Burton Albion 2-0 Pompey

Pompey players cut dejected figures as Burton striker Lucas Akins wheels away to celebrate the Brewers' second goal  Picture: Joe Pepler
Pompey players cut dejected figures as Burton striker Lucas Akins wheels away to celebrate the Brewers' second goal Picture: Joe Pepler
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It was billed as the biggest examination of Pompey’s credentials this season.

Andy Awford’s men failed the stiffest test of their promotion potential in front of the Sky cameras yesterday against Burton Albion.

The pacesetters took on the pretenders at the Pirelli Stadium.

And it’s the Brewers who emerged as the side looking the real deal in front of the watching nation.

Burton manager Gary Rowett pumped his fist and celebrated victory like a man who knew that was the case on the final whistle.

And his opposite number was left to reflect on an opening which condemned his team to their first league defeat on the road since his latest tenure started in May.

Whether you were sat in a pub, in front of the TV at home or among the 800 or so Pompey fans at the game, the reasons for that were clear to see.

The common line from managers is the players were ‘still on the coach’ when conceding early.

Pompey’s back line weren’t still on the coach, they were back at their hotel in bed asleep, as Paul Robinson allowed Stuart Beavon the space for an early, early cross-shot.

There was still an opportunity to deal with the ball but the rest of the back line were statues as Adam McGurk nipped between Johnny Ertl and Alex Wynter and applied the finish. Talk about going for a Burton.

There were just 85 seconds on the clock as Awford shook his head at the defensive indecision.

He had another 45 minutes to wait until he could really tell his defence what he thought of the goal. Before that, his side gradually clambered their way back into the game after being rocked early on.

The clinical edge which had been so evident on Tuesday night at Yeovil was nowhere to be seen, however.

Burton were happy to let their opponents have plenty of the ball.

Pompey lacked the vim and vigour in the final third to make it count, though. It was too pedestrian.

Awford made four changes from the team which impressed at Huish Park.

The Pompey boss was insistent the starting 11 for the Brewers was decided before that win.

If that was the case, then Ertl’s sterling display in the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy wasn’t the reason for his continued presence.

He led his team out in the absence of Ben Chorley, who failed to recover from a dead leg he was favourite to beat.

But it was the worst possible start for the Austrian and the rest of his defence as they gifted Burton that early opener.

It was a sloppy opening which Pompey laboured to respond to as they struggled to find any fluency.

That was summed up as Ryan Taylor’s flick found touch and Awford and his backroom team became increasingly agitated by how deep his team were being forced.

As the half progressed, the Blues began to find a modicum of cohesion in the 4-2-3-1 formation which carried them to safety at the end of last season.

First, Jed Wallace fizzed a 20-yarder wide before Taylor acrobatically fired into the arms of Jon McLaughlin.

Craig Westcarr then showed his sharpness in the 23rd minute with a 25-yard snapshot.

Half a yard either side of McLaughlin and he was beaten but the ball went down his throat.

Three quick-fire corners for Pompey then returned nothing more than Danny Hollands cracking a shot out of the Pirelli Stadium.

Hollands went closer with a measured volley 10 minutes before the break but it still failed to work McLaughlin.

That was after the midfielder smartly headed Shane Cansdell-Sheriff’s flicked effort away from danger from a Brewers corner.

It was better from Pompey after their sluggish start but they were still lacking the snappiness of passing in the final third to unlock a resolute Burton rearguard.

Wynter’s well-angled cross did bring hopes of a leveller before the break but Westcarr’s deflected header went the wrong side of the crossbar.

That left Awford with some work to do at the interval to turn the game around.

The message would have been to avoid as sloppy a start as the opening half after the break.

Pompey did that as they began on the front foot with Westcarr teeing up a delicious ball for Taylor but he couldn’t get the right angle on his deft touch goalwards.

There was an even better chance for a leveller after 52 minutes, through the most unlikely of attacking link-ups.

Ertl found himself advanced down the right flank and in plenty of space to pick out Wynter’s run.

The Crystal Palace loanee had two bites at his shot from a few yards out but couldn’t put either beyond McLaughlin.

It was to be the best chance of the match for Pompey.

The feeling was Awford’s side had to make more of the chances arriving at their doorstep.

And so it was to prove 11 minutes after the restart as Lucas Akins gave the visitors a lesson in marksmanship.

The Brewers dangerman needed no more than half a yard just inside the box to swivel and rifle a shot, which arrowed past the helpless Paul Jones.

It was the clearest of lessons to a Pompey side who had wanted that extra touch or second on the ball in front of goal all afternoon.

The second goal, as so often is the case, proved fatal as Burton began to enjoy themselves with the freedom daylight brings.

Pompey huffed, puffed and toiled 
but rarely looked like breaching a Brewers backline who were on top throughout.

And so it proved as Rowett’s side coasted home.

Even an improbable six minutes’ stoppage-time was greeted more with surprise than concern from Burton fans.

Awford himself admitted there was never a likely way back into the game for his men.

The Pompey boss was given the response to his team’s first league defeat against Newport County on Tuesday night.

It’s the league points and not JPT progress which really count, though.

Cup runs don’t get you promoted.

The players will have a long week to reflect on that, with the absence of a midweek game for the first time this season.

Awford knows finishing above their conquerors yesterday will take his men a long way towards being in League One next season.

As it stands, they have a distance to travel to make that ambition reality.