BURTON Albion crashed to their second League Two defeat in four days after having skipper Zander Diamond controversially sent off at rain-drenched Adams Park on Saturday.
Despite trailing to Matt McClure’s first-half goal, the Brewers looked capable of salvaging at least a point — until referee David Webb’s harsh intervention in the 57th minute.
There seemed minimal contact when McClure went to ground as Diamond, left, made a challenge but the County Durham official awarded a spot kick — converted by Joel Grant — and then ordered off Albion’s defensive lynchpin.
The double sanction put paid to any hopes Gary Rowett’s men had of bouncing back from the midweek defeat against Aldershot Town.
McClure quickly added his second goal of the game and Albion would have sunk to a heavier defeat in the teeming rain but for a combination of the woodwork and goalkeeper Dean Lyness.
The whole messy encounter added up to a truly dispiriting afternoon for Albion and their supporters.
The dubious nature of Diamond’s dismissal and the victory-clinching spot kick left a bitter taste, though the defeat did serve to highlight the major flaw in the make-up of a team with big ambitions.
Another afternoon of firing blanks left the Brewers gloomily dwelling on a record of just six goals in 10 away League games this term and a fourth defeat by a three-goal margin.
That is hardly the stuff of what promotion contenders are made and it is a weakness that must surely be rectified quickly.
Not even the return of Calvin Zola — wearing protective headgear after his mishap against Dagenham & Redbridge — could inspire the Brewers to end their away-day goal famine.
He took over up front from the injured Matt Paterson in the only change made by Rowett from the side beaten by Aldershot, but unsurprisingly looked tentative whenever the ball came at him at head height.
Still, Albion looked dangerous on the counter attack from the start and created the first shooting opportunity in the 10th minute.
Jacques Maghoma and Billy Kee moved the ball crisply but Chris Palmer’s shot from the edge of the area was comfortably held by Chairboys keeper Jordan Archer.
The hosts who took the lead in virtually their first attack in the 13th minute.
Dean Morgan — a pre-season trialist with the Brewers — got the better of Diamond in an aerial challenge and the ball fell Joel Grant.
The winger seemed certain to score but was denied by a one-handed save by Dean Lyness only for the keeper to be left powerless as McClure pounced to tap in the loose ball.
The goal gave Wycombe the lift they needed in search of more points after their midweek success at Rotherham United.
And they could have been well on their way to victory as early as the 21st minute.
Albion were unable to stop the run of Bruno Andrade but the pacy winger’s shot from the edge of area bounced behind off the outside of a post.
However, Albion looked much more purposeful going forward than they had done against Aldershot and Archer had to dive full-length to push a Billy Kee shot to safety at the end of a flowing move.
Albion had started to keep the
ball much better than the Chairboys,
who looked anything but secure at the back as Rowett’s men began to increase the pressure.
Archer found a long-range Maghoma free-kick too hot to handle in the slippery conditions but recovered to prevent Kee from making anything of the loose the ball.
Albion won their eighth corner of the first half in added time but Diamond’s overhead kicked was blocked.
There was every reason to believe the visitors would raise the tempo even further, but they never looked the same side after the break.
Instead, it was the Chairboys who seized the intiative and went close to doubling their advantage when Morgan’s angled shot thumped against a post in the 54th minute.
It was only temporary reprieve for the Brewers, however, and it was effectively game up three minutes later.
There seemed only limited contact when Diamond attempted to block McClure’s run onto a Grant pass, but referee Webb had no hesistation in awarding a penalty and, worse still, showed Albion’s skipper a red card.
Grant calmly sent Lyness the wrong way with a confident spot kick that inevitably had a demoralising effect on the visitors.
Marcus Holness was sent on in place of Kee to fill the defensive breach, leaving Zola to operate as the lone striker.
And it became nothing more than a damage limitation exercise for the Brewers when McClure put the hosts 3-0 ahead in the 63rd minute.
Lyness did well to keep out a Grant header as full-back Sam Wood hurled in a cross from the left but McClure was again in the right place at the right time to pounce on the loose ball and rattle home a left-foot shot.
The striker, who also scored twice in the midweek win at Rotherham, went close to completing his hat-trick with a header and Lyness spared Albion a heavier defeat in added time when he got his legs in the way of shot from substitute Junior Morais.