Burton Albion: Nigel Clough's Carabao Cup semi-finalists hope to tap into family's cup magic
|Carabao Cup semi-final first leg: Manchester City v Burton Albion|
|Venue: Etihad Stadium Date: Wednesday, 9 January Kick-off: 19:45 GMT|
|Coverage: Live on BBC Radio 5 live and BBC local radio|
There was a familiar glowing smile on the face of Nigel Clough as the Burton Albion boss glanced upon the uniquely 'three-eared jug' that is the League Cup on his desk.
The trophy's special appearance at the Pirelli Stadium and the swollen ranks of journalists in the media room at his weekly press conference all pointed to something a little out of the ordinary from the usual League One briefing.
For the first time in their history, Burton are into the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup - 180 minutes from their maiden major final appearance. Standing in the way is a double-date with the might of Premier League champions Manchester City.
Thankfully, Clough knows a thing or two about success in this competition. In fact, it's something of a family affair.
Father Brian and son Nigel used to collect trophies like kids collect stickers, with Nottingham Forest the lucky beneficiaries.
Whether it was 'foil shiny' ones like the European Cup, or multiple swaps such as the Full Members Cup, the City Ground cabinets swelled - and four League Cups were a big part of that.
Clough senior won it back-to-back in the late 1970s, and repeated the feat a decade later with his son installed in the line-up.
Clough junior has been to the competition's semi-finals three times as a manager - with Derby, Sheffield United and now the Brewers - but the 52-year-old still awaits that first final.
Burton's rise from non-league to cup semis
Burton were a Southern League Premier Division side when Clough played in Forest's 1989 League Cup triumph, a measure of the progress made in the past 30 years.
From level seven in the football pyramid to the heights of the Championship before relegation last season, the Brewers have taken in Wembley finals, FA Cup ties at Manchester United and promotion on the way.
Trips to Merthyr, Gosport Borough and Wealdstone have been replaced by games against Sunderland, Coventry and Charlton - but even Wednesday's game feels like a 'pinch yourself' moment.
"We're looking forward to enjoying the experience [at Manchester City]," Clough added. "No-one gives us a chance but there are supporters who have been following us for 50-60 years who would never have dreamed we'd be in a League Cup semi-final.
"Let's hope everybody goes along to enjoy it. Every game you have a chance, it's what degree that is. Ours is extremely slim."
The Brewers' recipe for success
The journey to the final four has been remarkable enough for Burton and Clough, belying their third-tier status. The stuff of fairytales.
Having kicked off in round one with an away win at fellow League One side Shrewsbury, Aston Villa came to the Pirelli Stadium and were seen off thanks to a goal by Liam Boyce and crucially a last minute penalty save from debutant goalkeeper Harry Campbell.
Premier League opposition were next up and when Sean Dyche's Burnley went 1-0 up at half-time, you would not have forgiven Burton fans for thinking the dream was over. However, Boyce levelled and a late goal from Jamie Allen took them through.
Former club Forest turned up in the fourth round and were stunned as Burton won 3-2 thanks to on-loan Southampton midfielder Jake Hesketh's decider, and the same player popped up again in the quarter-finals to see off Middlesbrough - Brian Clough's hometown club.
"I think he'd have been proud of our clean sheet and the away performance that we put in," Clough said after the win at the Riverside. "I think he would have been proud of the way we went about it."
Brian's magic touch at Forest
You have to rewind more than four decades to find the start of the Cloughs' love affair with the League Cup, as Forest were being rebuilt from provincial also-ran to twice kings of Europe.
Clough senior had forged the East Midlanders into First Division title chasers with a team that included John Robertson, Tony Woodcock and future League Cup winning manager Martin O'Neill.
"It was one of the first things that Forest won back in the late 1970s, beating Leeds in the semi-final over two legs, then Liverpool in the final after the replay," Nigel Clough said, when reminded of his father's achievements.
"It really kick-started Forest's belief, and it all went from there."
The Reds returned to Wembley in 1979, beating Southampton. but were denied a hat-trick by Wolves in 1980.
Unfortunately for Forest, Clough's first great side came and went a little too quickly, as by 1982 much of the side was already broken up. Shilton, Kenny Burns, Larry Lloyd, O'Neill and Trevor Francis were among those who had moved on.
As skipper John McGovern put it: "We were like one of those comets you see flying across the night sky. We burned brightly, but it was all too brief. But, boy, did we burn brightly for a while."
Nigel Clough joins the League Cup party
Any fears Brian Clough had lost his touch were dispelled by the emergence of a second great Forest side, with son Nigel the fulcrum alongside fellow England internationals Stuart Pearce, Des Walker, Neil Webb and Steve Hodge.
It had been nine years since Forest had cheered a success, but in the 1988-89 League Cup, Wembley looked a likely prospect having drawn third-tier Bristol City in the semi-finals.
However, a Robins side managed by ex-Manchester United and AC Milan striker Joe Jordan gave Forest a real fright.
"I remember the second leg was one of the coldest games I've ever been to or played in," Clough said.
"It reminded me when we [Burton] were at Fleetwood Town the other week, the lads were showing signs of hypothermia - seriously - it was that bad and the only time we'd ever been like that was in the second leg at Bristol City.
"We got a 0-0 draw and then won it in extra-time [Garry Parker scoring the winner after a 1-1 first-leg draw], but I just remember wanting to get in the bath at full-time.
"It was a great feeling to get to the final but the feeling of getting in the warm bath was nice after the game. They gave us a hell of a game over the two legs."
Two goals in the 3-1 final win against Luton cemented Nigel's place in League Cup folklore, and the following season the trophy returned to the City Ground again. Number four for the gaffer. Number two for his 'number 9'.
Tougher than Man Utd? Clough compares
If Bristol City was tough for Forest 30 years ago, games from which Clough bears the scars, then what chance is there of City being stunned by his side in a similar fashion?
Burton took Manchester United to an Old Trafford replay in 2006 when still a non-league side, but this is a whole different proposition against arguably the best team in Europe.
"The gulf between the top teams and the third tier is massive now, and that's the biggest concern," Clough said. "The gulf in quality, not even just the first team - the bench and all of that is much, much bigger than it ever was years ago.
"When [Wayne] Rooney and [Cristiano] Ronaldo came on after 59 minutes here for Manchester United, it's a similar sort of prospect with the likes of the quality that Manchester City have.
"But away from home, it's a different thing. When they are on their own patch, as you saw against Liverpool, they're as good and as confident as anything.
"That's when they've come off a relatively poor period for them, they've lost a couple of matches recently and then they can still play like they did against Liverpool and keep the title race open."