BURTON Albion got back to their best with a terrific performance to beat League Two leaders Chesterfield at the Proact Stadium.
The Brewers never looked in any danger against the Spireites after they flew into an early lead thanks to Adam McGurk’s two goals in four minutes.
Once they had their lead on Saturday, Gary Rowett’s braves defended better than they have all season to take a third clean sheet.
It was also a fourth away victory of the campaign – and the third, after wins at Fleetwood and Wycombe, to come against sides in the top seven.
Teams will now be starting to fear a visit from the Brewers, and rightly so.
Last season, with their home form nothing short of amazing, they won only five on the road as they reached the play-offs. They are already only a win off that and it is only October.
Saturday’s was a performance reminiscent of their 2-1 League Cup victory at Sheffield United in August.
Like the match at Bramall Lane, the key to the win, aside from two deadly finishes from McGurk, was the discipline shown by the players in sticking to a counter-attacking game plan.
Not getting anyone sent off helped, too!
Rowett set his side up with McGurk as a lone striker, with support coming from Jimmy Phillips wide on the left and Chris Hussey wide on the right.
The important part of the pitch where the game was won, though, was in the middle.
Matty Palmer – who was brilliant throughout – started behind Robbie Weir and Lee Bell in a midfield three, allowing them to go on and close down Sam Morsy and Jimmy Ryan, who like to sit deep for Chesterfield and dictate the play.
Rowett knew the key to stopping Chesterfield was stopping the duo – and it worked perfectly.
It was a classic counter-attacking performance and a memorable full Football League debut for Palmer.
The 18-year-old has been pushing for a start in the league all season and Rowett may have found a perfect role for him deep in midfield where he can use his range of passing and defensive nous.
Having the three in central midfield worked perfectly and gave solid protection to the back four.
Now, Albion need to improve their home form, with the visit of Torquay tomorrow a perfect time to make it back-to-back wins and rebuild Fortress Pirelli after their recent blips.
Rowett made two changes on Saturday, bringing in Palmer and Phillips for the suspended Billy Kee and unavailable Alex MacDonald, who picked up a painful rib injury in training on Friday.
Rene Howe returned to the bench, as did Marcus Holness after his three match ban for a red card, one of three sendings-off for the Brewers in the previous six games.
Albion started the better of the two sides and got reward with two goals in the opening quarter of an hour.
Phillips hit a corner into the box on nine minutes and Hussey, from close range managed to turn and hit Shane Cansdell-Sherriff’s blocked header against post and bar.
It should have been a goal but seconds later the ball was in the net - and it was a cracker. Bell played the ball through for McGurk, who surged between centre-halves Sam Hird and Liam Cooper like they were not there.
As Chesterfield keeper Tommy Lee came out of goal, McGurk bent a shot around him from 16 yards and into the net.
The Spireites were reeling from the early blow and it got much worse for them on 14 minutes.
Palmer broke play with a superb tackle in the centre of midfield and got the ball to Weir. He then played Hussey in down the right, with the wide-man pulling the ball back onto his left before crossing for McGurk. He got above Hird and nodded across Lee and into the far corner from 10 yards. It was a clinical goal.
It should have been 3-0 on 24 minutes after a lovely break from Albion. Palmer found Bell, who in turn got the ball to Phillips. The winger’s cross was miskicked by Hird straight to Weir, who seemed surprised as he fired over the top from eight yards.
After a stunning opening from the Brewers, Chesterfield got back into it in a dangerous 15-minute spell before half-time.
Ian Sharps had to dig out a cross from Tendayi Darikwa in his own six-yard box before the lively Doyle headed over under pressure from the impressive Phil Edwards.
Jordan Pickford also saved a free kick from Chesterfield star man Gary Roberts, who was well-marshalled throughout by Albion.
The Spireites brought on Jay O’Shea at half-time to go for the jugular but they still failed to cut the visitors apart.
The introduction of Armand Gnanduillet just before the hour almost paid dividends, but the big striker headed O’Shea’s cross wide.
Phillips should then have sealed it and will be kicking himself for not opening his account for the season.
Hird fouled McGurk 22 yards out in the inside-left channel and Palmer’s curling free kick could only be palmed clear by Lee. Phillips pounced but from a tight angle six yards out he dragged his shot across goal.
Pickford saved a Doyle long-ranger before turning away a 22-yard shot from O’Shea but it was generally pretty comfortable for Albion.
Weir, who was excellent throughout, hit the post with a curling left-footed shot from 25 yards on 80 minutes and Hussey went for an outrageous lob in injury time as the Brewers completed the win, recorded a clean sheet and showed just how good they can be.