Northampton Town 1, Burton Albion 0
BURTON Albion were always likely to face an uphill battle to get anything from their trip to Northampton Town on Saturday.
The Brewers have struggled away from their Pirelli Stadium fortress this season, while the Cobblers have been outstanding at Sixfields.
But what made their 1-0 defeat such a disappointment was how close Gary Rowett’s battlers got to taking a hard-earned point after home fans turned out to clear the snow and get the game on.
They weathered an aerial bombardment from man mountain strikers Adebayo Akinfenwa and Clive Platt, with Zander Diamond leading the back four in standing up to League Two’s biggest strike partnership.
Just when it looked like Northampton would run out of ideas at a frozen Sixfields, they punished Albion for a moment of sloppiness.
Goalkeeper Dean Lyness, who had battled bravely against high balls all afternoon, was caught in no man’s land as Akinfenwa almost apologetically looped a header home into an empty net.
With just 20 minutes to go, it was difficult for Burton to get back into a game they had battled hard to draw.
It was frustrating for Rowett - whose game plan to combat Northampton worked almost perfectly.
Aaron Webster sat in front of the back four and offered plenty of solid protection for Diamond and Nathan Stanton at the heart of the defence.
It gave the Brewers a solid, compact shape to deal with Akinfenwa and Platt.
Damien McCrory, too, did well up against Chris Hackett on the right wing.
However, it was not quite enough to get the draw.
In the process, Northampton became the first side in League Two to reach 10 home wins for the season, something Albion will hope to match when struggling Barnet visit the Pirelli on Saturday.
Their defeat at Sixfields left Burton in seventh spot – and if they are to hang on to the final play-off spot, Rowett will have to conjure a few more points on the road to go with his side’s exceptional home form.
The Burton boss made one change to the side which beat Torquay, with Webster replacing Billy Kee and starting in a defensive midfield position.
Calvin Zola operated as a lone striker, with support coming from midfielders Robbie Weir and Lee Bell.
The expected charge from Northampton’s muscular front line was not long in coming.
Just two minutes in, a floated cross from Hackett found Platt at the back post and he headed down under pressure from Diamond, with Lyness grabbing hold of the ball.
Seconds later, Jake Robinson’s cross from the left found Akinfenwa and the big man rose and flicked a deft header which looked bound for the net until it hit the inside of Lyness’ left upright.
Albion had enjoyed a slice of luck - as you often have to away from home.
Robinson was next to try his luck but his shot from Webster’s clearance deflected wide.
Burton began to settle into the game and McCrory found space going forward to cross for Adam Drury, but the on-loan Manchester City man could not get the space to squeeze away a shot.
On 18 minutes, Hackett cut in onto his preferred left foot and floated a cross over which beat everyone and curled just wide, with Lyness nowhere near it.
At this point, the home fans began to get restless, turning their attention to referee Darren Bond, who must have been bemused by the vitriol pouring forth over the most minor of decisions.
This frustration was in part because Albion were doing their job and limiting the hosts to half chances.
Just past the half hour, long throw merchant Ben Tozer got his first chance to hurl one in and Akinfenwa got his head to it but could get no power or direction into his effort.
Seconds later, Jacques Maghoma gave the ball away and Northampton broke, but Robinson’s eventual effort from a Hackett cross was blocked by Diamond.
Luke Guttridge, who had left his mark on both Bell and Weir with a combative first-half performance, attempted an overhead kick before the break, but fired his effort wide from 15 yards.
Albion changed shape slightly after the break, with Bell dropping deeper in midfield. It seemed to bring them to life and they had their best spell of the match.
Weir broke well on 48 minutes and set up Bell to fire just wide from 20 yards.
On 54 minutes, Maghoma sneaked into the box and went down under a challenge from Tozer. He was looking for a penalty and Mr Bond was not fooled.
Northampton hit back on 67 minutes and only an excellent tackle from Anthony O’Connor stopped Robinson in his tracks in the area.
Akinfenwa then won it as the Brewers switched off for just a moment.
A ball in from Hackett looked innocuous enough but Lyness came and then stopped short, allowing Akinfenwa a simple header into an empty net.
It was hugely disappointing following Burton’s excellent resistance.
Rowett threw on Kee and Jimmy Phillips but the hosts held on quite comfortably for the win despite some late pressure from Albion.