It’s been a mix of emotions for Burton Albion throughout the course of their Sky Bet Championship campaign with some vital wins, plenty of near misses, and a fair number of drubbings. What have you made of what you’ve seen?
I suppose a mix is the best way to put it. Their fortunes have diverged between home and away; they’ve gone 13 games without a win at the Pirelli Stadium – September was the last time they won at home – and, for whatever reason, they’ve just not been able to find a way to break teams down at home. But away from home, where they weren’t quite as effective last season, they’ve picked up some really good results and have found a style that works.
Would you say Burton’s lowly league position is down to the manner in which they’ve played or simply the fact that they are punching above their weight in the second tier?
Last season there was more of a surprise factor which earned them a number of points. That hasn’t happened this season and some of the bigger teams like Fulham, Leeds United, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Aston Villa have all got big wins against them. There have been many games where they’ve lost due to the fine margins of failing to convert a chance and then a lucky goal has gone in against them. They lost 1-0 to Millwall at the end of February and that was a classic example where they had late chances, didn’t take them and then Millwall scored the goal, which was pretty much their only effort on target. Around January time they lost 3-1 at home to Reading and that was a really poor performance that Clough called their ‘rock-bottom moment.’ At that point they looked shot of confidence and like a team that were on their way towards relegation, but since then they’ve brought some players in and are playing a much more confident, patient style of football.
The race for survival is almost as open as the race for the Play-Offs with as many as ten teams still in the mix. Do you think Burton will be one of the three clubs relegated in May?
I think they play four of the six teams down there with them in the last six games of the season so their aim at the moment is keeping themselves in touch. If they slip seven or eight points adrift over the next five or six games, then it’s a huge ask to drag that back. The next three or four games will tell us a lot because if they keep touch with a couple of positive results, then I think they’ve got a great chance.
What’s been your highlight of the season up to now?
They won 3-0 at Sheffield Wednesday on New Year’s Day and that’s the biggest win in the Championship since Burton were promoted. It was a complete away performance; they won an early penalty, missed it, and still went on to win comfortably. That was during a bit of a purple patch and the best spell they’ve had this season where they won three games in a run of five, so that was good, not just because of the performances, but because they proved why they are in the Championship.
Earlier in the season you said Lucas Akins would be the player Bees fans should pay close attention to – is that still the case?
I would probably have to say Jacob Davenport, who is a 19-year-old midfielder on loan from Manchester City. He hadn’t played much senior football until Burton signed him on deadline day, so he was a bit of an unknown quantity. He’s apparently quite highly rated by Pep Guardiola and made his debut at Villa Park in front of 30,000 people and he looked ready-made for the level - he was brilliant and so composed in possession. He sits as a deep-lying midfielder in a midfield five and just keeps Burton ticking.
How is Nigel Clough likely to set up his side on Tuesday evening?
I would think it’ll be a 4-5-1, which they’ve been using quite a bit recently. Part of that is down to their two first-choice strikers, Darren Bent and Liam Boyce – who is still slowly being integrated back into the team following his speedy recovery from an ACL injury - sharing the workload up front. The midfield five is likely to consist of Davenport as the holding midfielder, Jamie Allen and Hope Akpan as the two central midfielders, Martin Samuelson on the right and Lloyd Dyer on the left. They’ve had a few defensive injuries recently, so it depends on how that goes as to the line-up, but I’d think Akins will be at right-back, Tom Naylor and Kyle McFadzean at centre-back and then Tom Flanagan or Damien McCrory at left-back.
You managed to predict the correct score last time around, so what’s your score prediction for this game?
Did I really?! Lovely stuff. I’d be tempted to go for the same score as last time, another 1-1. Brentford are one of the best footballing teams that I’ve seen in this league, but Burton will have the benefit of a few days off after their game against Sheffield United was called off at the weekend. I’d love Burton to win but a 1-1 draw will certainly be a good result for them.