Burton hunting a second miracle – Interview
Thursday, 21st Sep 2017 15:21 by Clive Whittingham
Burton Albion survived last season the smallest budget and gate the Championship has ever seen – LFW asked Brewers regular Steve Eyley whether it can be done again.
How would you assess last season, your first ever at this level?
SE: An unbelievable achievement. Once the novelty had worn off in those early weeks, at times it felt like a heroic League One side being forced to play FA Cup games every week against a team from the league above - and coping manfully.
We were always competitive without quite having that extra-special quality to give us some breathing space. The players and management were immense, unified throughout and if they had gone down you could not have complained about the shift they put in.
People who know their football recognised what we had achieved - a miracle. I was drained at the end of it all, so God knows what the players felt.
They gave everything in every game, there was never really an easy game or a truly comfortable win (except perhaps for Brum away in Zola's last game) so we fought for every single point - and it felt great to get those 13 wins. Beating clubs the size of Forest, Sheffield Wednesday, Leeds, Derby, Birmingham (twice), Wolves, Cardiff etc still feels surreal.
We had a fair start, then a tricky November and December and were fourth from bottom for ages, but fortunately Wigan and Blackburn seemed incapable of overtaking us, despite umpteen opportunities.
We dropped into the bottom three for just one week and then kickstarted our season again immediately with a win at your place.
Nigel then brought in some loan players in the window with just enough about them to get us over the line with two games to spare. Michael Kightly in particular was a cut above when fit. Shame he's gone to Southend.
I can't speak highly enough of Clough. He never put a foot wrong.
Tell us about the summer transfer business…
SE: Well our new record signing was Liam Boyce from Ross County, leading scorer in the Scottish Premier League last season, but he did his ACL in pre-season so that's half a million down the drain for the time being.
In total we brought in a dozen players, a mix of old sweats - Stephen Warnock, Jake Buxton - young lads from League One who are trying to step up - ex-Rochdale midfielders Matty Lund and Jamie Allen to name two - plus some lads who were on loan last season - Luke Murphy, Will Miller, John Brayford - as Nigel Clough tries to recapture the spirit of last season.
Jackson Irvine went to Hull for a reported £2million, probably to mainly sit on the bench, but I may be proved wrong. He had a blinding first half to the season, but I thought he never recaptured that after Christmas - others think he walks on water though, so my view is not that widespread. Once Boyce got injured, Jackson was our only real sellable asset to generate some spending money, plus he's never made any secret of his ambition to play in the Premier League, so it was right to sell him on.
I can't cope personally, let's make that clear. It took years off my life last season.
As for the team, we are clearly favourites to go down, so again it will be unbelievably difficult. Money talks and relatively speaking, we just haven't got it.
A club that can get only 4,040 through the gate for the visit of Fulham will always struggle and, for as long as Derby County exists, ten miles up the road, we will never increase our fanbase. More people in Burton support the Rams than the Brewers. That's a fact of life.
So Clough has to create some sort of footballing alchemy with whoever he is able to get in.
You have to be a certain type of bloody-minded player with a point to prove to come here. You must be willing to work harder than you've worked anywhere else, play in multiple positions if required, feed off scraps if you are a striker etc. The training facilities are amazing at St George's Park but you are always going to be up against in every other respect. If you can handle that, fine, if not, this is not the club for you.
SE: Something didn't feel right early on. I didn't think the team was any stronger than the one that finished last season and the Boyce injury blow was a sickener, plus we had some tough fixtures to start with, but some of the players who came in late in August seem to have improved us a bit and, apart from a spanking at Leeds - the kind of drubbing we feared would be a regular occurrence last season but never really happened - we have picked up a little of late. Two wins in the Milk Cup have helped us get the early setbacks out of our system.
SE: We've got a lot of centre halves and central midfielders but apart from tricky Huddersfield loanee Sean Scannell, we don't have a lot of quality out wide and of course we are thin up front because we don't have umpteen million to spend on a deadly forward or two. Goals will again be a concern. Six goals in eight games so far means we are putting massive pressure on the defence. If we concede two then it's basically game over.
Jamie Allen looks a very useful youngster in central midfield with quick feet and good passing, Luke Murphy rarely has a bad game in midfield, and Lucas Akins is always a handful, whether up front, in central midfield or wide on the right. Shades of Paolo Wanchope in full flow when he goes on one of his runs.
Joe Mason is a striker from Wolves with a decent reputation who has come in on loan after he found his opportunities limited by the Portuguese influx at the Molineux. He scored with literally his first touch for the club so we are looking for a few goals from him.
At the back, Kyle MacFadzean, Ben Turner and John Brayford defended like men possessed last season so we hope for the same again from them. We don't really have players to leave opposition fans speechless in admiration. It's more about the combination of hard work with a bit talent on top.
SE: Who knows? I suspect not but I said that last season. The odds are against again. We have to hope someone has a mare like Rotherham last season and that some of the bigger clubs massively underachieve (like Forest, Birmingham and Blackburn last year). Everyone expects to beat us, we get next to no credit from opposition fans when we win (it's always about their team's inadequacies), and we are laughed at for our size, so it's all against us again.
My gut feeling says it won't happen again but I am very happy to be proved wrong. We can't realistically be looking any further ahead than finishing just outside the bottom three at the moment. I have faith in Cloughie that if we can keep in touch until January, he will strengthen in the right areas and give us a boost for the run-in.
As I understand it the terraces - currently covering three sides of the ground - will have to go if we make it to a fourth season. I have stood up at home for the past 35 years so that will be a novelty for us, but if that is what it takes to stay in the league, fair enough. The ground is 12 years old this month so it depends what the authorities class as 'new'.
The Twitter @loftforwords, @SteveEyley1
Pictures – Action Images
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