Last updated : 08 January 2006 By Ed

Ferguson :

* "This is a reward for the perseverance and determination Ole has shown to come back from his injuries.

"He has not missed a training session since he returned and that must be really encouraging for him.

"His performances on the training ground have been good and he did well at Birmingham even though it was only 10 minutes.

"Everyone at Manchester United hopes he is back for good now and I am sure Sunday will provide him with another big lift.

"There will be a lot of changes but it is not a question of taking a risk, only of using our squad properly after four games in eight days. The mistake we made last season was playing so many young players who had not had a game for three weeks because reserve-team football had shut down before Christmas. In a way I was delighted for Exeter. They made enough money to keep themselves going for years and it was a reminder that you cannot take things for granted."

Referring to the sandpit of a pitch: "You have to be prepared for anything in January.

"In my first season at United we lost a cup tie against Coventry because the pitch at Old Trafford was partly hard and partly soft, which was a ridiculous situation.

"I also remember a tie at Hereford the year we won it in 1990. When we arrived at the ground, cars were under water in the car park. The pitch was already muddy, then before kick-off they brought this bull onto the field and paraded it around the ground.

"By the time it had finished the place was a quagmire and we just managed to scrape through with a late goal.

"There is nothing wrong at Burton. They have a big pitch and a nice stadium. It is just the kind of situation you get in the early rounds of the FA Cup, maybe it just adds to the romance of it all.

"You can get all different types of weather and playing conditions, that is why you get so many upsets. Obviously we are hoping not to become one of those statistics."

Wes Brown:

"We know exactly what to expect.

"They will be physical, get stuck in, play a lot of long balls and try to make it as difficult for us as they can.

"I am not sure there will be a lot of football played, so we have to be ready for that and give as good as we get.

"We cannot afford to be worrying about the state of the pitch. If we are going to avoid an upset, we have to do the basics properly and not go into the match thinking anything other than it is going to be tough.

"I was in the team that drew with Exeter and after what happened that day, there will definitely be no complacency. No-one wants a repeat of that."

Sunday Times:

Ben Robinson, the chairman of Burton Albion football club, shakes his head disconsolately. "We haven’t had one disagreement in the seven years Nigel’s been here. This is the first." Stupid little thing: Robinson believes the player- manager should do a one-on-one interview with The Sunday Times but Clough is adamant he shouldn’t. By agreeing to interviews, he denies his players their moment. We talk about it in a plush suite at the excellent Pirelli stadium, where Clough eloquently makes his case and the reporter fights a losing battle. "This game is about Burton Albion, not about Nigel Clough," he says. "It is about a group of players, many of whom have been rejected by League clubs, getting a once-in-a-life opportunity."

I try the usual arguments. "To the public, what is interesting about Burton Albion is the fact that Nigel Clough, a former England international and son of Brian Clough, manages the team. People want to know how such an illustrious name came to end up in a town best known for breweries and Marmite."

"I disagree with that," says Clough. "If the story of a small town developing its own new stadium and then having the luck to draw Manchester United, if that is not a good enough story, don’t write any. Darren Stride, our skipper, has been at this club far longer than me. This game is a fantastic reward for him. Surely that’s interesting. This is not about Nigel Clough."

"But by talking with you, we can tell the story of Burton Albion and Darren Stride and all the other players. You can explain why this is about them, not you?" "But in doing that, I end up getting the attention. I’ve done this for 20 years; talking about myself and my family. I don’t want to do that any more. I don’t see too much about the private life of Rupert Murdoch in The Sunday Times. You should write about the people at this club who deserve to be written about, the Burton players."

Clough, of course, is right. Neither the chairman nor the reporter has any desire to continue the argument. Robinson knows Clough and has long admired both his managerial talent and character. He came in October 1998, after an illustrious playing career with England, Nottingham Forest, Liverpool and Manchester City. He was 32 and settled into the player-manager role with admirable earnestness.

"In the early years in the Southern League, you watched the team play and the quality of Nigel’s passing made everything worthwhile," says Robinson. Around the town they wondered for how long Clough would stay and imagined not long. He is now in his eighth season, the longest-serving manager in the club’s history, and during this time he has not asked nor received one wage increase. "Nigel’s a man with very high values, a special person. He and his family have given this club a profile we could never have imagined and Nigel has managed us during the most successful period in our history. Our aim is to get into the Football League and with Nigel, I’m sure we’ll achieve that."

Robinson’s favourite memory is of a Friday night at the clubhouse when everybody was running around preparing for the following day’s game. "Nigel had gone home with his kids but as soon as they were safely in bed, he came back to the club and helped to sweep the floors and stack the shelves of the bar. But he wouldn’t regard that as something he should be congratulated about."

So instead of sitting down and talking about himself, Clough brings five of his players to the suite, sits down at the same table as them, and invites questions. By way of an introduction, he says this game is the greatest occasion in the football lives of the Burton players and people must understand why it is important to them. He nods towards Stride, the local boy who has spent 14 years at the club, 12 years in the first team. A self-employed builder and part-time footballer, Stride has spent his adult life seamlessly combining his profession and his passion. He builds patios, puts down paving, paints, decorates and does his stuff in the Burton midfield.

"It’s okay," says the skipper. "I know when I’m training, so I work my work around that. I try not to do anything too energetic the Friday before a Saturday game and nothing too heavy on a Tuesday afternoon before a game on Tuesday evening. I have been here so long I would like to see out my career with Burton."


Burton's Gary Rowett (back and hamstring) remains player-manager Nigel Clough's main injury concern.

Ryan Austin (shoulder) and Chris Hall (calf strain) are both available as Burton look to cause a major cup upset.

Manchester United could give striker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer his first start since May 2004, with Louis Saha set to partner the Norwegian up front.

Paul Scholes is ruled out with a head injury, while Alan Smith returns after a chest infection.