Burton Albion 0-1 Southend United
Ten men Albion suffered late, late heartache as Freddy Eastwood snatched all three points for Phil Brown's Southend United side at the end of a somewhat uninspiring game at the Pirelli Stadium. A tight, evenly contested first half closed with Albion down to ten men as referee Tony Harrington brandished a second yellow card at striker Billy Kee having already shown him yellow in the opening forty seconds of the game.
Despite being at a numerical disadvantage for the whole of the second period Albion weathered early pressure from the visitors in the second half coming on strong in the latter stages of the game to rattle a post through substitute Matty Palmer and look good for a hard earned point until Eastwood's deflected shot also hit the post, this time the ball cannoning into the net.
On the back of an impressive win away at Wycombe Wanderers last week it was an easy decision for Gary Rowett to stick with an unchanged side for the visit of Southend United. The only change came on the bench where Dean Lyness recovered from a foot injury to replace Kevin Poole as back up goalkeeper.
In form striker Billy Kee was in the referee's notebook within forty seconds of the start but not for finding the back of the Southend net. With the ball in and around the centre circle the forward flew into a challenge on Ryan Leonard to earn himself a booking. Only a minute later and still with less than two minutes showing on the clock it was evened up as referee Tony Harrington brandished a yellow card in the direction of former Albion loanee Rob Kiernan who needlessly kicked the ball away after conceding a free kick.
Albion carved out the best early opportunities with Ian Sharps showing great composure on the edge of the Southend penalty area to chest the ball and volley it inches wide of the post and Adam McGurk produced a curling effort that was straight into the arms of the keeper Daniel Bentley.
Bentley was called into action again on seventeen minutes with a smart save from Shane Cansdell-Sherriff, the centre half finding himself unmarked at the back post as Chris Hussey delivered a teasing free kick into the danger area.
McGurk had a half chance to open the scoring on 27 minutes as Albion pressed again. Phil Edwards crossed and Billy Kee got a flick to get the ball into the feet of McGurk who could not quite dig the ball out to beat Bentley.
Jordan Pickford was called into action just after the half hour mark as Southend finally threatened. Ryan Leonard went to ground far too easily but still earned a free kick from Alex MAcDonald's challenge and it was Barry Corr who got his head to the free kick to force into a save low to his right.
Cauley Woodrow, the Southend loan midfielder had Pickford at full stretch with a flicked header that had Albion's own loan man flying through the air to touch the ball around the post for the safety of a corner.
Kee poked a tame shot at Bentley as Albion got back on the attack but it was Southend pressing again as Corr just failed to make contact with a teasing cross from the right. Ben Coker, overlapping picked up the loose ball but his return cross in was dealt with more comfortably.
Kee's first minute indiscretion came back to haunt him in the final moments of the first half as the referee missed a foul on the Albion striker seconds before Kee went in for another challenge that felled Coker just outside his own penalty area, referee Harrington reaching for a second yellow and the inevitable red to follow.
Half time: Burton Albion 0-0 Southend United
Corr started the second half with a header over the bar, fouling his man in the process before Alex MacDonald tested out Bentley with a driven free kick from all of twenty five yards out.
Unsurprisingly, given their man advantage, the visitors seized the initiative and began to press forward with more and more purpose. Most of their best work came down their right with the partnership of John White and Kevan Hurst constantly probing for openings.
Pickford had to show all of his international pedigree to deal with a flurry of crosses that unsettled the Burton defence. The young keeper dealt well with what was thrown at him including one rather unorthodox punched clearance that was more like a left hook straight out of the boxing ring.
Albion threw on Matty Palmer just before the hour mark, Chris Hussey was the man to make way. The Albion winger had been starved of service and it was a move designed to gve more balance as Alex MacDonald switched to the left and Palmer slotting in on the right.
Albion suddenly broke free of their defensive shackles although Palmer was denied by an offside flag and Robbie Weir's spectacular volley flew wide of the post as the Brewers found something of a second wind.
MacDonald was not far away with a back post header that had Bentley at full stretch and the visiting keeper almost gifted Albion a goal when Adam McGurk challenged him for a long ball forward and the young keeper almost got in a mess recovering at the final moment to spare his blushes.
Palmer was inches away from being a match winner for the Brewers on 84 minutes. A robust challenge from Robbie Weir allowed the young midfielder to burst from deep inside his own half before getting to the edge of the Southend box and firing a low shot agonisingly against the base of the upright with Bentley beaten.
There was to be a cruel finish for Albion who suffered heartbreak at the end as Southend snatched all three points which they barely deserved. The game was into the third minute of added time when Freddy EASTWOOD picked up the scraps just outside the box and fired in a hopeful shot that took a deflection on its way through to the far post where it struck the inside of the woodwork and nestled in the back of the net.
The Brewers did not deserve defeat in such a manner especially after looking the more likely side to snatch it at the death only to be undone by a sucker punch finish.