Choudhury shines as Brewers down Gills

burton celebrate

Burton 2-1 Gillingham –

Tom Naylor’s late goal gave Burton Albion a 2-1 win over Gillingham, in another big step towards automatic promotion. The guests looked to have snatched a point when Cody McDonald’s header cancelled out Lucas Akins’ opener, but they ultimately paid for an overly defensive approach as Burton grabbed a deserved winner.

The visitors defended from deep from the off and Burton got the ball into wide areas with relative ease as Akins and Mark Duffy were heavily involved early on. Both players tried to work openings but were unable to get in behind, Naylor coming closest with two long-range efforts in the first 20 minutes.

Sitting just behind Naylor at the base of a 4-1-4-1 formation was the outstanding Hamza Choudhury. The Leicester loanee showed aggression when needed, but above all excellent positional sense and a reading of the game that belied his 18 years. This blog would be hard-pushed to find a more accomplished holding midfield performance in the Football League this season than Choudhury’s on Saturday. He has made excellent progress at the Pirelli, considering many predicted he would not play much when he first joined due to midfield competition.

With a stubborn midfield, Burton looked well-structured yet they still lacked quality in the final third. Midfielder Matty Palmer worked hard but did not create too much while striker Stuart Beavon caused problems with his work rate, particularly for Max Ehmer, but rarely tested the keeper. Even Duffy, their most skilful player, could have made better decisions or produced a more satisfying end product. There were times when he teased Deji Oshilaja and you then wanted him to burst towards the byline or whip a ball in, but he held onto it for a bit too long.

Gillingham had more possession in the latter stages of the half and looked to edge their way down the right, but Burton remained typically disciplined. It was difficult for Gillingham’s midfield to find a way through, midfielders Josh Wright and Jake Hessenthaler needing to assert themselves on the game more.

Doug Loft came on for Aaron Morris early on and he was perhaps the away side’s bravest player in possession, the former Port Vale captain often looking to get early balls to McDonald or Dominic Samuel. In the main, both strikers were feeding off scraps, though they did link up on 34 minutes, McDonald’s tight-angled shot flying wide.

Not everything had come off for Akins in the first half but his work rate remained strong and the former Stevenage forward was rewarded for his persistence on 43 minutes. He swapped wings with Duffy, whose drilled shot was parried by Stuart Nelson and tapped the ball home on the rebound.

Gillingham needed to attack early in the second half and they did, equalizing from a corner. After Bradley Dack had annoyed some home fans by placing the ball outside the corner zone, he crossed for McDonald to escape his marker and head home.

The Gills were buoyed by the leveller and pushed forward. McDonald and Samuel were now harrying the defence with venom as full-backs Oshilaja and Brennan Dickenson got up the pitch with more regularity. McDonald teed up Dack for a powerful drive that cleared the crossbar before having a wayward shot on the turn, as the visitors enjoyed their best spell of the match.

Burton took much of the second half to impose themselves, but substitute Calum Butcher replaced a knock-nursing Beavon and made an impact with his movement and energy. The Brewers looked to play down the left with Akins heavily involved, ably supported by Damien McCrory. The impressive John Mousinho missed his kick from the edge of the area and Duffy was unable to convert the ball as it bounced through the six-yard box.

Burton did get their winner in the closing stages. They had not scored from a corner all season but picked the perfect time to break the record when Nelson failed to claim Duffy’s delivery and Naylor headed home. Burton held on to spark jubilant scenes, coach and former long-serving player Andy Garner leaping onto the pitch in celebration.

Victory means just a point is needed at relegated Doncaster next week to guarantee promotion, if Walsall don’t drop points against Fleetwood on Monday. Ironically, the weather took a turn for the very worst just as the Burton players came out for a lap of appreciation, applauding fans whilst half-wanting to get back inside.

That kind of pathetic fallacy would seem more appropriate for Gillingham, who appeared the division’s most likely champions in early January, but an awful second half of the season means they are likely to miss out on the play-offs. The departure of Dack and Egan this summer seems inevitable and manager Justin Edinburgh will have to spend that money wisely to kick-start another promotion challenge.

That is something Burton are used to, having finished in the top six of a division every season since 2012-13. The Brewers are surely on their way to the Championship, momentum thrust behind them.