The curse of stoppage time struck the Brewers once more as substitute Rhys Healey condemned Albion to another late defeat in the Sky Bet Championship. In a game devoid of any real quality chances the young substitute headed home in the first minute of added on time at the end of the game to snatch victory for Cardiff at the end of a game that will not live long in the memory of either set of supporters.
It was a victory that Cardiff barely merited with the free kick that eventually led to the goal, conceded by John Brayford for a foul on Healey, contentious in the first place, Brayford seeming to use his greater strength to win the ball against the more slight figure of Healey as they chased a ball back towards the Burton box. Referee Tim Robinson saw things differently though and awarded the home side one last chance to try and prise open the Burton defence.
Neither side have been great at keeping clean sheets but this game had goalless written all over it as the match descended into a midfield battle and far too much rushed play and hopeful balls forward being dealt with comfortably by the two defences. Ben Turner, on his return to the team that he helped to the Premier League, was excellent as the Brewers afforded their keeper good protection.
The result was enough to send Albion into the Championship bottom three for the first time this season as results elsewhere conspired to see Wigan Athletic out of the relegation zone with their victory at Brentford and manager Nigel Clough must be hoping for more reinforcements this week to bolster a side still to find the net in 2017.
The return of Jamie Ward to Nottingham Forest necessitated at least one change in the Burton Albion line-up for the visit to the home of the Bluebirds and their former Albion boss Neil Warnock. Jackson Irvine failed to make it with his groin injury still proving troublesome meaning that Luke Murphy continued in the middle with Tom Naylor returning to the side in a midfield five in place of Ward. Nigel Clough also opted to switch to a 4-5-1 formation, Chris O'Grady the striker sacrificed to allow Tom Flanagan to come into the defensive unit at left back.
The game started in something of a subdued atmosphere inside the cavernous Cardiff City Stadium with neither side doing much to invite the supporters to vocalise themselves. Albion had a free kick on nine minutes when Marvin Sordell drew a foul from his marker for the second time in the game. Matt Palmer's set piece was arrowed towards the back post where Cardiff dealt with it at the expense of a corner which Murphy was unable to conjure anything from.
Cardiff were doing their best to rouse their home support but Albion were defending manfully until a long throw was worked back to winger Kadeem Harris on the right hand side of the box and the youngster drilled a low effort through the six yard box, the ball arcing out for a throw in on the far side. The considerable size of striker Kenneth Zohore almost broke the deadlock moments later, the striker showing good skill to bring the ball down inside the box and turn, hitting a shot that Jon McLaughlin half saved, turning anxiously to see the ball squirm inches past his post.
Albion almost instantly turned defence into attack, Lucas Akins sending a hopeful ball into midfield for Murphy to hook on into acres of space for the onrushing Lloyd Dyer. With a defender rapidly closing him down he hurried his shot, volleying wide from the edge of the Cardiff box.
Kyle McFadzean saw a chance to add to his solitary Albion goal midway through the half as Albion carefully worked an opening in and around the Cardiff box but from 25 yards the defenders effort was always rising as it passed Allan McGregor's goal.
Similarly Cardiff midfielder Aron Gunnarsson saw space open up in front of him on 40 minutes and with the encouragement of the home support let fly from a central position but his effort was always going wide and not even troubling McLaughlin.
When the added time board went up it signalled just one minute at the end of a very tame first period. Albion's propensity for conceding in stoppage time was not tested and the sides went in level.
Half time: Cardiff City 0-0 Burton Albion
The second half could only get better and a strong start for the home side almost broke the stalemate on 48 minutes. Albion struggled to clear their lines as a series of crosses came in from the left but when McLaughlin was caught late as he punched clear from almost on his line it relieved the pressure that was just starting to build on the Burton goal.
Cardiff were forced into an early change when Anthony Pilkington went down and was ultimately replaced by youngster Matthew Kennedy. The substitute swapped wings with Kadeem Harris to find himself on his more accustomed right hand side and immediately started to add some life to the Cardiff play.
Albion went close to the opener just past the hour mark through the unlikely source of Flanagan. Murphy intelligently spread play out to the left to Dyer and when his avenue to goal was quickly closed down a little lay off invited the Burton defender to send a piledriver towards goal and narrowly over with McGregor at full stretch.
Cardiff also made the second change of the game with a straight swap seeing Rickie Lambert sent on in place of Zohore to try and break the deadlock.
Matt Palmer was the first Albion player to be replaced when Marcus Harness took his place with just over a quarter of an hour to play. The youngster pushed forwards more in support of Sordell once on the pitch and like Kennedy before him began to inject some life into the game. A curling free kick taken from the left flank caused problems in the Cardiff defence and when the ball fell for Akins his shot on the turn was on target but not seriously troubling Cardiff's new signing in goal.
Neil Warnock went with youth again for his last substitution with Rhys Healey, a young striker previously out on loan at Newport County replacing Junior Hoillett. And it was the youth product that won it for the home side as the game ticked into added on time. Healey won a free kick from John Brayford chasing a ball into the penalty area. It was a soft free kick and harsh on Brayford. Lambert's effort was repelled fairly comfortably but broke to the left hand side and when the ball was whipped back in, McLaughlin, at full stretch couldnt get there and HEALEY was somehow able to bundle the ball home from inside the six yard box.
It was an incredibly harsh finish in a game that had barely mustered a shot on target for either side and a game that a battling Brewers performance deserved a point from.