Burton Albion 0
IN ALL his years in the game, Brian Clough's impressive managerial roll of honour lacked the one trophy he craved: the FA Cup.
Yesterday, on a hard, bumpy pitch in suburban Surrey, there was no cup romance either for the son of "Old Big 'Ead", who had his first taste of defeat as a manager in the competition.
Sadly for the 1,505 crowd, Nigel Clough considered he was not fit enough to play for Burton Albion but, in classic manager-speak after less than a month in charge, said he was proud of his Dr Martens League team and that they deserved at least a draw against higher-ranked opponents.
The fact that Kingstonian played only marginally better despite vastly more possession could not hide Clough's disappointment after 90 minutes in which he rarely emerged from the small, rectangular dug-out at the Kingsmeadow ground.
Perhaps Clough Jnr should have known this was a thankless task. His opposite number, Geoff Chapple, had the best FA Cup record of any non-league side when he was at Woking and will no doubt relish a second-round home tie against Leyton Orient.
Clough, whose team has lost only twice in eight games since his arrival, was left to contemplate better times ahead. "I'm not sure you could tell which team was in the higher league," he said. "But I was only half-fit and in those conditions it was better not to play."
Clough said his team were not overawed by all the hype surrounding his presence in the cup, or by their Conference opponents. "I've only been at the club three weeks and the second half today was the best we've played," he said.
Had the Staffordshire side shown the same attacking adventure throughout the game that they displayed in the last 20 minutes, the result might have been different. Instead, they paid the penalty after 65 minutes for apparently just trying not to lose.
Just when a disjointed game was crying out for a goal, Gary Pitcher's corner for Kingstonian was headed against the underside of the bar by captain Matt Crossley and 18-year-old Gavin Holligan forced home the rebound from two yards for his 11th goal of the season.
Holligan is on the verge of signing for West Ham for a fee in excess of pounds 100,000. Scouts from every Premiership club bar Manchester United and Derby were there to watch him yesterday. As it happens, he had a quiet game apart from his goal. Apparently Chapple has found another jewel in the depths of non-league football.
The teams emerged without any immediate sign of Burton's former England international. Clough was last out, dressed in immaculate dark suit and striped tie. A smile, a wave to the six coach loads of Burton fans, a couple of autographs for supporters standing along the perimeter fencing. Then it was straight to the dug-out.
"What division are you in," sang the Kingstonian faithful as they mocked their opponents from one league below. But, as Clough said, there was not that much to choose between the two teams as the ball spent a considerable time in the air.
A clanger by visiting goalkeeper Nick Goodwin, who dropped a simple cross through early nerves, had the home fans in stitches but he redeemed himself in the rest of the game with impressive handling.
Clough, who had the luxury of high-tech training facilities as a player with Forest, Liverpool and Manchester City, admitted he was still getting used to the job. "You only get the lads Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturday afternoons. I know how I want them to perform but I can only do it on two nights and a Saturday rather than five days a week," he said. "But in some ways, they are more committed than professionals."