ON THE face of it, a 1-1 draw away to League Two’s bottom club may not look a very good result for promotion-chasing Burton Albion.
The Brewers are without a win away from the Pirelli Stadium since November - and Saturday’s trip to relegation-threatened AFC Wimbledon looked the best opportunity yet for them to grab three points and end the travelling hoodoo.
But a draw against a fast-improving Dons outfit after a tense battle at the Cherry Red Records Stadium could prove to be an excellent result in the final shake-up for automatic promotion and play-off places.
Wimbledon are not the no-hopers who were spanked 6-2 at the Pirelli in August.
They came into Saturday’s clash unbeaten in four matches, including a superb home draw against Port Vale.
And new loan signing Gary Alexander gave them hope of just their third home win of the season when he scored on debut on 26 minutes.
But Albion’s own debutant, Michael Symes, equalised 10 minutes later with a neatly taken goal.
Burton were just starting to get on top and pressurise their hosts when Zander Diamond was shown a straight red card for an incident at a corner in the Wimbledon box with 15 minutes left.
It was unclear what the Brewers skipper had done, with suggestions he had headbutted Pim Balkestein, who somewhat sheepishly got to his feet as Diamond walked off.
Albion then held on to take the point, but dropped out of the top three after Cheltenham Town beat Torquay United.
The important thing for the Brewers and boss Gary Rowett was that they did not lose in South London after their battling 1-1 draw at Oxford United in midweek.
This they achieved with a solid defensive display built on a compact back four and midfield, with Ian Sharps and Diamond directing proceedings and Lee Bell and Robbie Weir working tirelessly in front of them.
Wimbledon’s goal was about the only time that Albion really switched off and allowed the hosts an easy run at goal.
Going forward, Jacques Maghoma was again Burton’s best outlet but, like the Dons, they found it difficult to create too many openings in a tight match.
Symes, 29, celebrated his debut with a 50th Football League goal, while fellow debutant Alex MacDonald had less luck, putting in a bright performance before coming off with a dead leg.
Rowett will now hope his walking wounded recover before Saturday as Rotherham United come calling at the Pirelli and put serious pressure on Albion’s home record.
The Brewers boss made three changes from the draw at Oxford, two of them enforced.
Top-scorer Calvin Zola and left-back Damien McCrory failed late fitness tests on hip and ankle problems respectively and did not travel.
They were replaced by Symes, on loan from Leyton Orient for the rest of the season, and Aaron Webster.
The final change saw MacDonald, a deadline-day loan signing from Burnley, come in for Adam Drury on the right wing.
The new boys almost combined to give Albion the lead within 25 seconds.
MacDonald got the ball on the right, looked up, and hit a lovely cross for Symes to get above Balkestein and thump a header against the underside of the bar. The ball looked like it would go over the line, but it bounced clear.
Balkestein then got a free header from a Luke Moore corner but Bell was on hand to clear.
The Brewers got a free kick on the edge of the area on 19 minutes but MacDonald could not get it over the wall.
The on-loan Burnley man then picked up a dead leg in earning a booking for a spirited challenge on home left-back Chris Hussey.
He hobbled off and was replaced by Drury.
Wimbledon had the lead soon after. A long ball from Hussey bounced over Diamond and Sharps and allowed Alexander a simple finish from close range. It was disappointing for Albion after they had looked fairly comfortable.
The lead did not last long, though, as Symes got his debut goal.
Webster picked the ball up and hit an accurate long pass for Maghoma down the left. He crossed and Balkestein hacked the ball up into the air.
Symes won a header, took the ball down and under little pressure finished past Neil Sullivan on his left foot.
Albion had another free kick on the stroke of half-time, but again the ball hit the wall, this time from the boot of Maghoma.
Both sides cancelled each other out as the second half progressed.
Burton, with Billy Kee on for Matt Paterson at half-time, struggled to retain possession, while Wimbledon could not find a way past Sharps and Diamond.
Rangy Harry Pell fired well wide from distance on 70 minutes, summing up the Dons’ frustration at failing to open the Brewers up.
The game was then turned on its head. Burton were beginning to enjoy some possession in home territory when referee Jeremy Simpson blew up and showed Diamond a red card as Balkestein lay on the floor.
Albion’s captain was bemused as he trudged off for an early bath.
Marcus Holness came on for Symes as the Brewers got their backs up against the wall.
But the tidal waved of attacks failed to materialise, with Stuart Tomlinson’s block of a Pell effort on 84 minutes the closest Wimbledon came to finding a winner.
Burton were well worth their point and can now look forward to coming home after two tricky away games yielded two points.