RF: What a wild decade it's been for Burton! From the Conference to the Championship in less than ten years, it looks like a really exciting club to be around recently. What came together so well to make this possible?
JM: Much of the Brewers’ recent rise is down to the sensible stewardship of chairman Ben Robinson. He appointed Nigel Clough in the late 1990s, with the former Nottingham Forest striker having minimal managerial experience at that time. Between the two of them – who have a brilliant and honest working relationship – Robinson and Clough helped steer Albion towards the verge of the Football League, before Clough left for Derby County in January 2009.
Since then, Robinson has appointed his subsequent managers well, with each taking the club on. Paul Peschisolido helped to stabilise the club in the League, Gary Rowett succeeded him to build the core of a squad that would go on to reach the Championship, and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink completed the particular job of helping them into League One.
They have always lived within their means, never overspending or speculating, instead putting faith in close-knit, hard-working groups of players who have ensured a special decade.
Clough returned in December 2015 with Albion top of League One, and he helped them achieve the unthinkable – promotion to the Championship for the first time ever, and then survival in one of Europe’s most competitive divisions.
RF: What's the mood amongst the fans like? Obviously it must be great to witness the progress you've made but is anyone dreaming of the Premier League yet or is it all about consolidating in the Championship for now?
JM: To an extent, fans are still dreaming about being in the Championship – it is that much of an achievement! Management, players and supporters alike know that Albion’s second season at this level is all about consolidation – ensuring their against-the-odds survival job of last season is not a one-off.
With the division even more competitive this time around, seeing Burton stay in the second tier for a second straight campaign would be another stunning feat.
The Brewers have struggled to recreate the home form of 2016/17, which has led to some frustration among some supporters – but there is a general understanding of the challenges every single game at this level poses.
RF: Burton haven't had one out and out scorer so far this season but the goals have been shared out quite a bit. Who is the main danger man that Sunderland should keep their eye on?
JM: It is always hard to look past Lucas Akins – Burton Albion’s Mr Versatile. He has featured up front, in centre midfield, on the right flank and at wing-back so far this season, and he offers a genuine threat to the opposition in any of those roles.
His pace and ability to beat the man means he often provides openings for teammates, but his eye for goal in the box is good as well – he was the Brewers’ top scorer in their back-to-back promotion seasons.
RF: Is there anyone in the Sunderland side worrying you at all?
JM: The fact that Lewis Grabban has already bagged 10 goals for a team at the bottom of the Championship speaks volumes about his quality.
The Brewers have been shipping goals with alarming regularity in recent home games, and they will know how capable Grabban is of punishing any slips this weekend.
Aiden McGeady is also a fine asset. He impressed against Burton for Preston last season, and he is another who can provide that game-changing moment of class on his day.
RF: How do you expect Nigel Clough to line the team up and what kind of approach will he take?
JM: It’ll be an interesting one for Clough, because his side have fared better recently when taking a more pragmatic, defensive approach away from home.
At the Pirelli, they have looked to be more expansive and have been picked off by high-quality opposition.
I still believe they will look to take the game to the Black Cats, given how important this clash is and the Brewers’ need to end a five-match losing run on home soil.
But they will also be wary of being overly open – it could well be a game where the first goal is the most important.
RF: Finally, can you give us a score prediction?
JM: With the likes of Grabban and McGeady roaming, I think the Brewers will be hard pushed to pick up a first home clean sheet of the season.
But they have started scoring with more regularity recently, and they will be looking for a high-intensity display to strike a psychological blow this weekend.
I’ll go 2-1 to the Brewers.