Burton Albion start their second successive Championship campaign by welcoming Neil Warnock’s Cardiff City to the Pirelli Stadium.
The Brewers likely face a difficult season ahead, with many predicting them to go down. Unlike Burton, the visitors are fancied to finish mid-table with a play-off spot a possibility.
Last season, Albion avoided relegation by a single point whilst the Bluebirds finished 10th. However Cardiff’s respectable finish did not look likely at the start of last season.
In fact, this fixture last season was Paul Trollope’s last as Cardiff’s head coach. The Brewers won 2-0 which left the South Wales side in 23rd place with just 8 points from 11 games.
Almost a year on and Cardiff appear to have regained some spirit. A strong end to last season coupled with a good preseason has left Bluebirds fans optimistic for the season ahead.
For Burton, avoiding relegation last season was a great confidence boost and one to build on that this season. Plus, victory over Leicester City on Tuesday in their final friendly was the perfect way to enter the new season.
Both sides will be eager to make a positive start, and work out their strongest elevens.
As mentioned, Burton capped off their preseason with victory over Leicester but it wasn’t all plain sailing. The Brewers suffered defeats to Rochester, AFC Wimbledon, Shrewsbury and West Brom in July.
However, there were wins against non-league sides Kidsgrove Athletic, Middleover Sports, Solihull Moors and a 9-0 thrashing of Arnold Town. None of those will have been as valuable or morale boosting though as their 2-1 win against Leicester.
Cardiff won their first preseason game against Welsh Football League Division One side Taffs Well before travelling to Cornwall. There they brushed aside Tavistock and Bodmin Town before edging out Plymouth at home park.
Cardiff also tasted defeat at the hands of Shrewsbury, before they rounded off preseason with a 4-0 win against Livingston.
Burton have added a number of players to their squad this summer including Stephen Warnock, Jake Buxton and Hope Akpan. Those three are available to make their competitive debut.
Unfortunately for the Brewers, record signing Liam Boyce is set to miss the majority of the season. The striker, who signed from Ross County, ruptured an ACL during preseason.
Most of Cardiff’s summer signings are available with the exception of Callum Paterson and Lee Camp, who remains an doubt. Other signings Lee Tomlin, Danny Ward and Nathaniel Mendez-Laing will all be hoping to start the opener.
It’s hard to say what Clough and Warnock have made of the respective squads during preseason. Both sides fielded different teams for each game, the Bluebirds often changing the entire team at half time.
Neither side will be concerned by their upcoming EFL Cup games as both managers know a strong start in the league is far more valuable. As a result, you can expect to see what the manager’s believe to be the strongest side available to them.
Score Prediction: Burton Albion 0-1 Cardiff City
If Burton proved anything last season it was they’re not an easy side to break down. They didn’t play glamorous football but they picked up points, especially at home, where it counted.
The last time the Bluebirds travelling to the Pirelli Stadium, Trollope was hoping for a ‘Get out of jail free’ card, but instead he was shown the door. Warnock, a far more experienced manager, will expect no such thing.
That being said, Cardiff’s new recruit Lee Tomlin is a player who can find gaps others simply do not see. His vision is the perfect tool for Cardiff to get the best from Kenneth Zohore. The young Danish striker was one of the division’s most prolific goal scorers in the second half of last season and will be a handful for the Brewers’ defence.
If Burton’s defenders can keep Cardiff quiet, it’ll be up to Akins and Sordell at the other end. They too will face a tight Cardiff defence which many teams will struggle to break down this season.
Analysing Marcus Rashford’s scintillating display for Manchester United in the Carabao Cup
Marcus Rashford reaffirmed his status as one of the brightest prospects in English football with two goals in Manchester United’s Carabao Cup victory over Burton Albion. The 19-year-old netted twice in the opening 17 minutes at Old Trafford on a comfortable evening for the home side. United were ‘only’ up against a Championship outfit, but Rashford’s all-round performance really caught the eye and offered another insight into his precocious talent.
Such has been his rise to prominence that is is easy to forget Rashford is still a teenager. He is also well beyond his tender years in terms of football intelligence. Rashford has always had electrifying pace and the ability to beat opponents, but now he is picking out the correct pass more often. It’s come with the experience of playing Premier League football for managers who trust him; first it was Louis van Gaal and now, Jose Mourinho.
Rashford’s two goals were very different, but each one highlighted his qualities as a finisher. For the first, he showed great composure and presence of mind to dink the ball over the onrushing keeper. The second was more about instinct and knowing where the goal was. After receiving the ball 25 yards out, Rashford swivelled and unleashed a fierce shot that cannoned in off the post. Both times, Burton stopper Connor Ripley had no chance.
Many thought the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic last season, and Romelu Lukaku this, would stunt Rashford’s development after he had burst onto the scene in such spectacular fashion. But Mourinho clearly sees the youngster, who is keeping players such as Anthony Martial out of the side, as a key figure for United. It is the same with England where Rashford, born and bred in Manchester, has become a fixture in the starting XI. In fact, it is hard to imagine the line-up without him.
His goal against Slovakia in the recent World Cup qualifier was one of six he has scored in all competitions – both domestically and internationally – this season. They have come from just 10 appearances and in the vast majority of those he has played on either the left or right of a front three. This versatility can sometimes count against Rashford who, first and foremost, is a goalscorer, but it is enabling him to get more game time.
Sometimes we are afraid to build up English youngsters for fear that they will not fulfil their promise. But Rashford has all the attributes required to be a top-class footballer for United and England. His development is progressing at a rapid pace and comparisons with Kylian Mbappe, the Paris Saint-Germain wonderkid, are not wide of the mark.
Does Burton’s record signing of Kyle McFadzean show growth from their “small club” tag?
Burton Albion have come a very long way since winning promotion to the Football League in 2008-09. After five years of building towards progress in League Two, the hard graft of a line of young managers including Gary Rowett and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has culminated in the club reaching the dizzy heights of the Championship for the first time in its history.
A familiar face in Nigel Clough guided them over the line after Hasselbaink’s departure for Queen’s Park Rangers, the man who sent Burton on their great journey by taking them to the top of what is now the National League in the season where they won promotion back to the Football League.
After two magical seasons, the club has gone from visiting Crawley and Southend to Newcastle and Norwich in regards to their opposition, and are relishing the challenge of life in the Championship and a league encounter with the “big club down the road”, Derby County.
However, throughout both of those campaigns, there has always been a modest approach at what is by category a very small club. Their 6,912 capacity home ground; the Pirelli Stadium, will be the smallest in the Championship next season. To put it into perspective, the next smallest ground, Rotherham United’s New York Stadium, is almost twice the size. Burton’s average gates of 4089 are minuscule compared to the average Championship club.
Recently, they signalled their intent to assault the Championship by smashing their transfer record with the recruitment of MK Dons defender Kyle McFadzean for an undisclosed club record fee on a three-year contract. It is confirmed to be more than the £20,000 that the club paid for midfielder Russell Penn back in 2009, and MK Dons boss Karl Robinson had confirmed that the price tag on the 29-year old was within the region of £500,000.
McFadzean first appeared in the Football League with Crawley Town following their promotion from the then Blue Square Premier (now National League), before being snapped up by the Dons for an undisclosed fee, and went on to make 93 appearances for the Milton Keynes club, scoring four goals.
Such a coup for a club of seemingly such small stature is a wake-up call for the football world, and it could be perceived as a sign that these small clubs actually can compete on small budgets but also as they climb higher and accumulate financial rewards, they may just begin to acquire spending power of their own.
Indeed, Burton Albion are a very well run club under Chairman Ben Robinson and made strong use of the loan market last season with signings such as Mark Duffy from Birmingham City and Hamza Choudhury from Leicester, who were a vital part of their promotion winning side. However, to make such a marquee signing of their own for such a fee is certainly reason to believe that they may be stepping out of the “small club” shadow and changing mentality towards even greater ambitions.
Having been written off in League One, Albion embarrassed the bookies with their promotion campaign and now may be setting their sights on a nigh unthinkable achievement of retaining their newly earned Championship status.
In McFadzean, they have a player who has Championship experience, after a learning curve season with MK Dons in 2015-16 which saw the club relegated, though new manager Nigel Clough is optimistic that in his opinion one of the “best centre halves in League One” will come back a stronger player for that experience.
“I think he’ll be better this time making the step up, thanks to his previous experience in the Championship. We think he will be a help for us and he leads by example on the pitch.
“He’s a good age and has matured as a player. He’s probably at his peak and has hardly missed a game for the last two years”.
Although the MK Dons were relegated back to League One, losing a player of McFadzean’s stature will come as a real shock, and for a club like Burton to poach a key player from a club with a bigger infrastructure will certainly raise eyebrows. Dons manager Karl Robinson has also expressed his disappointment at losing the player:
“I’m deeply disappointed to lose Kyle. We had meetings with him in the summer.
“He knows what our ambitions are for next season and going forward, but he’s decided his future lies elsewhere”.
The prospect of working with Nigel Clough; a seasoned manager in the divison from his year’s with Derby County, was a key aspect in persuading McFadzean to join the Brewers. Although Clough only laid the foundations back in 2009 which other managers built on before his return, his experience and contacts in the higher echelons of the Football League and now the acquisition of McFadzean may prove real game-changers in the approach of the Staffordshire club as it seemingly begins to set its sights on bigger and better things.
They have lived with the tag of “punching above their weight” throughout their successful runs in League Two and their promotion campaign in League One last season, and now it seems they have reached a point where they are looking to establish themselves as a club which belongs in the higher divisions and finally win over their doubters.
The sky is indeed the limit now for Burton Albion, and they are undoubtedly doing their best to operate in their new and unknown environment within their means. With a coach who has vast experience of the division, the club may be starting to shed its small club skin and looking to stand tall in the second tier.
It has been a step too far for other small clubs such as Yeovil Town, but lessons will have been learned from their rise and fall, and the hierarchy at Burton Albion will be determined to ensure the Brewers do not succumb to a similar fate.
Small club or not, they are in with the big boys now, and they are looking like making a real go of it. How they fare will be a fascinating scenario to unfold, but whether they fall or fly an exciting new chapter is beginning at the Pirelli Stadium, and this so far successful club will be one to watch over the coming season.
What are the factors behind Burton Albion’s recent League success?
With only one game left in the 2015/16 League One season, it’s looking almost certain that Burton Albion will be playing Championship football next season. After being in a two horse race for the second automatic promotion spot with Walsall, it looks all set to be the Brewers who have pipped them at the post. They have taken the league by storm this year, albeit slightly surprisingly, but what has made them stand out from the majority of the other teams?
For their fans, the last couple of seasons have been nothing short of extraordinary. They have seen their team rise from the doldrums of League Two to the cusp of Championship football. This is down to a number of factors, but the most prominent is the instrumental effect Chairman Ben Robinson has had on the club. Under his chairmanship, Burton have seen shrewd managerial appointments, a move to the Pirelli Stadium, and the financial side of the club looked after superbly. After manager Gary Rowett left in the middle of the 2014/15 season, it was down to Robinson to pull a rabbit out of the hat. Rowett had helped successfully build the foundations of a squad ready to push for promotion to League One, however when Birmingham City came inquiring after his services he left the Pirelli Stadium for St Andrews. Robinson made the bold move of appointing Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
In only his second ever managerial job Hasselbaink had a lot to prove to The Brewers fans. After just over a year in charge, he had not only won over the fans but had attracted attention from all over the country. He led Burton to a convincing League Two title, and had them sitting at the summit of League One before Championship side QPR poached him. Hasselbaink had not just built on the foundations left by Gary Rowett; he had turned them into a well-oiled machine. It also left Chairman Ben Robinson with another tough managerial appointment to make. The job was given to ex player/manager Nigel Clough. Unlike Hasselbaink, Clough has a vast amount of managerial experience in the football League, with roles at Derby County, Sheffield United and Burton in the past. Under his management, Clough has seen Burton fall to 2nd place, although that is mostly down to the charge of Wigan Athletic to the League One summit.
Still though Burton have continued to impress many spectators. Perhaps the most impressive factor is the unity of the squad. In similar circumstances to Leicester City, they don’t have the luxury players that others around them possess, but every player plays for each other. It’s this team spirit which has helped carry them to their current position. Star striker Lucas Akins has reiterated this in recent weeks, saying “it’s not quality or technical ability that you need, but the heart and desire to get over the line”.
Fellow teammates such as John Mousinho and Phil Edwards also carry this mentality from their years of experience in the Football League. The pair of them have played 95 games at the heart of the defence this season, and have a combined total of 710 league appearances in their career. Burton may not have the budget of fellow League One clubs like Wigan Athletic and Sheffield United, but the experience in their squad is something arguably money can’t buy.
Burton have struggled slightly to score freely this season, scoring 24 less goals than the title winning Latics. But they have a knack for scoring goals when it matters most. This applies to their most prolific forward Lucas Akins too. With winning goals against Swindon Town, Sheffield United and a winning hat-trick against Colchester, his total of 12 league goals have included some vital match winners. His latest important strike came in this weekend’s crucial 2-1 home victory over Gillingham.
On the whole, the club has a real belief and desire to achieve what only a few seasons back seemed almost impossible; Championship football.
Featured image: All rights reserved by Diego Sideburns.
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