BURTON Albion climbed into the League Two top three after again showing great patience to see off Newport County with their ninth 1-0 win of the season.
Billy Kee struck with 10 minutes left at the Pirelli Stadium yesterday to seal back-to-back home wins for the Brewers over Christmas.
It had looked like being a frustrating afternoon for Gary Rowett’s men after they spurned several chances and hit the woodwork twice in an entertaining encounter.
But as with Boxing Day’s 1-0 win over Northampton – when Ian Sharps struck with five minutes left – Albion refused to panic and got the late goal their endeavour merited.
They are becoming genuine 1-0 specialists – eight of their 12 wins in the league this season, plus one in the FA Cup against Fleetwood, have come by one goal to nil.
Netting late goals is also a lovely habit to be getting into and shows the determination and fitness levels Rowett has instilled in his squad.
As for Newport, they arrived at the Pirelli as one of the form teams in League Two but Brewers keeper Dean Lyness was barely tested all afternoon as the visitors struggled to create anything against a dogged Albion defence.
It was their 10th clean sheet in the league and 12th in all competitions.
After exactly half the season, all is looking rosy in the Burton garden – they are unbeaten in nine games, on level points with top spot, still in the FA Cup and well on course to be right in the mix for promotion to League One.
Rowett made one change after Northampton, with Alex MacDonald replacing Chris Hussey on the right of midfield.
Newport set up with three centre-halves and wing-backs in a throwback to the late 1990s.
Albion Conference-winning hero Tony James was on the bench for the Ironsides.
The Brewers took time to get going against a set-up obviously designed to deny them space in wide areas but hit the bar on 20 minutes.
MacDonald, who was industrious and busy all match, swung a corner in from the left and it sneaked past Adedeji Oshilaja at the near post. The ball fell to Phil Edwards and he was unlucky as his stabbed shot came back off the bottom of the bar.
Five minutes later, an accurate long ball from Edwards to Kee allowed the striker to turn and fizz a shot at goal from the edge of the area, but it was pretty comfortable for visiting keeper Lenny Pidgeley.
Just after the half-hour, Albion would have led were it not for an outstanding save from the Newport goalie.
MacDonald swung in another cracking corner from the left and it found the unmarked Shane Cansdell-Sherriff, who thumped a header at goal from point blank range which Pidgeley somehow parried.
The rebound fell to Edwards, but his shot was blocked.
With half-time approaching, Kee had a good chance as he met a searching cross from the lively Jimmy Phillips, but his header from five yards was too close to Pidgeley.
It had been pretty much all Burton in the first half, with Newport not having a single shot at goal.
That changed two minutes after the restart when Michael Flynn flashed a powerful drive just wide of Lyness’ goal from the edge of the box.
Three minutes later Albion had another great chance to take the lead.
Cansdell-Sherriff fired a free kick into the area and Sharps got up to flick the ball on. Kee, from close range, looked like he would bury it but Pidgeley touched his header over the bar.
Newport then had their first – and only – effort on target as the hour approached. Christian Jolley’s shot, though, was never going to trouble Lyness.
Seconds later, the Brewers again struck the woodwork as it looked like not being their day.
As Albion broke, Adam McGurk fired a shot from 20 yards on his weaker right foot and the ball deflected off Ryan Jackson and beat Pidgeley but came back off the underside of the bar.
It was all Burton but they had to be patient in the chase for a goal.
And they finally got rewarded with just 10 minutes left.
Matty Palmer, who had used the ball sensibly and carefully all match, was hacked down in the inside right channel by Adam Chapman, who had been Newport’s best player.
A yellow card was dished out to Chapman, but worse was to come for him and his team-mates from the free kick.
MacDonald nudged the ball to McGurk, who curled it in low. It came through a crowd of legs for Kee to gleefully slam past Pidgeley to record his 50th Football League goal and go past Shaun Harrad as Albion’s leading scorer in the big time with 32.
The Brewers went close to extending their lead when McGurk had a low shot saved before Phillips broke and shot fiercely at goal, with Pidgeley getting down to save.
Newport offered little threat after going behind, with boss Justin Edinburgh having used his substitutes to shore things up, so it was a comfortable final few minutes for the 1-0 specialists.