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Burton Albion 1, Southend United 0
NOT even Phil Brown’s lucky pants could stop Southend United’s promotion hopes suffering a set-back with a 1-0 defeat at 10-man Burton Albion this afternoon.
Brown had been hoping his superstitious underwear, which he had seen the Shrimpers lose just once in the last nine games while wearing them, would help boost his side’s quest for a return to League One.
But Brewers striker Adam McGurk bagged the only goal of the first leg semi-final play-off at the Pirelli Stadium.
And the Shrimpers were unable to draw back level despite Burton playing the final half an hour with a numerical disadvantage after having Ian Sharps sent off for two yellow cards.
Blues piled on the pressure in the closing stages but were unable to find a way past Brewers goalkeeper Dean Lyness.
Southend’s first chance of the game came after just 10 minutes with Barry Corr heading a left wing cross from Michael Timlin wide of the right post.
But Albion soon worked their way back in to the game with skipper Lee Bell sending a rising half volley inches over the crossbar after dispossessing Ryan Leonard on the edge of the penalty area.
Moments later and, with play switching back to the other end of the field, Kevan Hurst headed a right wing cross from Jacob Murphy straight at Burton goalkeeper Lyness.
The Brewers shot-stopper then did well to reach a rising 16-yard shot from Will Atkinson after the energetic midfielder had perfectly timed his charge in to the penalty area.
Clear-cut chances remained few and far between and, in the 28th minute, Corr curled a 20 yard free-kick over the crossbar with a disappointing effort.
But, after surviving the scare, the hosts hit back with striker Adam McGurk working his way across the penalty area before unleashing a low effort which Blues goalkeeper Daniel Bentley did well to keep out low down to his right hand side.
The Shrimpers soon hit back with Hurst cutting in off the left flank and sending a swerving 25 yard shot into the grateful gloves of Lyness.
However, Burton replied to open the scoring right on the stroke of half-time with their strike pairing of McGurk and Kee swapping passes on the edge of the edge of the penalty area to enable McGurk to burst through and lift the ball over the advancing Bentley.
Burton made a change at the break with Matty Palmer coming on to replace Zeli Ismail in midfield, but conditions initially worsened at the start of the second period with both sides struggling to get to grips with the game.
But, with 60 minutes on the clock, Burton were reduced to 10 men with Sharps being shown his second yellow card in quick succession.
The centre-back picked up his first caution for handling the ball and was then dismissed by referee Oliver Langford after bringing down Ryan Leonard.
Burton readjusted by making their second change as David Gray came on to replace Billy Kee before Blues boss Phil Brown made a double substitution in the 65th minute with Anthony Straker coming on for Jacob Murphy and Freddy Eastwood replacing John White.
The attack-minded changes saw Blues revert to a 4-4-2 formation with Will Atkinson moving from midfield to right-back.
But Southend struggled to create chances against a Burton team packing men behind the ball and, in the 73rd minute, the visitors made their final change with Lee Barnard replacing Corr in attack just moments after the Irishman had been booked.
After that, Southend began to get on top with only a stunning late save from Lyness stopping John Egan bagging an equaliser for the Shrimpers who will now be bidding to come from behind at Roots Hall on Saturday.
FOR SEVEN PAGES OF REACTION, PICTURES AND ANALYSIS, SEE MONDAY'S ECHO