REPORT: BURTON ALBION 0-1 TOWNAn 85th minute header from Nahki Wells ensured Town took an important three points from a battling game at Burton Albion in the Sky Bet Championship on Tuesday night.
The Terriers have and will play better in possession without getting a result in this difficult division, but when Wells’ goal from a set piece put the icing on the cake in a robust defensive performance right in front of the sizeable travelling contingent.
The goal was very like Wells’ last away goal, which came at Preston in October, with the Bermudian converting a header across goal from Christopher Schindler.
At the other end, Danny Ward deserved a first clean sheet in seven appearances and wasn’t severely tested thanks to some excellent last ditch defending.
Having played three days earlier and with a live Sky game at Norwich just three days later, Wagner chose to refresh his eleven; Philip Billing, Tareiq Holmes-Dennis, Harry Bunn, and Martin Cranie all started.
Unfortunately, the Terriers failed to achieve any kind of real fluency in their passing in a scrappy opening 45 minutes. On the plus side, Town’s defending was strong; Danny Ward was never properly tested in the Town goal.
In fact, the only shot Ward had to save was the first of the game inside the 10th minute. Burton midfielder Matty Palmer fired a pass into the feet of striker Jamie Ward but after a neat turn, he hit his snapshot straight at the Town custodian.
Town then enjoyed their best spell of the half, creating a few chances. First a poor pass from Burton’s Leicester City loanee Hamza Choudhury allowed Bunn to find Billing, who advanced before drilling a low long range shot into the waiting hands of goalkeeper Jon McLaughlin.
The best chance of the half came Nahki Wells’ way barely a minute later when Cranie’s right-sided cross found his smart near post run, with the Bermudian turning the ball wide of the near post.
Town had plenty of the ball at this stage, but struggled to maintain possession higher up the pitch. Instead the next chance came from a smart Burton throw-in, which was quickly worked infield from the Town left to give Damien McCrory the chance to shoot; he dispatched the ball over the bar and into the sizeable travelling Town contingent.
Wells had the chance to shoot from 30 yards as the half hour passed after Burton captain Jackson Irvine dragged down Elias Kachunga in the middle of the pitch. The Town striker got his effort over the defensive wall, but dragged it wide of McLaughlin’s right-hand post.
David Wagner cut an increasingly frustrated figure as the half ended, calling for his midfield to switch the ball behind the Burton wing backs quicker than they were.
There was a ‘heart in mouth’ moment for the home goalkeeper in the 38th minute as he slipped waiting to receive a back-pass. It was Nahki Wells bearing down on him in similar fashion to the second goal against Bristol City at the weekend, but this time the ‘keeper’s clearance hit Nahki’s outstretched leg and went out safely for a throw-in.
The lively Ward had the final shot of the first 45 minutes, collecting a half-cleared corner before stepping inside Billing and curling an effort comfortably over the bar.
Burton started the second half in the ascendancy, with Jamie Ward whipping a free kick over the bar after Hefele held O’Grady on the edge of the box.
Town fought back, with Holmes-Dennis creating a good opportunity. He fed Bunn down the line and he skipped past Choudhury’s sliding challenge before finding Kachunga with a good ball at the back post, but his volley was kept out on the line by the covering McCrory’s thigh.
Bunn curled an effort straight at the ‘keeper soon after, but Town soon had to be thankful to Martin Cranie at the other end. It looked like Lloyd Dyer was running clear after being slid a pass into space on the counter, but the right back showed great pace to recover before blocking the shot behind at full stretch.
Holmes-Dennis soon showed reactive pressure that Wagner would be proud of and created a 62nd minute shooting chance. After being levered off the ball by former Town junior Lucas Akins, he nicked it back and received a return pass from Mooy inside the area. Sadly, he placed his drive straight at the goalkeeper.
Burton fans wanted a penalty when a shot hit Schindler’s body in the area minutes later before the home side’s best chance of the game fell to former Derby man Ward in the 68th minute. A looping Jackson Irvine cross fell to Ward completely unmarked, but he could only hit a half-volley into the air for his namesake to collect.
Town showed real grit as the game ended, with Hogg blocking an O’Grady cross-come-shot away.
Instead, the goal came at the other end, with a set piece proving dividends. When Kache was felled in the middle of the pitch on a counter attack, Mooy stepped up and aimed a ball into the middle for Hefele. The big German won the initial header with O’Grady, giving Schindler the chance to nod the ball across the face of goal.
Wells still had much to do, but he jumped early and got above Lee Williamson to power a header past McLaughlin from close range, sparking wild celebrations with the Town faithful.
Kachunga almost netted a superb second three minutes later, powering infield from the right past McCrory and McFadzean before rounding the goalkeeper. Credit to defender John Brayford, who got back to tackle the forward and snuff out the danger.
Town survived the five added minutes, with Mooy making one important clearance before Wells tested the ‘keeper again from a narrow angle after receiving a pass from substitute Kasey Palmer.
In the end, that one goal was enough to secure the victory; sending the fans happy back up the M1.
Town’s team (4-2-3-1):
Danny Ward; Tareiq Holmes-Dennis (Chris Löwe, 69’), Christopher Schindler, Michael Hefele, Martin Cranie; Jonathan Hogg (c), Aaron Mooy; Harry Bunn (Rajiv van La Parra, 56’), Philip Billing (Kasey Palmer, 56’), Elias Kachunga; Nahki Wells
Joel Coleman, Tommy Smith, Jack Payne, Jon Gorenc Stanković
Kasey Palmer (59’); Michael Hefele (84’); Martin Cranie (90’)