GARY Rowett believes Burton Albion are entering a crucial phase of the season as they attempt to consolidate their place as promotion contenders.
Albion’s stamina and resolve will be tested to the full at the Pirelli Stadium this afternoon, kick-off 3pm, when they return to League Two action against in-form Dagenham & Redbridge.
The fixture comes less than 48 hours after the Brewers secured progress in the FA Cup with a 2-0 victory in their first round replay at Altrincham — and they play for the third time in six days on Tuesday when they host Aldershot Town.
But Rowett is expecting his men to dig deep and seize the opportunity to improve their points tally.
The Brewers boss said: “It’s up to us at home, where we’ve lost only once all season, to respond well and make sure we’re on it — not only against Dagenham but also Aldershot.”
Albion have already played most of the top teams and Rowett has identified a run of fixtures against sides in the bottom half of the table as an opportunity for his men to improve their promotion prospects.
He said: “You look at the next seven or eight games and they are all against teams below us in the division.
“They are going to be a crucial set of fixtures which could weigh heavily in terms of defining our season.
“It will be difficult because we’re not going to be fresh for the first of those games, but we’ll try and get something out of it and then look to the next few.
“I’m certainly looking for a good points tally over the next month or so.”
Dagenham visit the Pirelli Stadium in good spirits after a resounding 5-0 defeat of one-time title favourites Rotherham United.
Rowett said: “Dagenham are probably the form team in the division over the last four or five games - and you know John Still teams will always come and have plenty of fight about them with a lot of energy and a little bit of pace.
“It’s going to be a really good challenge in a way because we’ve had one day’s rest and now we go into the next game.
“I see it as a big test to see if we can go again against Dagenham, but the good thing is that we do have some fresh legs to go in there.
“We were not in a situation where we could make wholesale changes at Altrincham and try to win the game.
“But we might have to play slightly differently against Dagenham and we might need some of those who sat on the bench to go out and have an impact for us.”
Among the candidates for a return to the starting line-up are defender Nathan Stanton and striker Matt Paterson, both of whom dropped to the bench at Altrincham.
Rowett will also probably revert to a 4-4-2 formation after opting for a 4-3-3 set-up at Moss Lane, where Cleveland Taylor and Jacques Maghoma operated either side of striker Calvin Zola.
The tactical switch worked as Albion wore down the Blue Square Bet North side to clinch a second round visit to Crewe Alexandra on December 2 thanks to second half goals from Chris Palmer – courtesy of a brilliant long-range free-kick – and Zola.
Rowett said: “As the game went on, I just felt the fact that we had three up there at times caused them a problem.
“Spaces started to develop a little bit, allowing Cleveland and Mags to become more effective.
“I was very pleased in the end because Altrincham are a good side, who belie their Conference North status – they’re as a good a side as I’ve seen from that division for a long time.
“They’ve got loads of pace in the side and loads of movement, and they’ll cause any teams problems.
“We started a bit better than we did in the first game and one of the words I used before the game was ‘pride.’
“Without being disrespectful, my pride hurt after the first game and I just wanted the players to realise that they needed to feel a bit of hurt as well.
“We’ve been a tough side to beat pretty much all season and we just needed to show that from the off.
“Playing the way did maybe left us a little bit open at times for the counter (attack) but it pretty much worked out as we had hoped with two terrific goals.
“Chrissie Palmer’s technique and quality shone through at times and it was a great goal, and the second one just killed the tie really because it left Altrincham a little bit deflated.
“I’m just pleased we won it 90 minutes because extra-time would have been an added problem ahead of the Dagenham game.”