GARY Rowett’s dreams came true as Burton Albion produced a perfectly-scripted FA Cup triumph at Gresty Road on Saturday.
The Brewers boss hoped a return to their old Crewe Alexandra stamping ground would inspire Lee Bell and Calvin Zola to perform heroic deeds.
And so it proved as Albion dumped out the League One side to add to their growing list of cup conquests this season.
Zola kept his part of the deal with the early goal that eventually proved decisive — and deep into added time Bell came to the rescue with a goalline clearance that denied his former club a second bite of the cherry.
Their combined efforts — not to mention the hard graft and indomitable spirit of their team-mates — took the Brewers through to the third round of a cup for the second time this season.
Earlier in the campaign, Sheffield United and Leicester City both fell by the wayside as Albion made a name for themselves in the Capital One Cup.
Now Crewe have been added to a list of scalps, all impressively claimed away from home with the odds seemingly stacked against Rowett’s side.
Alex were in a rich vein of home form and the Brewers had been beaten on each of their three previous visits to the venue.
Yet an upset looked on the cards from the moment Zola continued his remarkable run of FA Cup goalscoring form.
The big striker clearly knows all about the magic of the cup after scoring for the sixth tie in succession — once for Crewe and now in all five of his appearances for Albion in the competition.
Inevitably, the Brewers had to ride their luck at times with their woodwork rattled on three occasions.
But they were never overrun by a side renowned for expansive passing football and Crewe also had some hairy moments to negotiate as the Brewers stealthily tried to add to their lead.
The absence of suspended skipper Zander Diamond and the sick Nathan Stanton meant there were plaudits, too, for a makeshift central defensive partnership of Marcus Holness and Aaron Webster.
Fresh from a hamstring injury and a solitary reserve team outing, Webster used all of his years of experience and know-how to form an effective partnership previously used by Rowett when Albion kept a clean sheet in their Johnstone’s Paint Trophy tie at Coventry City.
The Brewers boss made other changes to replicate the formation that secured a 2-0 replay victory at Altrincham in the first round.
The midfield trio was made up of Robbie Weir, Bell — who wore the captain’s armband — and Chris Palmer, with recalled loan signing Jordan Chapell and Jacques Maghoma operating either side of targetman Zola.
In the event, given the amount of possession enjoyed by the home team, it turned out to be more of a 4-5-1 set-up — but, either way, it worked a treat in the eyes of more than 550 travelling fans.
A mistake by Bell — probably his only lapse in the entire game — offered an early shooting opportunity for the hosts but Byron Moore fired straight at Brewers keeper Dean Lyness.
The home fans were stunned when Rowett’s men responded with the opening goal in the fifth minute.
Zola seemed outnumbered when full-ball Anthony O’Connor slung in a cross from the right but the big man got above his marker and flapping keeper Alan Martin to score with a header from six yards.
Crewe quickly settled into their familiar passing game to enjoy the lion’s share of possession without showing the urgency needed to seriously test Albion’s defensive resolve.
All Alex could offer in the first 25 minutes were free-kicks from outside the box — one that bounced away for a corner kick, and the other that was lifted almost out of the ground.
There was an anxious moment in the 27th minute when Damien McCrory’s header clipped his own crossbar as he tried to prevent a Moore cross from reaching Chuks Aneke, but Albion emerged from a spell of probing pressure from the home team to go close to extending their lead.
Zola again proved a handful before the ball fell to Maghoma, who checked onto his right foot to have a shot blocked by the outstretched leg of Martin.
The hosts had another escape after more good work by Albion’s targetman in the 38th minute.
Zola got a superb glancing header to a Lyness clearance to put Palmer in for a shot that was deflected against Martin’s right post.
When Alex finally found some attacking venom, Lyness did well to push a Mathias Pogba shot onto a post in the 43rd minute.
More of a concern to Albion supporters was a delay to the start of the second half while running repairs were carried out to a floodlight pylon.
Happily, the risk of an abandonment did not materialise and Albion also upped their power for the second period by calling club skipper John McGrath into action in place of Palmer in a tactical switch by Rowett to give the more bite in midfield department.
Crewe made the early running but neither skipper Luke Murphy nor Aneke could quite find the target with shots from outside the area.
Albion worked hard to keep their shape and discipline in the face of fitful attaks from the home team, though Lauri Dalla Valle went close to the equaliser with a raking low shot that shaved a post in the 59th minute.
Pogba could only find the side netting after a smart turn as Alex belatedly began to mount waves of heavier pressure.
Adbul Osman met a Matt Tootle corner with a header that dropped on top of the crossbar in the 79th minute and the Brewers also rode their luck to survive a goalmouth melee after a fumble by Lyness.
Albion gave themselves some breathing space and almost put the issue beyond doubt in the 90th minute when Martin had to produce a superb reaction save to keep out another Zola header.
There was more than enough added time to force a nail-biting finish in which Bell capped his superb display with a clearance off the line to deny the menacing Pogba before Fulham loan signing Dalla Valle headed inches wide as the home side’s last-ditch attempt to salvage a replay ended in failure.