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Burton Albion Look Ready To Mix It With The Big Boys

Tuesday 8th March 2016
Every year Burton host neighbours Derby County in a pre-season friendly. Just 11 miles separate the two sides and Burton usually provide County with a stern test, whilst also making money from the large crowd. Much to the disbelief of Rams fans and the delight of Burton fans, the fixture could well take place in the Championship next season.
The Brewers currently sit top of League One, nine points clear of Gillingham in third and look set to earn their second successive promotion whilst Derby's promotion bid looks like faltering again. It would be the first time they've competed in the second tier of English football, a remarkable rise for the small club from Staffordshire.

What's most impressive about Burton's rise in the last two seasons especially is that they've had three different managers. Gary Rowett left for Birmingham in October 2014, before Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink took the reins for a year. Hasselbaink took the team to the League Two title in his first year in charge, but the lure of QPR and the Championship was too much for him to turn down in December.

Enter Nigel Clough, the man who managed Burton from 1998-2009 leading them from the Northern Premier League to the Conference and the brink of the Football League. Clough made his emotional return to Burton in December, six years after he left but with the side in a similar position at the top of their league. He has carried on Hasselbaink's good work; the club has suffered just three defeats since he took over and are dreaming of fixtures against some of the countries big boys next year.

Surprisingly Burton's team is mainly built of free transfers and loan players. They have signed just four players for a fee over the last three seasons, with none of them coming in over the summer. Their success is built on the best defence in League One, conceding just 28 goals this year with 17 clean sheets in 34 games. Phil Edwards and John Mousinho at the back have played in every league game whilst goalkeeper Jon Mclaughlin has only missed one game.

The consistent spine of the team is crucial because Burton are not a free-scoring side.  Lucas Aikens and Stuart Beavon (two players Burton actually spent money on at the start of the 2014 season) lead the goal scoring ranks on just eight apiece with Burton finding the back of the net just 44 times in the league this year, which ranks 12th and is only two more than bottom side Colchester have managed.  The Brewers have won 1-0 on 11 different occasions this year (including a particularly sweet win for Clough against Sheffield United on March 1st) which shows just how important their defensive record is.

Burton play Bradford this evening (Tuesday 8th March 2016), knowing that a win would take them seven points clear of Wigan in second and twelve ahead of Gillingham in third. Win and they'd be 7 wins away from promotion to the Championship with 11 games left to play. Their fixture list isn't easy with games against four of the top six, and a potential title decider against Wigan at the end of April, but they're a side who have been here before and know what it takes to win a title. They have a manager who is more than likely to stay with them now and an unglamorous side who are likely to stick together and stay at the club over the summer should they gain promotion.

Burton Albion's average attendance was just over 2,700 last year and they currently rank fourth bottom in League One with 3,900, but the small club from Staffordshire are used to punching above their weight by now. Newcastle, Aston Villa, Sunderland and neighbours Derby are just a few of the big names they could be welcoming to The Pirelli Stadium next season and it wouldn't be a surprise if The Brewers caused a few upsets and made sure their stay in the Championship wasn't a brief one.
Matthew Storey
Luton Town season ticket holder and Portsmouth journalism student. Mostly interested in the lower leagues, follow me on twitter @storeymatt

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