FIVE minutes into the League Two play-off semi-final at the Pirelli Stadium yesterday, Robbie Weir launched into a thumping tackle to halt Will Atkinson’s passage to goal.
It was a challenge that typified the high-octane, physical game between Burton Albion and Southend United, a test which the Brewers expected, and largely dealt with.
They emerged with a 1-0 win to take into Saturday’s second leg at Roots Hall, where Weir is expecting more of the same from the Shrimpers.
“It was important for us to stand up and be counted,” said the midfielder, who was named as the sponsors’ man of the match after a typically energetic display.
“We were expecting tackles to go in and we had to be strong.
“It was a rough ride at times, but we were expecting it.
“They are a big side, a physical side.
“We didn’t want them to come here and bully us on our own turf.
“There’s another big task for us next weekend down in Southend.
“It’s going to be a very important game next week and we saw last weekend that it’s a very tough place to go.”
The Brewers have the best defensive record away from home in the whole of League Two this season, and know that another good display on the road would see them to Wembley for the play-off final.
They take a one-goal advantage down the M1 after Adam McGurk struck on the stroke of half-time for the only goal of the game.
“That goal could give us a bit of an edge,” said Weir.
“In the first half, there were chances that we created, and there could have been a couple of goals.
“Adam and Billy linked up well for the goal, which was taken calm and composed – typical Gurks.”
They will go with that McGurk goal but without defender and newly crowned player of the year Ian Sharps, who was sent off for two harsh yellow cards in the space of three minutes.
“The first one is very harsh on him, as it’s just hit him on the shoulder,” said Weir.
“You see them given week in, week out, and it’s just unfortunate it’s happened to Sharpsy this week.
“On the second one, their lad dived on me in the game as well, and he stuck his foot out and dived on Sharpsy.
“You could say it’s clever play, but it’s just one of those things you have to get on with.
“Of course he’s disappointed, especially at this vital stage of the season.
“He doesn’t want to be missing play-off games.
“But he’s a big character for us as a team but we just have to pick ourselves up and show our own character.”
Phil Edwards shuffled across from right-back to fill in for Sharps yesterday, but Shane Cansdell-Sherriff could return from injury to replace the 33-year-old centre-half next weekend.
“Sharpsy being suspended now gives someone else a chance to come in and do a job for us.
“Phil has done a job as we’ve seen there, and we’ve got Shane to come back fit as well.
“So it’s up to the gaffer what he wants to do there as both players are more than capable of stepping in.
“Today showed what a good team performance we can have.
“When Sharpsy got sent off, we had our backs against the wall, but the lads showed character and dug in.
“And we even got the goal we needed to take back down there.
“But we can’t get ahead of ourselves.”
The Brewers came out of the blocks flying in a performance much-improved from the final league game of the season against the Shrimpers last weekend.
“It was the game plan to put them on the back foot,” said Weir.
“The gaffer said we want to start early, get in their faces and turn them nice and quickly.
“That’s what we did, but then you could see that we dropped off.”
On the attitude needed for Saturday, Weir said: “At this vital stage in the season – in the play-offs – it’s a team game.
“Obviously it’s a bigger game than normal, but everyone will just treat it as a normal game.”