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NIGEL CLOUGH'S BURTON ALBION LEGACY

19 May 2020

NIGEL Clough was appointed Burton Albion manager for the first time on October 23, 1998.

Having left Manchester City after spells with Liverpool and, famously, Nottingham Forest, Clough was appointed by chairman Ben Robinson as the new Brewers boss following the departure of John Barton.

Back then Albion were slumbering in the Southern Premier League with unfulfilled ambitions of becoming a Football League outfit. The Brewers had enjoyed an occasional cup success in their first 48 years of history but had never won a championship and had long been resident at the same level in the football pyramid. The Brewers were frequently referred to as a ‘Cinderella club’ who were still waiting to go to the ball.

Nigel Clough’s arrival changed all that. 

Still only 32 at the time, Clough had been forced to retire from top-flight football through injury after a career that had included England caps and success at Nottingham Forest and Liverpool.

His first game in charge saw Albion entertain Grantham in the first qualifying Round of the FA Trophy and quickly the Brewers were remoulded as a team, led on the pitch by Clough himself offering a master class in control and silky passing skills.

In Albion’s 50th anniversary season, Clough led Albion to second place and the Brewers gained a piece of silverware in the shape of the Dr Marten’s League Cup.

The following season Albion repeated the league success but were frustrated to be pipped to promotion by Margate and again had to settle for runners-up spot.

A switch to the Unibond League in 2001-2002 saw Albion move sideways in a geographical realignment but one that proved beneficial as Clough’s side took the division by storm.

Two years of consistency paid dividends for Albion who went into the season as favourites. They hit the top spot in September and simply never looked back, losing only twice and notching up more than 100 points and 100 goals.

After one of the most memorable seasons in Burton Albion history, Clough said: “We just kept churning out the results to keep up pressure on other teams until, finally, they cracked. When it came to the night the league was won, it was emotional for all of us.”

It was then onto the Conference for the first time in Albion’s history and eventually in 2005 a new stadium that was a fitting home for Clough’s team.

The Pirelli Stadium was officially opened in November 2005 with a visit from Manchester United, but few expected that to be a sign of bigger things to come.

One of the great games of Nigel Clough’s first ten years in charge of the Brewers was when Albion were drawn at home to the Red Devils in the Third Round of the FA Cup in 2006. The Brewers held the mighty Manchester United to a 0-0 draw and earned a money-spinning Old Trafford replay.

The FA Cup run also helped ignite the Brewers Conference form and, after consolidating in the division, Albion began to emerge as promotion contenders.

A narrow play-off defeat against Cambridge United saw Albion come back even more determined.

The 2008/2009 saw Albion achieve the dream of entering the Football League but without their talismanic manager being there when they crossed the finishing line.

Clough departed for Derby on January 6, 2009, but he left the Brewers 13 points clear of their nearest rivals Histon and on a run of 11 straight conference victories – a record.

After managing Derby County and Sheffield United, Clough returned to the Pirelli Stadium in December 2015 with Albion in League One and led them to even greater glory.

He said at the time: “It's wonderful to be back at Burton Albion again, working with the chairman Ben Robinson and his staff, who make this club so special. 

"We're looking forward to trying to maintain the remarkable success the club is enjoying."

And continue that success he did.

Albion were promoted to the Championship on the final day of the 2015/2016 season with Clough’s team earning a draw at Doncaster to secure second spot behind Wigan.

It was fitting that the club’s longest-serving and most successful manager should be back at the helm as amidst joyous scenes on the Doncaster pitch, the Brewers moved into the second tier of English football only seven years after being a non-league club.

Even more remarkable perhaps was the achievement of keeping the club in the Championship against all the odds. By far the smallest club in the division the Brewers notched up remarkable victories including beating Derby County at the Pirelli Stadium before clinching survival with a point at Barnsley.

Burton Albion found themselves back in League One after two seasons in the Championship as Clough couldn’t perform the miracle twice – but did come agonisingly close.

The Brewers were relegated on the last day of the 2017/18 season away at Preston in heart-breaking circumstances.

With less than five minutes to go in the match Albion were drawing 1-1 with Preston while Bolton were losing 2-1 against Nottingham Forest, results that would have secured safety for the Brewers.  But Bolton scored twice in two minutes to take a 3-2 lead and Albion were forced to chase an injury time winner at Deepdale only to concede instead and lose 2-1.

The Brewers were relegated for the first time in more than 40 years after a remarkable two seasons as the smallest club in the Championship.

The Brewers finished eighth in the 2018/19 League One table with 63 points putting in a strong second half of the season but unable to mount a late play-off push. Nigel Clough's team did however record another piece of Burton Albion history, reaching the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup - the last EFL team left in the competition

Albion beat Shrewsbury away in the first round to kick start an amazing run that saw the club beat Premiership opposition for only the second time when Burnely were brushed aside at the Pirelli Stadium. Championship clubs Aston Villa and Nottingham Forest were also beaten at home before the Brewers stunned Middlesbrough with an away win in the quarter finals.

Albion lined up alongside Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester City in the semi-final draw landing the Premier League Champions over two legs. Albion shipped nine goals in the away tie but lost to a solitary strike from Aguero on home soil to finish a memorable cup run.

It’s all part of the rich football legacy that Nigel Clough has given to Burton Albion over the last 22 years.

 


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