BURTON Albion suffered only their second defeat in 16 League Two matches last night as they went down 2-0 at Bristol Rovers.
The Brewers’ excellent run away from the Pirelli Stadium also came to an end with a first league defeat on their travels since the 2-0 reverse at Dagenham & Redbridge in November.
The Memorial Stadium again proved an unhappy hunting ground for Gary Rowett’s men, having lost there 3-0 last season and 7-1 the year before.
And Rovers were again well on top, with David Clarkson and John-Joe O’Toole netting second-half goals to see off the Brewers.
While the Gas had been the better side and Burton had ridden their luck at times, the frustration came from holding the hosts at bay for 70 minutes before conceding two late goals.
The first goal was also entirely avoidable as an isolated Chris Hussey was caught in possession, while the second came as the Brewers were looking to get themselves back in the game.
Last night’s performance was far removed from the one which netted a 1-1 draw at Rochdale in midweek – but with plenty of games left it is far from a blow in the race for automatic promotion.
Rowett made three changes after the Rochdale match.
Damien McCrory was ruled out with the dead leg he suffered at Spotland, so Hussey came in for his first game at left-back for the Brewers.
Lee Bell and Gary Alexander dropped to the bench, with Billy Kee and Adam McGurk reunited up front, the latter after missing Rochdale with a minor knee injury.
The Brewers were under par in the first half and came under sustained pressure from Rovers, who were looking for their eighth home win of the season.
O’Toole, Bristol’s top scorer at kick-off with 11 goals, had a shot bravely blocked by Matty Palmer on four minutes before Lee Brown had a curling left-footed shot palmed away by Rob Lainton on the quarter-hour.
Albion had a let-off on 22 minutes as Kaid Mohamed crossed to Clarkson at the back post – and his header flew into the side netting.
Zeli Ismail got away from Brown on 25 minutes but shot over from a tight angle 15 yards out.
Chris Beardsley then scuffed a Clarkson cross across the face of goal with the half-hour looming.
Mohamed fired wide from the edge of the box on 39 minutes before Burton had their best period of the opening 45 minutes.
McGurk got a flash of an opening as Jimmy Phillips pulled back an Ismail cross, but he fired a snap-shot just wide from eight yards under pressure from ex-Albion centre-half Tom Parkes.
Robbie Weir also had a shot from the edge of the box deflected for a corner before Rovers went close to breaking the deadlock in added time.
Hussey needlessly fouled Alan Gow and Brown fired a dangerous ball in, which caused chaos in the six-yard box before the referee blew for a foul as O’Toole tussled with Weir, Lainton and Ian Sharps in the melee.
Clarkson fluffed a good chance five minutes after the break as he failed to get enough on a cross from Smith.
O’Toole dragged a shot across the face of goal from 22 yards just short of the hour – but Albion were more solid than they had been before the break.
Palmer then fired wide as Albion broke through Ismail, who had not seen enough of the ball all match.
Rowett replaced Weir with Bell just past the hour to protect the back four, with Phillips moving inside and McGurk going to the left in what looked a 4-2-3-1 formation.
But on 70 minutes, Rovers took the lead after Hussey was caught out on the left by Mohamed.
Michael Smith swung the ball in and Clarkson, running in at the back post, placed a header past Lainton from close range.
McGurk skied a decent chance over from 15 yards with just under a quarter of an hour left as the Brewers pressed for an equaliser.
However, Rovers made the game safe on 79 minutes as O’Toole tapped home from close range after Lainton had spilled a shot from Clarkson.
A late Beardsley header was ruled out for offside as Albion got caught trying to chase the game.
Palmer had their best chance to pull one back but he flashed a header across the face of goal from Alex MacDonald’s free kick in the dying seconds.