CALVIN Zola returned to scoring form in the nick of time for Burton Albion at the Pirelli Stadium on Saturday.
The Brewers looked as though they would be subjected to an afternoon of frustration as 10-man Bradford City offered dogged and determined resistance.
But the midweek villain after a series of missed chances against Port Vale regained his hero status when he headed the only goal with 10 minutes remaining to secure Albion their first victory in five games.
Zola’s sixth goal of the season was a reward Albion just about deserved, though it came as a cruel blow to the visitors on an afternoon when little went right for them.
They had to play for half the game with a makeshift defence after losing centre-halves Luke Oliver and Andrew Davies with injuries.
More pertinently, perhaps, they had to battle on from the 32nd minute with 10 men following the dismissal of skipper Ricky Ravenhill for an offence that will laughably go down in the record book as violent conduct.
In truth, it was a heavy-handed piece of officialdom by former Premier League referee Andy D’Urso for Ravenhill’s part in what was nothing more than a minor spat with Albion’s Lee Bell.
Bell was by no means the innocent party in an incident that was blown up out of all proportion and contributed to what was largely an unsatisfactory and unappealing contest.
The inclusion of newly-signed goalkeeper Mark Oxley on loan from Hull City was one of three changes made by the Brewers from the side that drew 1-1 with Vale in the Staffordshire derby.
Oxley could not have wished for an easier introduction as the dismissal of Ravenhill handed the initiative to the Brewers and left City to scavenge without much success for attacking scraps.
Nathan Stanton returned to the defence in place of Rob Kiernan as the youngster’s month on loan from Wigan Athletic came to an end.
And Billy Kee was preferred to Matt Paterson up front despite the Scot agreeing an extended contract on the eve of the game.
Davies had to make a brave header to prevent Robbie Weir from making clean contact with a teasing cross from Anthony O’Connor as Albion enjoyed the lion’s share of the early possession.
The Bantams were slow to react to Bell corner kick from the left but Jacques Maghoma’s shot was easily held by Jon McLaughlin, while Oxley’s first test could not have been easier when Nathan Doyle directed a volley straight at him.
Those efforts were typical of a contest that had got off to a lacklustre start and unfolded as one that will be remembered for all the wrong reasons.
There was a minor scare for the visitors in the 21st minute when Cleveland Taylor’s low cross came off the heel of full-back Rory McArdle but McLaughlin was able to pick the ball up just short of the line.
For the most part, though, the Brewers’ passing and crossing lacked the precision and accuracy to trouble the Bradford defence.
The visitors looked equally short of craft and ideas until Garry Thompson got a decent flick to a long throw-in only for Ravenhill to slice his shot well wide on the half-hour mark.
It was the Bradford skipper’s last meaningful contribution because two minutes later he was given his marching orders for violent conduct, though it was hardly the crime of the century.
Ravenhill brought down Bell, the Albion player jumped to his feet angrily and then went down again as the pair came together, though whether there was any contact was debatable.
Bell was yellow carded for his part in the skirmish, while the visitors quickly suffered another blow when big defender Oliver went off injured.
The visitors regrouped, bringing on Stephen Darby and Gary Jones to leave James Hanson to fight a lone battle up front.
And Hanson went as close as anyone to breaking the first half stalemate with a header that was deflected narrowly wide in the 40th minute.
Kee probably should have done it in added time but disappointingly side-footed a Damien McCrory cross wide of the near post.
Bradford made another change at the start of the second half when Carl McHugh replaced Davies, leaving the visitors without both of their regular centre halves.
Home skipper Zander Diamond glanced a header wide from a McCrory free kick as Albion tried to make their extra man count.
They almost made the breakthrough in the 55th minute but Maghoma’s shot came back off the crossbar after an exchange of passes with Zola inside the box before McLaughlin lunged at Kee to keep out his angled shot.
Bell’s excellent pass offered Maghoma another chance to check onto his favoured right-foot in the 64th minute but this time the midfielder’s shot drifted wide of the far post.
The visitors had unashamedly set their stall out to frustrate Albion, though they did get forward long enough for Thompson’s to drive a shot well wide.
Kee missed a glorious chance to put Albion in front when he headed substitute Jordan Chapell’s cross wide in the 78th minute.
Albion looked as though they might have to settle for a goalless stalemate, but finally made the most of a rare lapse in the City ranks in the 80th minute.
Nathan Stanton’s ball down the left was missed by Darby and McCrory seized the opportunity to hook the ball to the far post and Zola timed his run to beat McLaughlin with a diving header.