DOMINIC Knowles hit his first goals in the Football League as determined Burton Albion came from a goal down to beat Cheltenham Town 2-1 and stay second in the League Two table.
The Brewers were up against it after falling behind to Byron Harrison’s fortunate opener just after the hour.
After dominating most of the match and seeing Scott Brown in the visiting goal pull off several fine saves, Albion could easily have gone into their shells.
But instead they came out fighting and were level in less than 10 minutes as Knowles stabbed home debutant Zeli Ismail’s cross.
All the momentum was with Burton and with five minutes left Ismail and Knowles again combined for the latter to hit the winner.
Boss Gary Rowett has called for impact from his substitutes – and he got exactly that from the young duo.
Ismail, signed on loan from Wolves last week, has been billed as a player to get the fans on the edge of their seats and he was simply too hot for Cheltenham full-back Craig Braham-Barrett to handle.
The 20-year-old has pace to burn and on first viewing looks an excellent loan signing.
As for Knowles, he has had to bide his time this season after being signed with one eye on the future. He has only started five in the league with Billy Kee, Adam McGurk, Michael Symes and Rene Howe more experienced options in the striking department.
But with Howe now departed, the 21-year-old timed his brace perfectly.
Both were poacher’s goals and with his duck broken, and the confidence that should bring, Rowett will hope for a few more from the hard-working front-runner.
There was also a return to the starting side for Zander Diamond with Shane Cansdell-Sherriff sidelined until February with a fractured cheekbone.
The former Aberdeen centre-half slotted in seamlessly alongside Ian Sharps at the back as the partnership which took Albion to the play-offs last season was renewed.
Rowett likes the balance of a right footed-left footed partnership which Sharps and Cansdell-Sherriff provide.
But with the Australian recuperating, Diamond showed just how important he is to the squad, as well as the embarrassment of riches Rowett has at centre-half.
Diamond for Cansdell-Sherriff was the only change the manager made to the side which drew 0-0 at Mansfield.
Ismail and fellow loan signing Adam Buxton were on the bench.
Michael Symes (knee) and Cansdell-Sherriff were the only injury absentees.
It was a slow start from both sides –with Albion looking rusty after 10 days off following their postponement at Bournemouth.
On 11 minutes, ex-Derby defender Steve Elliott brought McGurk down just outside the box.
Kee hit the resulting free kick into the wall and ball bounced out for Alex MacDonald, whose shot was also blocked.
MacDonald went on a surging run down the right on 20 minutes, beating two before the solid Matt Richards stopped his progress.
Three minutes later Matty Palmer threaded a beautiful ball through for McGurk in the area, but Brown was rapidly out of his goal to block the striker’s low shot.
Cheltenham, who came into the game with just one defeat in 12, then had their first effort of note, with the tricky Kemar Roofe attempting to lob Dean Lyness from 35 yards after a poor kick from the Albion keeper. The ball, though, drifted wide.
Diamond had a chance to make it a memorable return on 28 minutes when he met a smashing cross from Jimmy Phillips, but Brown got up to tip his powerful header from eight yards over.
From the resulting corner, Diamond headed well over from 15 yards.
The Robins had been quiet for most of the half but had a great chance to take the lead on 37 minutes. Jermaine McGlashan, however, got it all wrong and blazed Sam Deering’s cross over from eight yards.
With half-time looming, Albion almost got the lead. Phillips, who had another productive afternoon, fired in a tasty cross for Kee to head at goal, but again Brown flung himself to his right to save.
Seconds later, Troy Brown got free from a Cheltenham corner but his bullet header was stopped by Lyness.
Cheltenham threatened after the break and McGlashan shinned a Sido Jombati cross over from eight yards.
It was a warning for Albion and the Robins had the lead on 62 minutes.
Jason Taylor outmuscled Palmer in midfield and his ball into the area was deflected to Harrison, who finished low to the left of Lyness from 12 yards.
Rowett reacted immediately and put Ismail on for MacDonald on the right.
The on-loan Wolves man had a rapid impact, firing a corner to the far post for Sharps to thump a header which Brown gathered on the line.
On 65 minutes, Phillips did well to hold off Richards and set Kee up just inside the area.
The striker placed a neat shot to the left of Brown but it hit the inside of the post and ran across the line before amazingly coming out off the other post.
Albion’s momentum was building and Rowett replaced McGurk, who had taken a heavy knock, with Knowles on 69 minutes. Two minutes later, the striker had drawn Burton level with what was about his second touch.
Albion broke down the right with Ismail and he crossed into the box. Cheltenham failed to clear and Knowles, after looking like he had missed the chance, gathered the ball and finished from five yards.
The home pressure then racked up a notch, with Kee volleying just wide from eight yards and Damien McCrory blasting a piledriver from 30 yards which Brown managed to touch over.
With five minutes to go the winner finally arrived as Albion broke through the Cheltenham dam.
Ismail again roasted Braham-Barrett down the line and crossed for Knowles to tap home from close range and seal the three points.
It was the first time since the 2-0 win over Torquay in October – 12 games –that the Brewers had scored more than one in a League Two match.
It could not have come at a better time and with the goals coming from a new source – Knowles and Ismail – Albion can take great heart going into the second half of the season.