Burton Albion 1, Wycombe Wanderers 0.
SHOT-SHY Wanderers’ survival prospects are hanging by a thread as a fourth defeat in five leaves them edging ever closer to the drop zone.
That earlier run of six unbeaten games now looks a distant memory as Adam McGurk’s second half header proved to be enough to condemn them to another loss.
For too long Blues have been relying on other sides around them slipping up – tonight fortune failed to smile on them as their relegation rivals picked up points.
And it could have been even worse because if AFC Wimbledon hadn't netted an equaliser in the sixth minute of stoppage time at Northampton Town, only goal difference would be separating Blues from the bottom two.
Here Wanderers played like a side who knew they couldn’t afford any further slip ups, but the result was they looked stifled and scared to attack.
Any attacking quality came from the hosts and they could have added to their single goal advantage of numerous occasions.
With confidence at rock bottom Blues fans must be asking where their side go from here, as promising early signs against a side surely destined for the play offs petered out into nothing.
Josh Scowen, pushed further forward with Sam Togwell taking the holding berth in midfield, showed his battling qualities higher up the pitch to rob possession off Matty Palmer, but he dragged his shot wide of the post.
Togwell was one of three players to be brought into the side and another of the new faces – Aaron Pierre, finally being handed a first start – made a decent block to stop McGurk after a mistake from Sam Wood had gifted the ball to the Burton midfielder.
The ball spent a lot of time in the air in the opening stages and the game’s first true piece of skill saw Dean Morgan hold off a defender before beating another down the left flank and sending in a terrific low cross, from which Scowen’s effort was somehow blocked from close range and Nick Arnold’s attempt on the rebound suffered the same fate.
Neither side could take advantage of free headers at set pieces – Shane Cansdell-Sherriff nodding straight at Matt Ingram and Pierre having his effort blocked – before McGurk missed an easy opportunity to put the Brewers in front. Striker Billy Kee had initially been foiled by a crunching Pierre tackle, but the grounded defender couldn’t get the ball clear and it was pulled back for McGurk, who skied it over the bar from 12 yards.
Ingram pulled off an outstanding reflex save to deny McGurk low down, although the linesman ruled he used his hand to control the ball in the build-up, before the same player had the Wanderers keeper beaten all ends up with a wonderful curling effort from the edge of the box but it smacked back into play off the outside of the post.
Wanderers responded by pinning the hosts back with a pleasing-on-the-eye spell of possession around the Burton area – but it’s goals that win matches, not pretty football, and nobody seemed prepared to have a go despite Albion being on the back foot and when an effort did eventually come in, Reece Styche’s shot from distance was blocked before it even reached the penalty area.
Burton launched a counter attack but Blues hit back and Morgan dragged an effort wide.
Finally Wycombe managed an effort on target as Scowen put his body on the line to win the ball from Cansdell-Sherriff despite it being 60:40 in the Burton man’s favour and freed Nick Arnold, whose shot was unconvincingly batted away by keeper Rob Lainton.
Morgan’s chest control let him down at the beginning of the second half as the ball ran away from him following Scowen’s cross and was cleared for a corner, from which Pierre had a header blocked at the far post.
But it was the hosts who drew first blood as Kee, so often a scourge for Wanderers, unselfishly headed the ball back across the face of goal after a good cross to the far post and his strike partner McGurk made amends for his earlier misses as he buried the ball into the net with a powerful header.
That lead was almost doubled within minutes as Robbie Weir seized on a loose pass from Togwell but he couldn’t keep his shot down.
Wanderers’ work rate and desire has never been questioned but there wasn’t enough quality going forward as Styche and Morgan were left to feed off scraps.
That front pairing was eventually replaced by Steven Craig and Jon-Paul Pittman, but not before Ingram had plunged low down to expertly tip away a fizzing effort from substitute Alex MacDonald and David Gray’s narrow angled drive from the rebound had rolled agonisingly along the line.
It said much about Wanderers’ performance that it was their stand out performer, defender Pierre, who proved to be their most dangerous attack as he flicked a header from a corner inches wide of the upright.
Albion continued to do more of the attacking as Kee cushioned the ball down to Weir, who could only blast straight at Ingram, while McGurk scuffed wide from the rebound as he continued to miss a succession of chances despite ultimately being his side’s goalscoring hero.
Kee brought one last save from Ingram but Burton couldn’t add to their lead despite five extra minutes being played.
Wanderers: Ingram, McCoy, Stewart, Pierre, Wood, Togwell, Arnold (sub Jeffrey), Bloomfield, Scowen, Morgan (sub Pittman), Styche (sub Craig). Substitutes not used: Horlock, Johnson, Lewis, Kretzschmar.