DAMIEN McCrory’s first goal in more than a year was not enough to get Burton Albion three points last night as a difficult week on the road ended with a 1-1 draw at Torquay United that took them fifth in League Two.
The Brewers had hoped for a win at the strugglers after losing 2-0 at Bristol Rovers on Friday night and drawing 1-1 at Rochdale eight days ago, and when McCrory netted just after the half-hour, it looked like the goal Albion needed to settle their nerves.
But the lead lasted just seven minutes as Elliot Benyon’s header drew gutsy Torquay level.
From thereon in, chances were at a premium on a very heavy pitch which cut up badly in places.
The best fell late on to Dominic Knowles, whose shot from close range was blocked by Gulls keeper Michael Poke.
A draw away from home is usually considered a good result – but given Burton’s excellent away record this season, they had hoped for much more from Plainmoor.
It also means they have taken just two points from three away games in a week, a disappointing return given their dreams of automatic promotion.
Now, they return to the Pirelli Stadium and the visit of Accrington Stanley on Saturday – with three points badly needed to get them back on track for the top three.
Boss Gary Rowett made three changes to the side which sank at Bristol Rovers, also abandoning a system of four at the back.
McCrory returned for Chris Hussey after recovering from a dead leg picked up at Rochdale, while Gary Alexander came back in for Billy Kee up front and David Gray made his first start, with Jimmy Phillips dropping down to the bench. Hussey missed out altogether.
With Gray and McCrory starting at right and left wing-back respectively, Phil Edwards tucked inside to make a back three with Ian Sharps and Shane Cansdell-Sherriff.
In front of them, Matty Palmer and Robbie Weir were in central midfield, with Zeli Ismail and Adam McGurk starting off Alexander.
Albion took a few minutes to settle into their new shape, while Torquay – beaten at home by Accrington on Saturday – hardly flew out of the blocks themselves.
Alexander fired a snap-shot at goal on the turn on six minutes but his effort was never going to trouble Poke in the home goal.
On 10 minutes, the Gulls appealed for a penalty after the ball appeared to bounce up and catch Sharps on the arm, but referee Brendan Malone was uninterested.
There were few chances up until McCrory gave Albion the lead just after the half-hour.
Edwards fired a testing cross into the Torquay area and Alexander flicked the ball back for McCrory, steaming in at pace from the left, to blast a low shot through Poke and into the net.
But the Brewers could only hold the lead for seven minutes.
They had a warning before conceding when Shamir Goodwin poked a good chance wide on his wrong foot.
Ben Harding was then given too much time and space to fire a ball in from the right and Benyon nipped in to get the merest of glances and send the ball across Rob Lainton and in.
Rowett made two changes 10 minutes after the break to kick some life into Burton.
Knowles and Kee replaced McGurk and Alexander, but neither side created many chances in the opening 20 minutes of the second half.
A Sharps header from a Palmer corner which skewed wide was the closest Albion came, while Torquay were reduced to pot-shots from distance, with one from Harding on 65 minutes forcing Lainton into a sprawling save.
On 71 minutes, Damon Lathrope headed a Kev Nicholson corner just over at the far post and seconds later Knowles missed a golden chance to give the Brewers the lead.
Gray swung a ball into the box and Kee knocked it down for his strike partner, whose shot from close range was blocked by Poke. Knowles would have fancied burying the chance.
Ismail blazed a shot from the edge of the area over on 79 minutes as Albion pushed for a winner and Kee’s header from a Palmer free kick was touched over by Poke.
Knowles and Gray both had decent openings in stoppage time, but the former had a shot blocked while the latter’s low effort from 18 yards was saved by Poke.
Billy Bodin was then inches away from making it a miserable night for the Brewers when his free kick in the dying seconds flew inches wide.