BURTON Albion heartbreakingly went out of the League Cup on penalties tonight after an heroic battle against Premier League Fulham.
The Brewers were just three minutes away from a famous victory at the Pirelli Stadium when Hugo Rodallega struck in extra-time to take the tie to the dreaded shoot-out.
And poor Jack Dyer – who had hauled the Brewers back into the match with a brilliant late leveller in normal time – was the fall guy as his spot-kick was saved.
It was a terrific and stirring effort from Albion, who had trailed to Adel Taarabt’s first-half opener.
The tie had promised little in a flat first 70 minutes, but came to life towards the end, the Brewers deservedly levelling when Dyer crashed a volley into the net with five minutes to go.
Michael Symes then got them in front with a superb header from the outstanding Chris Hussey’s cross, but Rodallega was there to level as the clock ticked down.
Symes and Adam Reed, for Albion, and Darren Bent and Brian Ruiz, for Fulham, netted from the spot before Dyer saw his kick saved. Sascha Riether then beat Dean Lyness to give Fulham a 3-2 lead.
Damien McCrory and Rodallega netted before Hussey placed his kick in the top corner.
John Arne Riise then smashed the winner to break Brewers hearts.
But despite the defeat, it was nothing less than a tremendous effort from Albion, who went toe-to-toe with an established top flight side and came out vastly in credit
Boss Gary Rowett made three changes from Saturday, with Rory Delap, Adam McGurk, and Alex MacDonald ruled out with slight injuries.
In came Phil Edwards at right-back and Dyer and Matty Palmer in midfield – the latter for his first start in senior football.
Fulham made just four changes from the side which lost 3-1 to Arsenal, with Damien Duff and Dimitar Berbatov among the players to miss out.
They still featured giant Norwegian Brede Hangeland, ex-Liverpool left-back Riise and England internationals Scott Parker and Bent.
It was a fairly cagey opening from both sides, with Fulham keeping possession well and Albion trying to retain their shape.
Taarabt fired over from distance before a great tackle from Marcus Holness denied Bent as he looked to get on the end of a pass from the magical Moroccan.
Taarabt then gave Fulham the lead with another special from his bag of tricks.
Edwards was left isolated against the 24-year-old and he flicked the ball past him before firing a shot past Lyness from a tight angle.
Rene Howe turned Hangeland and had Burton’s first effort on target on 40 minutes, with David Stockdale having to scrabble about at his near post.
Taarabt had been hurt by a Dyer tackle and did not return for the second half, with Swedish flier Alex Kacaniklic coming on.
Holness did brilliantly to keep Brian Ruiz out just short of the hour after he had gone around the keeper and was about the pull the trigger.
On 67 minutes, Lyness bailed Ian Sharps out as the big defender’s header back dropped short and put Bent in one-one-one. Albion’s keeper stood up and blocked his shot on the edge of the area.
Sharps redeemed himself on 71 minutes with a brave block to stop Ashkan Dejagah from finishing Bent’s low cross from close range.
The Pirelli finally came to life on 73 minutes with Dyer flashing a shot just wide from the edge of the box.
Hussey chested down and drove at goal on 81 minutes, but his dipping effort did not trouble Stockdale.
Four minutes later the home faithful really had something to shout about as Dyer lashed home a sweet volley from 15 yards from a lovely Hussey cross.
Symes had the ball in the net on 89 minutes, but picked up a yellow card for handling Hussey’s cross into the net.
As extra-time got under way, McCrory had a shot saved before Riether hit the inside of a post and saw his follow-up blocked by Sharps as Fulham carved Albion apart.
Symes then repeated his late goal against Bury by getting above Hangeland – quite a feat – and headed Hussey’s excellent cross into the top corner.
After half-time in extra-time, Jimmy Phillips, who had been superb, thundered a brilliant shot from 25 yards which Stockdale only just tipped over the bar.
As the game swung from end to end, both sides had chances but Fulham levelled with three minutes left when Rodallega lashed one in from 15 yards after Parker’s drive had come back off the bar.
He almost won it in the last seconds but a fierce shot from 18 yards went wide before penalties finally separated the sides.