BURTON Albion put in arguably their best performance of the season so far as they cruised past Wycombe Wanderers.
The Brewers were dominant at Adams Park on Saturday, controlling the game and deserving to win by more than the eventual 2-1 margin.
They bossed the first half and led at the break thanks to Billy Kee’s stunning effort on the turn on 26 minutes.
Less than two minutes into the second half, Wycombe’s Charles Dunne – who had been the hosts’ most lively player – was sent off for a second yellow card, both for unnecessary fouls on Phil Edwards.
When Kee added a second goal from the spot shortly afterwards, the game was effectively over as a contest.
Albion played some lovely football for the remainder of the match and the only slight disappointment was Matt McClure netting an injury time goal for the Blues to set up a nervy finish for Gary Rowett’s men.
But they held on comfortably to take a deserved win and build on last week’s 2-2 home draw with Scunthorpe United.
There were signs of a big improvement from Albion, with better use of possession and a more confident approach going forward.
At the back, they looked solid – with Rowett’s decision to drop fans’ favourite Zander Diamond for Ian Sharps vindicated.
Sharps, back after a three-game ban for his red card against Oxford United, barely put a foot wrong all match.
He won practically every header and led the backline, including former Shrewsbury team-mate Shane Cansdell-Sherriff, superbly.
The whole defence looked solid, with Edwards having his best game yet for the club.
Further forward, Kee again showed why he is vital to the Brewers.
His first goal showcased a bit of magic and he was a nightmare for the Wycombe defence all afternoon.
Another striker was notable by his absence, with Rene Howe dropped from the matchday squad altogether. He has not quite lived up to expectations yet.
Rowett made two changes to the side which started against Scunthorpe. He replaced Diamond with Sharps at centre-half, with Adam McGurk coming in for Michael Symes up front after recovering from a bout of tonsillitis. Rory Delap (hamstring) is still out.
With Dean Lyness ruled out by a foot injury, 50-year-old goalkeeping coach Kevin Poole was registered and took his place on the bench.
Albion looked solid in the early stages, with Sharps winning everything in the air against Jo Kuffour and Cansdell-Sherriff cleaning up the bits and pieces.
Robbie Weir shot wide from 20 yards on nine minutes before Wycombe looked dangerous for the first time on the quarter-hour.
Marauding left-back Dunne got forward and picked the ball up after Sam Wood’s cross had been well cleared by Edwards. But the full-back’s shot on his less-favoured right foot was easily gathered by Jordan Pickford.
Kee and McGurk combined well on 18 minutes but the latter’s shot from the corner of the box was too close to Wycombe keeper Matt Ingram.
It was no surprise when the Brewers took the lead – and it was another cracker from Kee’s locker.
Chris Hussey’s ball in from the left was controlled by Lee Bell for Kee, lurking 20 yards out in the inside-left channel. The striker turned Gary Doherty and hammered a low finish right into the bottom corner.
It was no less than Albion’s endeavour deserved and they stood firm to reach half-time at 0-0, although McClure would have fancied getting a boot on the end of Dunne’s low centre just before the break.
Wycombe had not really looked like getting back into the game and just a minute and 38 seconds into the second half they gave themselves a mountain to climb.
Dunne, who had been Wycombe’s greatest threat coming forward in the first half, threw himself into a flying challenge on Edwards and missed the ball, flattening the defender.
Referee Mark Brown had little choice but to show him a second yellow and send him off after he had earlier picked up a yellow on 39 minutes for a slightly less crude assault on Edwards.
With Wycombe still reorganising, Burton went 2-0 up.
Bell took a quick free kick to Hussey, who had intelligently found space down the left.
He crossed for Kee and the striker controlled the ball before stumbling. As he got back to his feet, Doherty seemed to make contact and Kee fell down again.
Mr Brown, who was perfectly placed, had no hesitation in pointing to the spot, despite Wycombe protests.
Kee slammed the penalty low to Ingram’s left.
The Brewers made their extra man count well and dominated their hosts.
When they did get a sniff of the ball, Albion were onto them in a clash, with Alex MacDonald summing up their collective determination with a crunching – and fair – challenge on McClure. It was one of the highlights of the match.
McGurk then had a header saved before Kee went close to his hat-trick with another lovely effort from the edge of the box. This time, Ingram managed to get down and turn his low shot around a post.
From the resulting corner, MacDonald picked out Sharps, who headed back in to a crowded box. Edwards got up but his header thumped back off the bar. He deserved a goal for a hard-working and disciplined display.
Wycombe made three changes in a few minutes and were rewarded with a late goal as McClure turned in the box and fired a low shot under Pickford.
But Albion were not to be denied and recorded a third League Two away win of the season.
The wobble of September is fading away and the Brewers are just two wins off equalling their total of five on the road last season.
Now, they just need to get their home form up and running and a surge up the League Two table will surely be theirs.