Burton hold their own as Man City reach League Cup final
Sergio Agüero scores the only goal on the night with Albion beaten 10-0 on aggregate
Sergio Agüero scoares the only goal as Manchester City beat Burton Albion 1-0, 10- on aggregate. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty
Manchester City may have completed one of the more predictable processions through to a Wembley final but strangely enough this felt like Burton Albion’s night. Nigel Clough’s side made light of the 55 rungs between themselves and the Carabao Cup holders to come out with their heads held high, producing an outstanding display to limit Pep Guardiola’s rejigged side to a single Sergio Agüero goal. If only this had been the first leg.
Cries of “Brewers” finally rang out from the freezing sell-out crowd as the League One players, humbled so utterly in their 9-0 defeat at the Etihad Stadium, did themselves proud.
Mind you, City, chalking up their seventh successive win, could afford to play within themselves as they confirmed their place in the February 24th final against the winners of Thursday’s other semi-final between Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur.
Seldom can such a big football occasion have held so little tension: a cup semi-final with nothing, realistically, to play for but pride. This was not quite the biggest match in Burton’s history – clinching promotion to the Football League 10 years ago was significant by any measure, and holding Manchester United to a goalless draw in the FA Cup here as a non-league club in 2006 was a major achievement – but the culmination of their longest-ever run in a senior cup competition remained a night to savour. So there was still a keen sense of anticipation in the freezing Staffordshire air as the League One side kicked off against the Premier League champions.
The other Manchester team had brought on Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo just before the hour mark of that cup tie 13 years ago when Clough had to name himself on the substitutes’ bench, so thin was his Burton squad. They lost the replay at Old Trafford 5-0. Double-headers against such top clubs have helped establish Burton on the map.
There was a little debate about whether Guardiola would show Burton some sentiment in his team selection this time after that ruthless first leg. He did rotate, only retaining Danilo, Agüero and Kevin de Bruyne. So in came the likes of £60m Riyad Mahrez, England veteran Fabian Delph among a sprinkling of youngsters, including Phil Foden.
Mahrez, excluded from City’s 18-man squad as they surpassed the 100-goal mark for the season in dismantling Huddersfield Town on Sunday, had two good chances early on, arrowing just wide from an acute angle after 12 minutes and shooting narrowly beyond the top corner soon afterwards when again cutting in from the right flank.
Stephen Quinn rocked into a tackle that had De Bruyne looking up in shock as he fell; the Irishman was quick to raise a hand in apology even as play went on. He would not want to have been sacrificing a potential shirt swap lightly.
This did serve to rattle City a tad, however, and it was from Quinn’s free-kick wide on the right, after Delph had upended Boyce, that the latter, Burton’s leading goalscorer, spun and had a clever flick on the turn saved by Aro Muric.
Normal service was resumed in the 26th minute when Agüero gave City the lead. De Bruyne swept the ball out to Mahrez who played the ball back for City’s captain on the night to sweep home his 15th goal of the season. But Burton continued playing some slick stuff even as the ground frosted up, Will Miller curling a shot over the far top corner.
Burton appeared highly unfortunate not to be awarded a penalty in the 54th minute when Danilo seemed to trip David Templeton inside the area.
Their luck was in however when, from Foden’s pullback, Agüero contrived to miss the goal from six yards out. It just felt a shame this was not the first leg as Burton continued to be competitive on the night.
City of course had plenty in reserve: as Agüero went off, Gabriel Jesus came on; Benjamin Mendy was given his first action since knee surgery in November; and German-born midfielder Felix Nmecha came on for his first-team debut.
How Burton deserved a goal. When Boyce, running through on goal, was thwarted by Muric, Miller’s shot on the follow-up was cleared off the line by Eric Garcí. To the neutral, it felt cruel.