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“Knackered” Brewers boss ponders his next move

Nigel Clough was back in the city of his birth on Saturday with a decision to make about his future.

His dad, Brian, was in the middle of a career that brought 64 goals in 74 games for Sunderland when Nigel was born at the general hospital.

Sunderland Football Club is an emotional chapter in the Clough family history and, when Nigel was at the Stadium of Light with Burton on Saturday, he had another pending emotive decision to make.

Does he stay as Burton Albion manager or does he go?

The strain of successive years of keeping Burton in a league they have no right to be in is draining.

“You are not far off,” says Clough. “It’s knackering. I couldn’t describe it. It’s difficult.

“Every time it’s like that. Every single game we play we are the underdog.

“It’s very difficult sometimes. You play Middlesbrough and you deserve to win and all of a sudden a £15m striker (Britt Assombalonga) gets a 90th-minute equaliser.

“There was a £7m player, (Kamil) Grosicki, the other day (v Hull) who runs riot against us.

“We can’t stop that. No matter what we do, we can’t stop that. At times we can’t compete.”

Sunderland are a giant of a football team who have become an embarrassment.

Burton were supposed to be an embarrassment in the Championship but have never become one.

Indeed, Burton’s late show at the weekend doomed Sunderland to relegation and left the Brewers with a fighting chance of preserving their status.

That’s remarkable considering they were playing Southern League Premier Division football when Clough joined as player-manager in 1998 and were still Non-League only nine years ago.

Clough built Burton, left having put them on the brink of League football, pursued his own career with Derby and Sheffield United, and returned three years ago to build again.

That history v the grey hair is what Clough must assess now.

He admits he wants a rest, to finish an FA coaching course he is three-quarters through and to watch Nottinghamshire play some cricket.

“It’s time, just time. I’ve got an FA course to finish,” he says. “But do I want a break? Yes.”

When it’s put to him whether he has thought about what he’s going to do next season, Clough says: “We’re putting if off at the moment.

We’ve always had one eye on it because we knew from the start of last season that it’s going to be a realistic possibility that we’re not going to survive (in the Championship).

“The chairman (Ben Robinson) always runs the club accordingly. These clubs that get relegated, sometimes, all of a sudden, have to shed 20, 30 jobs, admin jobs and stuff. This club’s not run like that.

“The only major upheaval would be on the football side. The budget will be reduced to what the club can afford, which will come down significantly.

“All the players’ contracts reflect that with regards to relegation. The club will be exactly the same club, just in a different league.”

Clough’s relationship with Robinson is very strong and there will be no pressure there.

Last season’s success in keeping the club in the Championship was miraculous, but some fans have forgotten where Burton have come from.

There has been criticism as the Brewers have taken some heavy beatings, particularly at home.

The 3-1 win over Derby last week is the highlight of the season and something to remember with a glow when the more mundane fixtures are back on the calendar.

It was Burton’s first home win in seven months.

“The players were a bit stunned in the dressing room,” says Clough. “A bit subdued. It was a little bit ‘so this is what it feels like?’. When it’s been that long, you do forget.

“It is a rag-tag squad we have, not just a rag-tag team. We said it last year, too, made up not of misfits,but people who, you know… players that people don’t want or whatever.

“We’ve said publicly for the last two seasons that ‘we’re down’. What we’ve said privately has been different. We have never given it up.

“We have been favourites to go down, everybody’s whipping boy, so anything we achieve in that way is a bonus.

“People thought we were done after the Hull game (lost 5-0 at home). But then we beat Derby. We weren’t quite done, were we?

“But whichever league we are in every player is available. That’s Burton Albion. There is no choice. None at all. So that is something we have to accept.”

One who will be leaving is 19-year-old midfielder Jacob Davenport. Clough took him on loan from Manchester City in January and he came with a big recommendation from Pep Guardiola.

“Davenport has done absolutely brilliantly,” says Clough. “Pep Guardiola thinks highly of him and you won’t get a higher endorsement than that.

“The thing is, can Davenport break through into Manchester City’s team? He’s trying to get into one of the best teams in Europe, so that will be the challenge for him.

“But he will be better off for the three or four months he’s had here, playing real football.

“He’s also been in the bottom six of the league, rather than a top six team. He’s used to being at the top being at City.
Situation

“But I tell you what, coming and fighting and battling, getting your foot in, like he’s done from the second he arrived, that will do him good.”

Joe Sbarra, another 19-year-old midfielder, born 14 miles away in Lichfield and picked up from West Brom’s youth system, is another with a future.

“Two diminutive 19-year-olds: they don’t understand so much the meaning of 17 home games without a win,” says Clough. “They still express themselves in the situation we are in. They are young. They don’t carry that burden, which is lovely for them.

“In one-off games against Championship teams we just might do well. But when you are talking about 46 games, that is ultimately why we are where we are. Not through any lack of endeavour from the players, though.

“Let’s get through the last games and see what happens. I don’t have any time to think now, but let’s get to the end of the season and see.

“I’m ready for a holiday. It’s very full on. We’ll have a chat, we’ll see.”

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