Oliver Lancashire's own goal gave Burton victory over a Rochdale side that played 83 minutes with 10 men.
Dale skipper Peter Cavanagh was sent off for a high challenge on Robbie Weir but the hosts struggled to get on top.
They eventually took the lead just before the break when Lancashire poked Billy Kee's pass into his own net.
Rochdale stood firm until the closing stages when Brewers defender Ian Sharps went close with a header and Michael Symes somehow shot over an open goal.
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Burton manager Gary Rowett told BBC Radio Derby:
"It was a great result and I'm not worried about the performances at this stage.
"We didn't play as well as we can do and we weren't anywhere near that. We moved the ball a bit too slowly and didn't take as much care of it as we could have done, but that's going to happen at times.
"This time last year, we'd played well, but we hadn't got the results we wanted apart from in the cup.
"This year we've not played too well but we've got two wins and a draw from the games we've played, so I'm pleased with the results we've had, but we can do an awful lot better."
On Peter Cavanagh's red card, Rochdale manager Keith Hill told BBC Radio Manchester:
"I think 90% of the crowd would tell you it wasn't a sending-off.
"I know the coaches on both benches and the majority of players realise, because they've actually played the game, that it wasn't a sending-off and it was purely accidental.
"What helped make the referee's decision was the challenge previously, where Peter probably should have been booked, and he didn't book him. Instead of booking him for the second offence, he decided to show him a straight red.
"We'll have a look at it [appealing]. It costs the club a lot of money to appeal, but it will cost the club for Peter to be suspended for three games."
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