Ladapo 9, 34
Burton Albion 3
McFadzean 19, 84 Akins 39
OF all the defeats suffered by Argyle this season at Home Park, this one probably hurt the most.
The Pilgrims led twice against their Staffordshire opponents, through Freddie Ladapo’s fourth and fifth goals of the season, in an exciting first half.
Each time, however, they were unable to capitalise on their lead, nor defend it for long enough, as Kyle McFadzean and Lucas Akins levelled before the break.
Most hurtful of all was possibly the fact that both goals came from headers following set-pieces, as, indeed, did McFadzean’s winner six minutes from the final whistle.
The Argyle starting 11 showed just one change from the side that had lost 2-0 at Oxford United seven days previously, Antoni Sarcevic coming in for Yann Songo'o, who was suspended after being sent off at the Kassam Stadium.
Otherwise, manager Derek Adams stayed true to his starting line-up, the only change seeing Welsh Under-19 international and first-year professional Luke Jephcott being named as substitute, replacing Alex Fletcher.
Burton showed two changes change from the side that had beaten Bristol Rovers 1-0 at the Pirelli Stadium. It was one when the team sheets were handed in, with Liam Boyce coming in for Scott Fraser, but became two after former Pilgrim Damien McCrory broke down in the warm-up and was replaced by Reece Hutchinson.
The Pilgrims had one heart-in-mouth moment at the back, when Tafari Moore swept round from the right-back position to snuff out a threat from Jamie Allen, before they took the lead in emphatic style.
There seemed little danger for the Burton defence when Ladapo received the ball wide on the Pilgrims’ left, but that equation quickly changed with the alacrity with which he brought the ball under control.
Using markers John Brayford and McFadzean as a screen, Ladapo teased the ball towards goal before curling a fine shot around Bulgarian goalkeeper Dimitar Evtimov and into the far corner of the goal.
Ten minutes later, Burton were level, but not before Graham Carey came close to mirroring the opener, cutting in off the right flank and firing off a shot which did not really trouble Evtimov.
The equaliser came from a set-piece. Burton are not the biggest side, but two of their bigger units combined following a free-kick played deftly into the penalty area, Ben Turner finding his fellow centre-back McFadzean with a header that the latter nodded past Matt Macey.
Back came Argyle and back came Freddie. Again, the handiwork – footwork – was all the main man. Seizing on a mix-up in the middle of the Burton defence, with Stephen Quinn poking the ball uncertainly towards his goalkeeper, Freddie broke through and beat Evtimov to the ball, took it around him and, although he was forced wide, showed enough composure to slide the ball in.
This time, parity lasted four minutes as Argyle’s propensity to concede free-kicks and difficulty in dealing with dead-ball situations combined.
Macey made a superb save to keep out Boyce’s driven free-kick that broke the defensive wall, but neither the goalkeeper nor his defence could deal with Will Miller’s corner that Akins headed in.
Four first-half goals nearly became five in injury time as, first, Macey kept out a long-range shot from Jake Hesketh and, then, at the other end, Evtimov did likewise to deny Sarcevic.
Argyle started the second half purposefully, with Sarcevic having a shot saved and Ladapo getting his head to Ruben Lameiras’ cross, without being able to find the requisite power or direction to trouble Evtimov.
After the bright opening from the Pilgrims’ attack, the spotlight turned on their defence as Burton ratcheted up some pressure. The back line stood firm, though, even if it did take a goal-line clearance to keep the scores level, Ladapo proving to be the complete footballer by shovelling way McFadzean’s header.
Argyle rejigged, sending on Jamie Ness to steel the midfield, and erstwhile left-back Gregg Wylde to provide openings.
Twice in a minute, Ladapo had a chance to become the first Pilgrim for more than 12 years to score an EFL hat-trick at Home Park. Firstly, he broke in behind the Brewers’ defence to get one-on-one with Evtimov, but slipped his shot wide of both ’keeper and post; then, undeterred, he loosed off a shot that the custodian saved at the expense of a corner.
One of those taken might just have been a game-changer. Burton took advantage of the let-off and won all three points after Wylde conceded a free-kick on the Argyle left. Stephen Quinn’s delivery was met again by the head of McFadzean to leave Macey clutching at thin air for a third time.
Argyle (4-3-3): 1 Matt Macey; 22 Tafari Moore, 5 Ryan Edwards, 24 Peter Grant, 23 Ashley Smith-Brown; 7 Antoni Sarcevic, 8 David Fox (capt, 6 Jamie Ness 65), 13 Stuart O’Keefe (35 Luke Jephcott 83); 10 Graham Carey, 19 Freddie Ladapo, 11 Ruben Lameiras (20 Gregg Wylde 65). Substitutes (not used): 14 Niall Canavan, 15 Conor Grant, 16 Joel Grant, 21 Kyle Letheren (gk).
Booked: Edwards 67, Wylde 82.
Burton Albion (4-3-3): 26 Dimitar Evtimov; 2 John Brayford, 5 Kyle McFadzean, 6 Ben Turner (12 Ben Fox 52), 19 Reece Hutchinson; 27 Liam Boyce, 23 Stephen Quinn, 4 Jamie Allen; 8 Jake Hesketh (44 Devante Cole 75), 10 Lucas Akins (capt), 18 William Miller (3 Jake Buxton 87). Substitutes (not used): 9 Joe Sbarra, 16 Marcus Harness, 40 Bradley Collins (gk).
Referee: Thomas Bramall.
Attendance: 8,190 (188 away).