United were beaten by Burton this afternoon as two first-half goals gave the Brewers all three points. Strikes from Dominic Knowles and Zeli Ismail gave the visitors the win despite a much-improved second half from the U's and a goal from Ryan Williams.
The Brewers were in front on ten minutes with a beautifully worked goal. United were on the attack down the right but lost possession on the edge of the box and the Brewers sprang forward with great intent. McCrory passed into striker Knowles who laid the ball back for Ismail. He cut inside then played a perfectly weighted ball for Knowles, who had spun in behind the United back line. Ryan Clarke came out but Knowles skipped round him and then had a simple task to stroke the ball into the empty net.
United were struggling to cope with the pace whenever Burton broke forward at that stage. Billy Kee drove a presentable chance just wide of the right-hand post on 22 after another swift counter and United had to balance throwing men forward with staying strong at the back to avoid conceding a second. Deane Smalley came in from his left-wing role and chipped a cheeky over-head kick just over on 25 but a minute later United were 2-0 down.
Another flowing move down the Burton left gave Jimmy Phillips a sight at goal, His powerfully struck shot was well saved by Clarke, flying to his left, but the ball went straight to Ismail who drilled it high into the roof of the net to make it 2-0.
A minute later it could have been 3-0 as David Hunt left a leg in and Phillips tumbled but thankfully Clarke was at his best to save Billy Kee’s spot kick. Sometimes a moment like that can spark a revival but if United were to pull one off then it would have to be without Dave Kitson, who limped off with what looked an ankle injury a couple of minutes later, to be replaced by David Connolly. The U’s did come into the game in the last 20 minutes of the half but hadn’t truly tested visiting keeper Rob Lainton in that first 45 minutes.
That changed from the first whistle of the second half as United started to show their true colours. Connolly twisted and turned inside the box and saw a shot blocked, Nicky Wroe flashed a free kick inches wide of the right-hand post and then on 52 United were back in the game. Connolly held off his man and slipped a clever ball through for the flying Williams. Lainton came out but Williams was cute with his finish to almost flick the ball home and make it 1-2 and game on.
It could so easily have been 2-2 on 56 as Williams again set off on a lung-bursting run from half way inside the Burton half. Defenders backed off, allowing Williams to reach the box, and when the winger cut the ball back Constable took aim and placed his shot back across the keeper but the ball smacked off the inside of the left-hand post.
United were unrecognisable. Connolly flicked a header for Williams to burst into the box again on 65 with the cross just missing Constable and Smalley. There was a tempo and a determination to win the second ball and the Brewers had lost their first-half potency. Another attack on 75 sent Williams down the left to roll the ball in for Constable, who in turn teed up the irrepressible Connolly. His well-struck shot from ten yards was heading under the bar until Lainton somehow tipped it away for a corner.
Burton, who started the game a point and a place above United, tried to run the clock down, while United gambled on getting that second goal by sacrificing right back Hunt and throwing on Alfie Potter for the last ten minutes. They pushed and harried but the equaliser evaded them as Burton opened up a gap above them despite a frenetic five minutes of injury time.
Over the 90 minutes it had been as close as the league table had suggested but United had paid the price for a sluggish first half. They remain well placed and will now regroup for a home game against Cheltenham Town on Tuesday night.
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