FINE lines and margins often decide football matches – and for Burton Albion those fine lines went against them at Scunthorpe.
The Brewers had been well on top in the first half at Glanford Park with an almost perfect counter-attacking performance.
While chances had been at a premium, Gary Rowett’s men had pressed their hosts superbly and looked very comfortable both with and without the ball.
But one moment of sloppiness at the back allowed Scunthorpe’s Paddy Madden to crash in a fine strike just before the hour.
Rob Lainton then saved Gary McSheffrey’s penalty after Phil Edwards was harshly adjudged to have tripped the winger.
Up until Madden’s volley the sensible money would have been on Burton getting out of Lincolnshire with a solid point against one of their rivals for automatic promotion from League Two.
Somehow, though, the Brewers seemed to lose their way a bit.
Saturday’s defeat is a blow to their bid to finish in the top three as it left them six points off third-placed Chesterfield, albeit with a game in hand, with eight matches left.
It was a bad time to lose at the home of one of their rivals for the top three.
After wins at Chesterfield and Fleetwood this season, as well as the recent victory at Oxford and fine draw at Rochdale, the Brewers went into the match with real confidence.
Scunthorpe, though, showed the resilience which has seen them go unbeaten in 22 games since November.
While a lot of those matches have been draws, they are a tough outfit with a real will to win – and a will to not lose.
And when you win the key moments in games – as they did – it helps.
A further blow to Albion came as Marcus Holness limped off late on.
With Ian Sharps still missing with a calf injury – his absence has really been felt – and Zander Diamond out on loan at Northampton, the central defensive department is looking a little bare ahead of tomorrow’s visit of Wycombe to the Pirelli Stadium.
Rowett made two changes following the gut-wrenching 1-1 draw with AFC Wimbledon.
Matty Palmer and Alex MacDonald came in for Dominic Knowles and the injured Zeli Ismail, whose hamstring injury is likely to keep him sidelined for six weeks.
The Brewers set up in a 4-5-1 formation, with Billy Kee the lone striker and Palmer sitting deep in the centre of midfield.
New signing Callum McFadzean, brought in on loan from Sheffield United on Friday, was on the bench.
Michael Symes and Gary Alexander (both knee) were absent, while Adam McGurk (dead leg) was not fit enough to start.
Albion made a solid start to the match, with Scunthorpe running into a determined central midfield trio of Palmer, Bell and Robbie Weir.
On six minutes, the Brewers broke superbly, with Kee holding the ball intelligently before playing in Damien McCrory, who had stormed through from left-back. Niall Canavan, though, did well to get back and block the marauding defender.
The Iron struggled to create anything of note as Albion snapped at their heels.
But 13 minutes in Shane Cansdell-Sherriff let a long kick from Sam Slocombe bounce over him but Lainton was out in the nick of time to take the ball from ex-Brewers striker Sam Winnall.
Burton continued to boss possession and territory and on 21 minutes a MacDonald corner found McCrory beyond the back post but his header back in was hacked away by Marcus Williams.
From another MacDonald corner soon after, Holness scooped a header just over the bar.
With the half-hour looming, Albion broke in a five on two situation after again breaking up a Scunthorpe move in midfield.
Weir found Jimmy Phillips but a foul was given against the winger as he tussled with full-back Eddie Nolan.
Scunthorpe threatened briefly soon after when McSheffrey’s free kick found Canavan in the box but he mishit his shot.
David Syers then failed to get a boot on Winnall’s neat chip into the box.
With half-time looming and Burton still threatening, Kee turned a blasted a shot which flew just high and wide of Slocombe’s goal.
Albion had been well on top and comfortable in the first half, but there was a sea change two minutes after the break – following a decent opening engineered by Kee which saw Bell almost finish from close range.
The Brewers began to concede ground and started to defend too deeply.
The Glanford Park crowd, which had been pretty quiet in the first half, smelled blood and the hosts started to turn up the heat.
McSheffrey blazed a long-range free kick just over after a Bell foul on 53 minutes and shortly afterwards a ball in from Nolan bounced up off Edwards and into Lainton’s grasp.
Scunthorpe’s goal arrived just shy of the hour – and will make a bit of a defensive video nasty.
Bell fouled Sean McAllister near halfway and McSheffrey, a real dead ball specialist, fired the free kick in.
Holness got a head on the ball and it was heading out for a corner until Bell tried to hook it away, but succeeded only in dropping it right into the D.
Madden steamed in and side-footed an unstoppable volley into the top right hand corner of Lainton’s net.
It was a well taken goal, but utterly avoidable from Albion’s perspective.
Chances were still at a premium for both sides and Phillips had Burton’s best of the half on 70 minutes when after a rapid break he placed an effort just wide off Slocombe’s left post after cutting in from the wing on his favoured right foot.
On 76 minutes, the Iron won a penalty after Edwards tripped McSheffrey right on the edge of the box.
It was a debatable penalty but Lainton dived low to his right to save McSheffrey’s poor effort.
There were few chances for either side thereafter and the game frustratingly wound down, with even the determined and youthful efforts of substitutes Knowles and Football League debutant Marcus Harness failing to spark Albion to life.