanging on.
After six minutes of constant pressure, Damien McCrory crossed and Kee got free of his marker before thumping a header which Marcus Bettinelli – a highly rated young keeper on loan from Fulham – got up to tip over.
As the Brewers maintained the pressure, Robbie Weir headed a Matty Palmer corner at goal, with an Accrington boot clearing off the line.
Also from the corner there was the first signs of what would turn into a full running battle at set pieces between Ian Sharps and Kayode Odejayi.
The Accy striker could barely keep his hands off Albion’s skipper and Mr Haines could quite easily have blown for a penalty while Weir was heading at goal.
On nine minutes, Phillips almost gave the Brewers the lead.
The ball broke to the winger in a bit of space eight yards out and his low, instinctive finish was kept out by the outstretched boot of Bettinelli.
Accrington had ridden their luck and on 18 minutes got one of their few chances on the day.
Kai Naismith found the tricky Piero Mingoia with a low cross but, in front of goal from close range, he could not find a finish.
On 26 minutes, Odejayi got hold of Sharps again in the visitors’ penalty area as a corner came in, but again Mr Haines chose to ignore a blantant foul.
It was a set piece which allowed Kee to give Albion the lead on 34 minutes.
A free kick was only partially cleared by the Accy defence and Phillips returned the ball from the left.
Knowles miskicked at the near post and the ball reached Kee, who stabbed the ball at goal, with it taking a deflection off Tom Aldred and wrong-footing Bettinelli as it went in.
In first half injury time Knowles found Zeli Ismail with a perfect through ball but after skinning Michael Liddle his finish was just too high.
Knowles again found Ismail early in the second half after doing very well to win a header and the winger was closer this time, his shot flying just wide.
Accrington drew themselves level with around 20 minutes left – and it was a poor goal to concede on two counts.
Ismail gave away a soft free kick just outside the area and Lee Molyneux got up to hit a dangerous ball in on his left foot.
Lainton came and tried to punch the ball, but calamity struck and he missed it completely as Winnard got the finest of touches into the net.
The leveller could easily have flattened the Brewers but they kept at their task, getting reward with 10 minutes left as Kee won it from the spot.
Ismail showed great endeavour to force a corner down the right.
McCrory swung the ball in and Mr Haines pointed to the spot amid what looked a wrestling match in the area.
Initially it was unclear against whom the foul was awarded, with McGurk and Phil Edwards both dragged to the ground – it turned out the penalty was against Aldred for a pull on McGurk.
Kee kept his cool and sent Bettinelli the wrong way – he never really looked like missing.
Albion did not let the lead slip for a second time and could even have extended it as Kee teed up substitute Alex MacDonald in the area on 89 minutes. But the winger, whose efforts deserve a first goal of the season, placed his shot just wide from 15 yards.