Burton rallies around Clough’s men as City arrive with 9-0 head start

The Brewers may be into serious damage-limitation territory when the Carabao Cup semi-final second leg starts on Wednesday night, but Clough’s mood remains as bright as the sun over the Pirelli Stadium and reflects a town relishing the prospect of seeing Kevin De Bruyne and company strut their stuff.

Clough describes his League One side’s dismantling by City in the opening leg at the Etihad Stadium as “ruthless” but on winding down the window the 52-year-old is happy to talk.

Just like Clough Jr, locals are aware of what an achievement reaching the semi-final stage of a major cup competition is, Burton having been a non‑league club 10 years ago, and the 6,912‑capacity Pirelli Stadium sold out the day tickets became available.Facebook Twitter Pinterest Burton Albion’s manager Nigel Clough admits of his side’s run to the last four: ‘This is probably never going to happen again.’ Photograph: Fabio De Paola/Guardian

Anton Williams has missed “around 20 games” since he first watched Burton as an eight‑year‑old. Now 31, the supporter liaison group chairman works down the road from the stadium at Tag Sportswear, the team’s kit manufacturer.

He says: “It’s a free hit, a game we’ve earned, it’s good for the town, the chance to play maybe the best team in the world, at the Pirelli, a chance for the Burton public to come and see them.

“It’s a competitive fixture.A lot of people will think once you’re 9-0 down there’s not much point, but we’ve got to go out and be competitive – [against] the best players from around the world. It is fantastic.”

Clough has a neat way of placing the 9-0 trouncing in perspective. “You’re thinking of the referee: ‘Blow the whistle for God’s sake.’ It’s one of those where you crawl up into a ball and take your beating. But the next day I went for a nice walk in the park to clear my head with Bobbie – and she doesn’t care. We’re running round the park, but she’s not thinking: ‘You were shit last night.’”

At Tony’s Butchers in town, lifelong fan Bradley Bennett sounds a similar note. “It’s great for Burton. The club has done a lot in the last 10 years to get where we are.My friends have a similar feeling – it’s great to have a bit of attention.

“I’m not going tomorrow – I couldn’t get a ticket,” he says, though the score has not put him off. “I’ll watch it on TV. The club does a lot for the community, as well – it helps schools and the town out a lot.I actually did some work experience there when I was at school.” Facebook Twitter Pinterest Butcher Bradley Bennett says the cup run is ‘great for Burton’ but laments: ‘I couldn’t get a ticket.’ Photograph: Fabio De Paola/Guardian

There may not be any visible signs in the town centre that City’s £500m-plus squad are coming, but the club shop carries half-and-half scarves and mugs and the atmosphere is sure to build as kick-off nears.

At John German, a local estate agent, James Cardon says: “It’s a big game – we’re just getting behind the club. We’re all feeling really positive despite there not being much chance of a win.It’s obviously good that we got this far and to have Man City coming to town.

“To have Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Agüero and David Silva here shows the magic of football and that anything is possible – on paper we should never have got to this stage. It helps us as a town, helps raise the profile. And with us getting relegated last year this goes against the negative [local] press and lifts spirits.”

Williams says: “We were playing non‑league football. We’ve gone up to play Championship football and we’ve come down – but we’ve made a semi‑final of a domestic competition, something not many clubs can say they’ve done. For a club of our size, it’s a phenomenal achievement.Facebook Twitter Pinterest The entrance to the 6,912-capacity Pirelli Stadium that will greet Manchester City fans on Wednesday. Photograph: Fabio De Paola/Guardian

“Obviously you get the people who see it differently but the realistic people – and I count myself one of those – are like: ‘At end of the day, we’re Burton Albion.’”

This appreciation was evident at the close of the first leg. If Clough found it torrid and the record signing, Liam Boyce, talked of “personal pride getting hit”, supporter reaction heartened.

“Fans weren’t booing at the end,” the manager says. “Most can’t believe we’re in the semi-final. I saw on Sky – they put our wage bill at £8m. It isn’t.Our 14 players who played at the Etihad … total wage bill was £25,000 a week, less than Phil Foden – I read he’s on £30k-plus – gets.”The Fiver: sign up and get our daily football email.

Of Wednesday evening’s match Clough says: “Even when the team-sheet comes through players just have to go out and play. If it was 4-0 the tie would still be over – we’d still enjoy it. This is probably never going to happen again. It does show the magic of football – usually it’s reserved for the FA Cup but it’s nice for it to happen in the League Cup.

“I think what will strike the City players and staff more than anything is when they see our little ground.I hope they’ll ask themselves: ‘How did they ever get to the last four of a major tournament?’ That’s what I want them to take away more than anything else. The last thing I might say to players is: ‘Just get out of it what you can – it’s about personal milestones now.”