Burton have an opportunity to stretch their lead at the top of League One to seven points with a game in hand after Gillingham and Walsall both slipped to defeat on Saturday. And though a determined effort should be expected from play-off chasing Southend, the position might be cosy enough to bring the very best out of Nigel Clough’s men. Take the 5/1 available on Draw/Burton half-time/full-time.
It’s hard to pinpoint precisely why the Brewers find themselves dominating a league into which they’ve just been promoted. There’s no novelty system or philosophy and no standout players who Premier League clubs are queuing up to buy. It’s simply the cumulative effect of four years excellent coaching and management in a wonderful day-to-day working environment at nearby St George’s Park. Low expectations also help.
In Gary Rowett, Burton had their foundations laid by a manager who belongs in the Premier League, then Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink came along appreciative of what he inherited but injected fresh ideas and more of a killer instinct. Now Nigel Clough is back at the helm, a man who knows the club inside-out after an 11-year tenure as manager between 1998 and 2009, and he now has six years of Championship and League One experience under his belt.
In a world that views slow progress as no progress, the reverence for Clough outside of the Pirelli Stadium is only mild but he’s undoubtedly capable of mainataning order on a ship that’s already sailing in the right direction on a calm sea. The team has a spine that is virtually ever-present over the past two years and, essentially, they are dedicated, hard-working and grounded professionals, just like Clough.
In fact, you could say Burton are everything that Phil Brown would like his team to be. Southend also pride themselves on being a tough nut to crack and can be every bit as dogged on their day. But their consistency never quite adds up to the sum of their parts, a fact best illustrated by the fact they had to take the backdoor route to League One via the play-offs.
The Shrimpers finished 10 points behind Burton last season and currently trail them by 16 points having played a game more, so we should be clear there’s a gap in quality that justifies clear favouritism for the visitors. But that difference rests in habits and attitude more than match-winning quality, which suggests this could be a war of attrition to begin with.
Southend switched to a 3-5-2 system a few weeks ago and it yielded 10 points from the next four matches. But set pieces have been their undoing over the past 10 days, with three goals conceded from corners or free-kicks in away defeats at Scunthorpe (0-1) and Bradford (0-2). Now Brown talks about "arresting the situation" and "confusion over what we’re about", which might not bode well in the entertainment stakes here.
However, it’s notable that the respective home and away records of these two teams shows just two draws in 29 matches, so the Draw/Burton bet seems like a sensible play. It’s an outcome the Brewers executed to perfection when taking the spoils at Wigan (1-0), Gillingham (3-0) and Coventry (2-0) in November, December and January.
Click here for more information about Mike Holden’s shot-based ratings system