Burton Albion manager Gary Rowett has assembled a side pushing for promotion for less cost than the one which struggled last season
BURTON Albion's promotion-chasing squad has been assembled for LESS money than the one which battled to beat relegation last season.
The fact was confirmed this week by chairman Ben Robinson in response to rumours that a team as successful as this season's must be costing the club more money.
Robinson has based his calculations on the period from June 2012, the start of the club's financial year, to March 2013, comparing the current wage bill to the same period from 2011-12.
"We are 3% down in terms of the spending on the playing budget," he said.
The news represents a significant feather in the cap for manager Gary Rowett, who has overseen a season of success well in excess of what most pundits predicted.
"Gary has made some excellent signings and built up the strongest squad we have yet had in the Football League," added Robinson.
"He has also made some very good loan signings in terms of their playing contribution and their cost to the club.
"Anthony O'Connor, for example, is probably the best value loan signing since we've been in the Football League. His attitude, consistency and reliability have been first class."
It would take a collapse of spectacular proportions now for Burton to miss out on the League Two play-offs, since, sitting third in the table, they hold an 11-point advantage over the teams just outside the top seven.
With seven games to play, the team have a realistic shot at automatic promotion, which would have been beyond the dreams of even the most optimistic supporter at the start of the season, when the Brewers were bookies' favourites for relegation and many supporters questioned the chairman's wisdom in appointing Rowett, who had been assistant to previous manager Paul Peschisolido.
In fact, the weekend just passed marked a year since Peschisolido was sacked in the aftermath of a 4-1 home defeat by Torquay United, the team's 16th game without a win.
In the light of that, were Burton to lose in the play-off semi-finals, the season would still have to be regarded as a success.
"We started the season thinking that we didn't want to be going through a relegation battle again," said Robinson.
"We thought, if we could finish mid-table, that would be progress and if we could challenge for the play-offs, that would be a bonus."
In January, with Burton eighth, that was how it was looking. But they have taken 23 points from 30 since beating Barnet 1-0 at home on January 26, an eye-opening run of form.
Rowett insists he was never set a specific budgetary target by Robinson, although, of course, the Brewers have to do the same as any other club and spend only a certain percentage of their turnover on players' wages.
"The chairman never once said I had to do it for the same money or for less money," said Rowett.
"That was down to me. I wanted to prove that it could be done for less, as long as you got the right sort of players, with the right character.
"I set out in the summer with literally five notebooks full of ideas.
"One thing I wanted to do was keep back a sizeable chunk of what I had for January, so that we could go again if we had to.
"I thought, if we were a few points off the play-offs, it would be good to be able to bring in a couple of senior players on loan, which is what we've done with Michael Symes and Ian Sharps, and I think you can see already what an influence those two have had on those around them.
"I was conscious that we couldn't build a team in three weeks of pre-season; that there's always an area you can improve."
When Rowett talks about the right sort of players, he means permanent signings like Zander Diamond, Robbie Weir, Damien McCrory and Matt Paterson.
What they have in common is that they are all in their early or mid-20s and have spent at least part of their careers at a higher level than League Two.
They are young enough to have time to make it back to that level and hungry enough to want to.
The downside is that they will interest other clubs – but Rowett is unconcerned. That, after all, is football, and he has shown that he has the contacts to go out and replace people if he has to.
In the meantime, supporters can enjoy the excitement of the promotion run-in secure in the knowledge that the ever-prudent chairman has not had to push the boat out for it to happen.