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It's game, set-piece and match to high-flying Robins

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: November 11, 2012

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BATTLING Burton Albion found the boot on the other foot as they suffered an agonising defeat at the hands of League Two promotion rivals Cheltenham Town at the Abbey Business Stadium on Saturday.

Albion, who have made crucial late goals a trademark this season, were dispensed a bitter taste of their own medicine when Chris Zebroski  grabbed the only goal in the 85th minute to cement Cheltenham Town’s place in the top three.

In a suffocating contest in which craft and skill was largely stifled, it came as no great surprise that the decisive goal was scored for a set-piece.

Zebroski was the beneficiary in a messy scramble after Albion failed to deal with a corner kick by dead-ball expert Billy Jones.

The Robins probably felt it was a case of justice being seen to be done after they offered a threat from similar situations for most of the game.

Albion had to ride their luck at times, but their determination and tenacity could never be faulted as they clawed their way into the game to match the hosts in the second half.

A hard-earned point to add to the three picked up in the late fight back at Plymouth Argyle three days earlier looked on the cards as the home became increasingly frustrated and short of attacking ideas.

But Albion’s one weakness on the day was finally exploited as Zebroski pounced to sentence the visitors to their third successive defeat against Mark Yates’ side.

Left-back Damien McCrory’s suspension and an injury to Jacques Maghoma forced Gary Rowett to make changes to side that snatched victory from the jaws of  defeat at Plymouth Argyle.

As expected, Nathan Stanton was asked to cover at full-back, allowing central defender Marcus Holness to make the starting line-up for the first time since he picked up a hamstring injury two months ago.

Jack Dyer kept his place on the right of midfield, but there was a change on the left as Chris Palmer replaced Maghoma — a reward for his efforts when he came off the bench and revived Albion’s fortunes at Home Park.

It was Palmer’s first start since an early-season ankle injury, and on a day of comebacks there was a welcome return to the bench for club skipper John McGrath — nine months after suffering a serious foot injury.

Matt Paterson was recalled to partner Calvin Zola in attack.

The Robins set the tone by exerting early pressure with the help of a series of set-pieces and almost took the lead in the seventh minute when skipper Alan

Bennett rose to meet a Jones free-kick with a header that hit the top of the crossbar.

Zola was wildly off target with an ambitious long-range shot when the Brewers broke free of their early defensive shackles and Robbie Weir was equally wayward after dispossessing Marlon Pack.

The Brewers almost succumbed to another dangerous inswinging free-kick from Jones in the 17th minute but Sido Jombati’s header was somehow smuggled away for a corner kick.

The Robins continued to plug away but former Derby County defender defender Steve Elliott could not keep down his header from another Jones delivery in the 28th minute.

Dyer fizzed a 30-yard shot inches too high after a Palmer corner kick had been only partially cleared at the other end.

Almost inevitably, it was another Jones set-piece — this time a corner kick — that posed the next threat to Albion in the 38th minute but Pack’s header back across goal was kept out by more heroics inside the six-yard box by the visitors’ defence.

Albion had the best spell of the first half in the dying minutes, first when Zola’s low shot was deflected into the side netting after a Palmer corner and then when Dyer had a volley blocked.

Paterson was upset to have a goal ruled out in stoppage time after breaking onto a Dyer pass, but the offside decision looked a good one.

Zola possibly should have given Albion the lead with what would have been a gift goal in the 50th minute.

Kaid Mohammed’s careless back pass presented the opportunity, but Zola scuffed his shot into the hands of Scott Brown.

As the game began to open up, former Albion midfielder Russell Penn exchanged passes with Jones before forcing a decent save from Mark Oxley after continuing his run into the box.

Palmer’s excellent pass set up a promising counter attack by the Brewers but Zola had no support and had to opt for an angled shot that was gathered at the near post by Brown.

Albion sent on Billy Kee in place of Paterson in the 67th minute, prompting a more even phase of football during which Brown had to turn Palmer’s deflected shot over the crossbar.

Lee Bell had to get his head in the way of Jermaine McGlashan shot just to make sure the ball did not creep inside the far post, but changes up front — including the introduction of Albion old boy Shaun Harrad — were a sure sign that Cheltenham had lost some of their impetus and control.

Albion continued to grow in confidence and a point looked an increasingly likely reward for their efforts until the home finally capitalised on another set-piece in the 85th minute.

It was a horrible goal for the Brewers to concede after they had seemingly driven the hosts to distraction.

Bennett forced his way onto the end of a Jones corner kick to force Weir to make a block on the goalline.

As the ball looped up, Oxley looked in control of the situation but it somehow slipped from his grasp and Zebroski was on hand to stab home despite the close attention of Zander Diamond.

The Brewers bravely tried to salvage a point in a determined rally, but Kee headed a Cleveland Taylor cross inches too high and Brown produced a leaping save to palm away a Zola effort after the striker got his head to a Palmer corner.

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