City fought hard for almost an hour with ten men after Ricky Ravenhill's dismissal, and almost held on for a point but a late header from Calvin Zola handed The Brewers all three points
The first threatening shot on target came when Lee Bell found Jacques Maghoma with a short corner; the Congolese midfielder tried to lob McLaughlin with a curling effort, but City's number 1 stood tall to catch the ball well.
City's first real attempt came a few minutes later; a freekick was headed half clear and Nathan Doyle hit a vicious volley towards goal and debutant goalkeeper Mark Oxley stood his ground to hold well.
Burton almost took the lead in bizarre fashion when Billy Kee drilled a low cross across the 6 yard area after Zola had picked him out; the ball struck Rory McArdle and rolled dangerously towards goal but McLaughlin gathered the loose ball quickly to spare his blushes.
On the 32nd minute, the game was turned on its head. After a confrontation between Ricky Ravenhill and Lee Bell, Ravenhill was shown a straight red card for an alleged headbutt after the Burton midfielder had thrown himself to the ground. The dismissal seemed harsh but City had to fight on with ten men.
Ten minutes into the second half Jacques Maghoma was the width of the bar away from opening the scoring; he had played a neat one-two with Calvin Zola before hitting a shot that cannoned back off the crossbar.
A minute later Burton were denied again, this time by the reactions of Jon McLaughlin. Billy Kee turned in the area to hit a shot towards goal which deflected into the path of Zola; with the ball at Zola's feet, McLaughlin rushed out quickly to charge down his goal bound shot.
Jacques Maghoma again tried his luck as Burton came ever closer to getting the first goal; Bell found him and he turned neatly away from Stephen Darby before curling a shot narrowly wide of the top corner.
A rare chance arose for City when the hosts could only half clear Gary Jones' freekick, the ball fell to Garry Thompson who hit a swerving half volley a yard or so wide from just outside the area.
With around 10 minutes remaining, Burton went ahead; Thompson and McLaughlin came for the same ball which Thompson failed to clear, the ball was whipped into the area by Damien McCrory and Zola powered home a diving header at the back post.
In the fourth minute of injury time, City fans held their breath when a long punt forward was knocked down to Gary Jones by James Hanson, Jones hit an acrobatic volley a few yards wide of the target to end the last of The Bantams' hopes of snatching a point at the Pirelli Stadium.