FOOTBALL can be a cruel game sometimes.
Only one side deserved to win Saturday’s clash between Burton Albion and Southend United at the Pirelli Stadium.
The Brewers, down to 10 men after Billy Kee’s sending off for two rash tackles, scrapped with every sinew to get a winner against the odds.
In a grandstand finish, after a second half they had clearly edged, it looked like they would nick it, but substitute Matty Palmer’s shot thumped back off a post.
And as injury time started, Freddie Eastwood’s deflected effort flew in off a post, summing up Albion’s recent luck.
It is a third defeat in four home games for the Brewers, a surprising run considering they only lost three at home all season in 2012/13.
A lot of that has to do with two sendings off – with Kee becoming the third Albion player in six games to see red.
Again, it was an entirely avoidable red card, much like the ones dished out to Ian Sharps and Marcus Holness against Oxford and AFC Wimbledon respectively.
Kee was booked after just 36 seconds as fussy referee Tony Harrington made an officious start to the match.
If his first yellow card was perhaps a touch unfortunate, no apologies can be made for the second a minute from half-time.
Yes, Kee was fouled in the build-up to his over the top, lunging tackle, but that is not an excuse. He should not have been making such a pointless tackle, just a minute from the break, deep in Southend’s half.
It is a shame for Kee that he now has to miss Saturday’s visit to table-topping Chesterfield just as he is rediscovering his best form.
As for Mr Harrington, he dished out some silly early bookings which gave him little room to manoeuvre afterwards. One handed to Adam McGurk for a perfectly good tackle was a laughable decision.
Still, there are plenty of positives for Albion boss Gary Rowett to take from the match.
Until Kee’s sending off – and for most of the match afterwards – there only looked like being one winner.
While the quality of football from both sides in difficult conditions was not great, there was real battle from the Brewers, personified by man-of-the-match Alex MacDonald.
If Albion keep playing in the same vein, a run of positive results should be just around the corner.
Rowett named an unchanged starting XI and matchday squad on Saturday after the 2-1 victory at Wycombe.
That meant defender Zander Diamond was again on the bench, with striker Rene Howe not involved at all.
Southend, managed by ex-Derby County boss Phil Brown, were looking to avenge the double Burton did over them last season.
Albion, looking to heed their manager’s call and start brightly, managed just that.
After Kee had been booked in the first minute for a late tackle on Ryan Leonard, Southend’s Rob Kiernan went into the book for kicking the ball away.
The first chance fell to Ian Sharps on three minutes but he volleyed just wide from the edge of the box as McGurk headed MacDonald’s free kick down in the area.
On six minutes, McGurk cut in on from the right on his left foot and fired a curling effort from 20 yards which Southend keeper Daniel Bentley watched all the way into his arms.
Shane Cansdell-Sherriff then had a header from Chris Hussey’s free kick palmed away by Bentley.
McGurk got a MacDonald cross caught in his feet on 27 minutes and the chance was lost.
Southend finally posed a threat just after the half-hour as experienced striker Barry Corr headed Kevan Hurst’s free kick down in the area and Jordan Pickford had to be alert to drop on the ball.
Conor Clifford then blazed a 25-yarder well wide before Cauley Woodrow forced Pickford into his only difficult save of the match with a flicked header the keeper pushed away at full stretch.
With half-time looming, Kee – who looked like he had taken a boot in the face in a clear foul seconds earlier – lunged in on Ben Coker and Mr Harrington produced the inevitable second yellow card.
Incredibly, it was the sixth red card in 11 League Two matches involving Albion this season.
It was also the third time the Brewers have been forced to play more than half a match with 10 men.
Yet despite the man advantage, Southend did not really push Albion after the break, with the 10 men making most of the running.
Palmer came on for Hussey on the hour and made an immediate impact on the right of midfield, helping to hold onto the ball.
On 63 minutes, Phil Edwards did well to win a corner and Sharps headed MacDonald’s delivery over.
Damien McCrory drove a shot across goal on 71 minutes before Robbie Weir’s effort from the edge of the box flew across the area.
Bentley made a mess of Pickford’s long kick on 77 minutes under pressure from McGurk but Mark Phillips was there to clear as the bouncing ball headed towards an open goal.
Woodrow shot over from 15 yards for Southend after Pickford, who had been excellent with high balls, flapped at a corner.
On 78 minutes, MacDonald headed just wide from eight yards from Edwards’ centre before Palmer was unlucky not to grab his first senior goal.
With Southend pouring forward, a smashing tackle from Weir allowed Albion to hit the visitors on the break with Palmer.
Burton had two on two with McGurk streaking forward, but Palmer went on his own and shot from around 18 yards. Bentley was a passenger as the ball smacked into the foot of his left post.
The atmosphere whipped up inside the Pirelli, with the home fans roaring for a winner and even a steward chucking the ball back rapidly for a throw as Albion looked for a goal.
A goal did come – but it was at the other end.
The Brewers were caught trying to win the game rather than seeing it out for a point.
The ball broke to Eastwood in the area a minute into added time and his shot was deflected off an Albion body and in off Pickford’s right post.
It was a bitter pill to swallow for Rowett’s men – but they can take solace from the fact they will probably play worse this season and pick up all three points.