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Conference playoff preview: Burton Albion v Cambridge United



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One down, three to go. Last night Torquay got the better of the Westcountry derby, tonight sees Nigel Clough’s young pretenders take on old hand Jimmy Quinn’s Cambridge. Burton are closer than they’ve ever been to league football wle Cambridge are back on song after several seasons in the doldrums.

So let Soccerlens put jumpers for goalposts and take pot shots in the park in the second of our semi-final previews.

The teams in a nutshell

Burton Albion: The youngest team in the playoffs, Burton have steadily made their up through the non-league pyramid, often flipping between the southern and northern leagues due to their Midlands location. In 1998 they pulled off a bit of a coup when they appointed former England international Nigel ‘Son of Brian’ Clough as manager, and since then it’s been steady progress to the Conference, via a Northern League title in 2002. Burton haven’t overspent and have steadily been moving up the table year-on-year, helped in no small part by a cash windfall from a FA Cup tie and replay against Manchester United in 2006.

Cambridge United: The U’s came within a whisker of becoming founder members of the Premier League under John Beck when they finished 5th in the old Second Division, having won the old Third Division and taken the playoffs in the division below. The late 80s/early 90s were the best period for Cambridge since they replaced Bradford Park Avenue in 1970, although Big Ron Atkinson managed them in the mid-seventies. Relegated out of the league with massive financial problems in 2005, the U’s have spent the last two seasons staying afloat. A boardroom takeover and the installation of Jimmy Quinn as manager has revitalised their fortunes.

This season

Burton: The very model of their history, a decent start that’s led to a slow, quiet playoff push. Swopped places with Exeter and Stevenage on a regular basis throughout March and April but the latter’s loss to Northwich gave the Brewers a playoff spot. Interestingly, they’ve beat both Torquay and Exeter away in what’s been their most successful season ever.

Cambridge: A strong start saw the U’s stay unbeaten until the end of September, and they’ve only lost three times at home all season, although one of those teams was already-relegated Stafford. Fancied a crack at the title in February but couldn’t keep up with Aldershot, even if they have finished the season strongly.

The gaffer

Burton: Nigel Clough is probably the best-known Conference manager and its almost impossible to mention the team without putting Clough’s name beforehand. Like his team, he’s not particularly showing although there’s a steel running throughout him. Has been frequently linked to bigger jobs but seems quite happy in the Midlands.

Cambridge: Jimmy Quinn’s already tasted promotion from the Conference, securing Shrewsbury’s return to the league via the playoffs in 2004 at the first time of asking. Has been there and done it all as both a player and manager and has a reputation for straight talking, although any squad he assembles usually doesn’t come cheap.

The tactics

Burton: Move the ball around, don’t rush, make slow and steady progress and eventually wear the opposition down. Is this starting to sound familiar. Occasionally they throw caution to the wind and score hatfuls of goals. One of the most difficult teams in the Conference to break down.

Cambridge: Get it up front to the big man/fox in the box, score a nice early goal, defend for 80 minutes. It’s not pretty, it’s certainly been effective. Anybody wanting Ruud Gullit-style sexy football is advised to look elsewhere.

Strengths and weaknesses

Burton: They start the game as underdogs so have less pressure than their opponents. Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion (or NCBA for short) don’t give the ball away after and can hurt teams on the break, meaning any mistakes will be punished. Have occasional off days and don’t always cope well with route one stuff.

Cambridge: Their defence doesn’t give much away and the U’s have conceded fewer goals than any of their playoff rivals this season. Cambridge don’t like chasing games though, so getting the first goal against them is possibly more crucial than against any other team.

How they’ve fared against each other this season

Cambridge came from a goal behind to claim victory away at the Pirelli in the autumn. The game at the Abbey in late December was a 0-0 snoozefest that will probably be quickly skipped over in the Setanta pre-match coverage.

One to watch

Burton: Prolific striker Daryl Clare’s fired both Boston and Chester to promotion to the league in recent years, although hasn’t quite cut it at league level. Has scored 34 goals in two seasons for the Brewers and relishes games like these.

Cambridge: As Cambridge like to sit on leads, expect keeper Danny Potter to be called into action several times. Started the season as first choice at Stevenage but was displaced by Alan Julian. He’s quite good, and even has words to that effect in his Wikipedia entry.

Celebrity Supporters

Burton: One would imagine the Clough family are pretty ardent supporters, but that’s about as far as it goes. A long and averagely extensive search has failed to find one single celebrity with any connection to Burton itself. Let alone the football club. Rebecca Loos might affiliate herself with the Brewers if they promised to hold the opening of an envelope.

Cambridge: This match really is a celebrity-free zone as the U’s don’t seem to attract much glamour either. There’s a couple of places on the net that allude to Jamie Oliver having as soft a spot for Cambridge as he does for free-range chickens, but we can’t find definite confirmation.

If you’ve got a few hours to kill

Burton: Drink. Burton’s known as the brewing capital of England, hence the nickname. It’s also home to Britain’s only beer museum, the Coors Visitor Centre and Brewing Museum (renamed from the slightly more catchy Bass Museum). You’ll have to be quick though — the American company plans to shut it down, a decision that’s sparked large protests throughout the town.

Cambridge: The City itself is very picturesque, especially the area around the university, although this does mean you’ll have to dodge rich students to get a look at the stunning buildings and the museums. Otherwise, take a river trip. If you’ve not already worked it out, Cambridge is a quiet and sedate place.