Month: February 2017

Bury vs Coventry City: Preview

Bury will be without the much-improved Antony Kay after he picked up his 10th league booking of the season in the 1-0 win over Charlton at the weekend. The captain will have to sit out two more vital clashes against teams in or just outside the relegation zone at present in Coventry and Gillingham.

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For Lee Clark’s first home game in charge, expect to see Sunderland loanee Tom Beadling come in for his first taste of action in a white shirt. The option does exist to shift Taylor Moore inside and put new signing Paul Caddis in his place but given that it’s such a demanding role, I can’t see that being what happens or at least not for the whole duration of the game.

If James Vaughan has recovered from his short-term injury, I think he will start alongside Tom Pope to keep the options fresh up top. Will Ferry could also make his way onto the bench for the very first time. The 16 year-old travelled down with the club to Charlton and Kay’s suspension could mean a place for him in the matchday squad proper.

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As for Coventry, under-fire manager Russell Slade has promised several changes for a match they simply have to win. Young midfielder George Thomas has been their only player to escape fans’ criticism and the squad as a whole has badly underperformed under both previous incumbent Tony Mowbray and Slade this season. Look for Kevin Foley to protect his back four at all costs and bring the ball out of defence to free one of his team-mates. Stuart Beavon should be fit to return to the starting lineup and he’s already scored against Bury this season, albeit for Burton in the EFL Cup. Getting support to him and his strike partner, possibly Kyel Reid, will be key to keeping the Sky Blues in the game for as long as possible. They are down but not yet out and Bury cannot take them lightly, despite their rock-bottom standing in the table. They have recently beaten Saturday’s opponents Gillingham and are also in the EFL Trophy Final, a competition they have managed to win more matches in than in the league.

The long, storied history of SISU goes a long way to explaining Coventry’s current plight but a large number of players have been woeful this season. They need to perform for the duration of tonight’s game and the remaining 12 both for the sake of their own careers. In doing so, they can restore at least a modicum of pride in a club whose fans, like Charlton’s, have had it extremely tough in recent years at the hands of owners whose motives are somewhat questionable and I have a large amount of sympathy for both sets of supporters.

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^ This was handed to me outside the ground at Charlton on Saturday…

As for a prediction, I think it will be 2-0 to Bury but it will not by any means be an easy victory. Exile Jr. has again for the ‘snake eyes’ scoreline of 0-0, which would be the second stalemate between these sides this term.

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Charlton Athletic 0-1 Bury: Review

Starting with this match review, I’m going to try to give a slightly different spin on things so it reads less like a standard match report when I attend the game in question and more like an assessment of Bury’s players, tactics and strategy, as well as particular key points about the opposition. Please feel free to give negative or positive feedback as you see fit!

Charlton’s fans have very little to cheer at the moment and even less after they slipped to a second 1-0 home defeat in the space of a week, this time to Bury. Manager Karl Robinson claimed after the game that the Addicks had “done enough to win the game”, but in truth for all of their possession, there wasn’t a lot of creativity and a distinct lack of a cutting edge up front.

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Robinson had promised changes to the side and he certainly kept his promise in that regard with the bulk of them coming in attacking areas and in a surprising move, the shape flitted between 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 with Lee Novak (another player very well-regarded and known by Robinson’s opposite number Lee Clark during his spells in charge of Huddersfield and Birmingham, where he signed him for both clubs) the nominal spearhead and Joe Aribo dropping deeper to help regain possession.

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Clark had kept the unsurprising signing of utility player Paul Caddis under wraps, stating that he’d actually joined on Thursday. He was then thrust straight into the starting XI in place of the once again injured Andrew Tutte. Hallam Hope was also restored to the team at Tom Pope’s expense in what would prove to be a shrewd move on the manager’s part.

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Key points from the game from a Charlton point of view:

  • Bury’s goal did indeed come when Charlton were on top and was a very well wrapped present for Ryan Lowe, with the defence failing to sufficiently clear twice and the ball ending up at Jacob Mellis’ feet on both occasions.
  • All bar one of Charlton’s best chances came from crosses, which was unsurprising given the lack of space in the middle and the propensity of Robinson to deploy wingers in nominally more narrow attacking midfield areas.
  • Lee Novak was a positive force for the home side; even though he didn’t take up lone striker positions, he would often drop a bit deeper and arrive late into the area and was unlucky not to score on one occasion from point blank range and should’ve done a lot better when he had a free header in the second half.
  • Jake Forster-Caskey backed up reports of his poor form with another similar showing, but Robinson claimed he was carrying an injury.
  • When Charlton changed to a 4-4-2 with the introduction of both Josh Magennis and Tony Watt, they still didn’t have that much direct threat; Magennis got the better of Cameron Burgess once and his header flashed wide and Watt’s sole contribution of note brought about a smart save from Joe Murphy.
  • Stephy Mavididi was very impressive for the London side – his direct running, coupled with no shortage of skill, was the most likely source of a goal before he too succumbed to injury.
  • Both sides had several good openings on the counter but badly squandered them through poor decision-making.
  • Overall, Charlton played like a typical Robinson team in that they played mostly on the deck, had a slow tempo (allowing the opposition to regroup), looked dangerous from crossing areas, contrived to give away the ball fairly cheaply under little to no pressure (particularly when one of the full backs was in possession) and most importantly of all, there was no shortage of effort or endeavour but a cutting edge was badly missing.

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From a Bury point of view:

  • The balance between defence and attack just about worked, but the shape of the midfield was once again the weakest link in the side (and not necessarily the personnel); they played mostly like individuals, which is unsurprising as they have never all featured in the same XI before Saturday.

Assessment of individual performances:

  • Joe Murphy: The difference between a win and a draw; confident in claiming crosses and even venturing well outside of his area on one occasion with a cushioned header; instinctive saves at key times helped instill confidence and reassure the players in front of him.
  • Taylor MooreStill finding his feet in an unfamilar role; however, he has a good first touch and is a confident ‘ball-playing defender’, effective at crossing from deep with both feet, which will prove to be an asset in the remaining games.
  • Leon Barnett: Deployed closer to Moore than C. Burgess to Leigh on the opposite flank to help compensate for the former’s adjustment to right wing-back; cleared his lines very effectively and looked solid at all times.
  • Antony Kay: Another good performance from the captain; his ability to bring the ball out of defence is being seen more in the current shape and it is helping Bury retain possession, which is absolutely vital in away games especially; suspended for tomorrow night’s game after collecting his 10th yellow in the league.
  • Cameron Burgess: My first time seeing him in the flesh and he is built like a unit! I counted that he only lost two headers all game but on both occasions, Charlton nearly scored; a crunching tackler, his left foot helps bring balance to the back five.
  • Greg Leigh: My personal vote for man of the match; his positioning has been called into question many times, particularly in a flat back four; however, up against the tricky Stephy Mavididi and attack-minded Nathan Byrne, he acquitted himself extremely well and was a threat himself on the counter; his stamina is clearly high as he kept going right up until the end and saved Bury with a couple of meaty tackles of his own.
  • Jacob Mellis: Oddly, Bury’s toughest tackler in midfield on the day; eventually laid on the assist for Lowe but his own through balls, normally his party trick, rarely came off on this occasion.
  • Paul Caddis: Buzzed about to great effect in the first half and appeared to have a good rounded skillset, with no shortage of pace, tackling or passing ability; melted away a little in the second half but that could be due to a lack of match fitness; his utility will doubtlessly be called upon several times, possibly even tomorrow night.
  • Callum Styles: When he learns that there is less time to dwell on the ball in professional football as there is in the U18s, he will be the next player to leave Bury for potentially the most sizeable fee in the club’s history; his dawdling almost cost the Shakers on two or three occasions but on the other hand, he is very skillful on the ball and there were flashes of exceptional quality for a player so young; actually the deepest midfielder in most passages of play, he showed he can tackle cleanly to good effect; seemed reluctant to shoot when that might’ve been the best option once or twice; again, being primarily left-footed gives the centre of midfield a balance it has lacked for a long time.
  • Hallam Hope: Employed from the start in my view with one eye on Tuesday (with one of Tom Pope, George Miller or James Vaughan coming in for him); he is a tireless worker but his first touch lets him down badly – he also lost almost all of his aerial battles; his athletic, strong build and reasonable pace helps draw fouls, which relieve pressure on the defence; presented with two great chances by Styles and Lowe and squandered both; he will run and run for Bury but is either not taking up more dangerous positions by design or because he doesn’t anticipate them himself; his powerful shot in space was unfortunately straight at Rudd.
  • Ryan Lowe: Not one of his better outings in a Bury shirt; he is calmness personified in front of goal and took his one chance with aplomb because he has the intelligence to be in the right areas; however, he quickly went to ground looking for free kicks several times and was also strangely caught offside a lot in the opening exchanges; link-up play with Hope was poor – they were either too far apart (and neither were in the penalty area) or almost stepping on each other’s toes, indicating a lack of familiarity as a front two.
  • George Miller (on for Lowe): Comparisons with Hope are a little off the mark; whilst they perform similar roles for the team at present, Miller is much better at taking on defenders and positive running towards goal; deceptively quick, he seldom gave Jorge Teixeira a moment’s peace and his harrying often led to Bury regaining possession; displays a positive attitude and his first touch was better today than I have witnessed previously, whilst his hold-up play was second only to Pope’s on this evidence – another asset for the football club.
  • Tom Pope (on for Hope): Tracked back to help out the team in the dying embers, he also held up the ball in advanced areas to relieve pressure, had a decent shot of his own and laid the ball off expertly in passage of play with his chest; I suspect he’ll get longer than 10 minutes or so against Coventry, regardless of whether Vaughan returns.

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It’s difficult to know where Charlton go from here. They have another game tomorrow evening against a side in Shrewsbury fighting for every point to keep their collective heads above the water. Robinson did mix things up more than I’d anticipated in pursuit of a positive change in fortunes and his team will need to perform better to secure a result before a difficult sequence of four games involving high scorers (at both ends) Northampton and three of the better sides in the third tier in Scunthorpe, Walsall and Bradford all at home in a row who are likely to ask more questions than Bury did. They are not yet totally safe themselves…

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As for the prediction scores so far (with three points for a perfect prediction and one for the right outcome), I have a 4-1 lead over my 17 month-old son. However, there’s still all to play for with 12 games to go!

Charlton Athletic vs Bury: Preview

Saturday’s game represents a watershed moment for both teams. For Bury, it is new boss Lee Clark’s second game in charge but the first occasion when he has had any real time with the players on the training ground to assess them properly. For Charlton, it is an opportunity to breathe some life back into their season, which is threatening to peter out with a dozen matches remaining.

The Addicks have failed to win in any of their last five outings and some of their fans have already started to turn against manager Karl Robinson and his reluctance to deviate much from his tried and trusted formula. The somewhat controversial owner of the London outfit, Roland Duchâtelet, isn’t exactly known for his patience with any of the men in the hot seat during his reign and it wouldn’t come as a massive surprise if a few more poor performances were enough to see off the former MK Dons #1.

Following another below-par showing on Tuesday against Oxford, not helped by the red card awarded to right back Chris Sally, Robinson promised to make several changes to the lineup for tomorrow’s encounter whilst doing his best to plea for more time to shape the squad in his image this summer. At the time of writing, I couldn’t find any definitive information as to whether Sally’s appeal against his three match ban had been upheld.

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The problems this season have seldom come in defence, where they have barely conceded more than  a goal a game; it has been finding at least one player other than Josh Magennis to chip in consistently to help convert the many draws into wins. Magennis is well known to Lee Clark and indeed, it was he who sold the Northern Irish forward to then Charlton manager Russell Slade in the summer whilst at the helm of Kilmarnock. He has never been prolific at any juncture in his career but has a decent record this season and always works hard for his side.

Robinson has a penchant for a fairly rigid 4-2-3-1 both in and out of possession, as well as shoehorning players who are ostensibly wingers by trade into narrower attacking midfield positions in order to fit his system rather than the other way around. On paper, the likely midfield ‘5’ are vastly superior in pedigree and in some cases talent than Bury’s ‘3’ but have for the most part performed woefully below what they are capable of. Jake Forster-Caskey hasn’t yet lived up to his billing since his permanent move from Brighton and Johnnie Jackson has been out of favour in recent weeks but could earn a recall tomorrow. On his day, he can dictate the tempo of a game at third tier level.

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As for the Shakers, the only likely change is for Callum Styles, fresh from signing his first professional contract, to come into the first XI in place of the off-colour Scott Burgess. Along with last minute scorer George Miller, they changed the course of the game against Chesterfield and helped Bury stretch play instead of simply sitting deep in midfield areas even with the ball.

Charlton are likely to commit four forward for almost every attack tomorrow and Bury will need to strike the right balance between pragmatism and playing to their strengths and putting pressure on the home side’s backline (even without leading goalscorer James Vaughan).

As such, I am going for an oddly confident 3-1 win for Bury. Call it the new manager bounce, coupled with a more solid defence as of late and options off the bench that can at last make favourable interventions despite lots of occupied treatment tables at Carrington. Just as equally, Charlton have the personnel to deal real damage to Bury and Robinson will be counting on a reaction from his public criticism of his charges… whether it will materialise is another matter entirely. As ever, Exile Jr. made his prediction, opting this time for a 0-0.

I’ll be attending in person and will hopefully have photos, videos and maybe even views of some other travelling fans in my review, phone battery allowing at The Valley!

Chesterfield 1-2 Bury: Review

Lee Clark said after the game he’d only had 45 minutes with the players to assess them before Saturday’s crunch clash at the Proact Stadium against Chesterfield. As a result, very little changed in terms of team selection or even shape, with the exception of player-coach Ryan Lowe making his full ‘debut’ in his third spell at the club in place of the injured James Vaughan.

The Spireites on the other hand sprang a couple of surprises to their XI: Thorsten Stuckmann, released by Partick Thistle last month, was drafted in between the sticks. Sam Hird was restored to the back line and Sylvain Ebanks-Blake came in as a right-sided forward to what appeared to be a 3-4-3. Whilst going through a barren spell of his own, the former Wolves hitman was at the heart of most of Town’s good play in the first period.

The best early chance fell to Lowe after a searching pass from Mellis. One of his better traits is his first touch and he took the ball down expertly before finding Stuckmann equal to his near-post effort. Tricky winger Osman Kakay was having a ding-dong battle with the Shakers’ left wing-back Greg Leigh and managed to get a few deep crosses into the area without finding an equal to his good play in a blue shirt where it mattered most.

Bury were having the same problem since changing formation – an out-ball. Lowe and Tom Pope are an experienced pair of strikers but neither are known for their pace and again, the midfield trio weren’t too far in advance of the bolstered defence, allowing Town to dictate the play and have time to pick passes over them. Ebanks-Blake forced a good save out of Joe Murphy, dropping quickly to ensure all he could claim was a corner.

Not long afterwards, the tactic paid dividends. Cameron Burgess, otherwise faultless in his loan stint with the club, misjudged a ball over the top from Ebanks-Blake and whilst there was some fortune with the finish from Kristian Dennis, he showed great strength under pressure from the Fulham loanee to guide the ball past Murphy for the opening goal of the game with his knee!

Lowe then had a shot brilliantly blocked by the boot of fellow veteran Ian Evatt after a neat passage of play and very shortly afterwards, he found himself free in the area but contrived to miss an extremely presentable opportunity from a deep left footed cross by Taylor Moore.

Early in the second half, Clark made two positive substitutions in order to see more of the ball and retain it for longer periods. As is now customary, George Miller came on for Pope and Scott Burgess, again somewhat anonymous, made way for Callum Styles and together they changed the course of proceedings. Styles is more of a playmaker than S. Burgess and always wants the ball played to him. His first touch is excellent and he has a knack of wriggling out of tight spaces with it seemingly attached to him. His positivity, as well as team instructions, helped push up the wing backs and his midfield compatriots 10 yards further up the pitch.

Again, Lowe was on the end of another Moore cross, this time hitting the underside of the bar and must’ve thought it wasn’t going to be his day. After an earlier shouts for a penalty, Bury’s players were somewhat aggrieved when Lowe went tumbling in the area but nothing was given. A move involving all three midfielders, starting with irrepressible Styles, was ended with Lowe on the floor and waving play-on; the Derbyshire side countered immediately. A square ball was played in front of the onrushing Liam Grimshaw, who should’ve done a lot better and perhaps put the game beyond the visitors.

Finally, Bury did have a penalty. In a move eerily similar to the second claim, Lowe was behind the bandaged up Tom Anderson and shall we say, he used all of his years of experience to win a spot-kick for the Shakers. It was coupled with an undeserved red for the centre back, but he would’ve been somewhat pleased to see the Bury striker’s tame effort into the corner saved by Stuckmann. It really wasn’t Lowe’s day…

There was nothing Town’s keeper could do about the equaliser, however. Andrew Tutte, restored to full fitness, unleashed a 30 yard strike into the far corner after being laid off by Styles to send the away fans into rapture. Bury were camped in their opponents’ half almost the entire second period and the extra man was putting Chesterfield under immense pressure. Moore, shifted up the pitch as a right midfielder with Leon Barnett out wide behind him, was finding some joy drifting inside to the channel.

At the death, the source of Bury’s winner was another quick kick from Murphy from his hands. The deceptively quick George Miller followed the deflection and bounce all the way to Sam Hird, who hurriedly passed back to Stuckmann. Miller has come in for some criticism of his first touch by Bury fans but this time it was the goalkeeper’s lack of control that helped him out, allowing the youngster to nick the ball off his toe and divert it into an empty net. Stuckmann was not helped out by Hird but will still be disappointed to have conceded from what seemed a reasonably safe position.

He then found himself at the other end for a last-ditch free kick but it was headed away and the final whistle sounded, marking Bury’s first win on the road since I saw them do it at the end of last September against MK Dons. More significantly, it lifted them out of the bottom four and gave Clark a great start to his stint in charge. He waxed lyrical in the post-match interview about Styles’ ability and the second half performance overall, which had Bury playing some of the best football they have in months. They’re still not out of the woods by any means, but I hope to see for myself on Saturday against Charlton another positive team effort and hopefully another three points.

Churn! Churn! Churn! (To Everything Twice A Season)

In a somewhat unexpected turn of events, Bury announced Lee Clark as their new manager on Wednesday afternoon after the club agreed a ‘compensation package’ with SPFL side Kilmarnock for his services on a two and a half year deal. It marks the first time in my lifetime of supporting the club (from early 1994) that they have hired a manager who was already in post elsewhere.

Much more important than that however is the timing of this change. It could be argued on the face of it that former head coach Chris Brass was improving results as of late (if not performances). There are 14 games to get their collective heads back above water and it is certainly not an insurmountable task given the number remaining.

What doesn’t fill me with joy is Clark’s previous managerial record. There are certainly caveats you can place on his spells in charge of Birmingham and Blackpool but it isn’t so much the mixed results that concerns me as much as the ‘churn’ of players, with an eye-watering number of arrivals  into Killie’s first team squad and, like Bury, a large number also arrived in the January transfer window. Somewhat predictably, Clark justified this in his first press conference as Bury manager by stating that he’d managed to get his former into the top six on the back of his extensive recruitment.

Undoubtedly, another summer of tumult is going to take place at Bury, regardless of which division they find themselves in. The Shakers have 11 players out of contract in the summer in almost every position on the pitch:

  1. Rob Lainton, GK
  2. Andrew Tutte, CM
  3. Jacob Mellis, CM/CAM
  4. Ishmael Miller, ST
  5. Jermaine Pennant, RM
  6. Kelvin Etuhu, CDM/CM
  7. Paul Rachubka, GK
  8. Chris Brown, ST
  9. Reece Brown, CB/CDM
  10. Ryan Lowe, ST
  11. Niall Maher, CB/RB

The above list doesn’t include the seven loanees or second year scholars from the youth academy who have featured in the first team like the very highly rated Callum Styles. Clark is well within his rights to stamp his own authority on the squad and bring in (and ship out) whoever he sees fit to, of course. It is likely that there’ll be players in addition to the list above leaving as a result of his assessment and for a plethora of other reasons individual to their own set of circumstances. It’s also important not to forget that they have now had three different men in charge of them in just four months and that is likely to have an adverse effect on confidence and knowing whether you’re still going to be employed after the curtain has come down on 2016-2017, regardless of current contract length.

Combining Clark and Bury chairman Stewart Day’s penchant for player churn is going to be a major concern for next season and beyond. The latter is quick to talk about long-term planning and there has definitely been success with regards to anything below the first team on a playing side. The financial grumblings many fans have are unlikely to go away anytime soon, not least because Bury had to pay compensation to Kilmarnock for Clark and cancelling contracts of existing Bury players and enlisting many new ones is unlikely to come cheaply; the last few years of public accounts are testament to that.

I am a firm believer that it is good coaching that can improve a team more noticeably and sustainably over a longer period of time than simply getting rid of someone if they’re not immediately up to scratch, particularly younger players at or near the start of their playing careers. Modern day football is ill-suited to this approach, even at Bury’s level. If a few games are lost in sequence, a lot of supporters immediately question the competency of the manager… and most boardrooms are not far behind. Not every problem has a workable solution and personalities (and egos) will always clash in life; football has a tendency to magnify these frictions given how much out of it is played out in the public eye and often when adrenaline is also high.

To that end, I’m of the opinion that for Clark to be successful at Bury, he must be given time by fans and the board alike. He must also have a slightly different relationship with Day than was the case with David Flitcroft. Flitcroft, arguably the most successful Bury manager this century, still had many flaws, not least of which was being able to adapt tactically if things were not working out and moreover, the churn of players that plagued his reign. Clark must be allowed one clean sweep of both coaching and playing staff and then told that only fewer, more organic changes can be made to help run the club on a more even keel and to get the best out of the resources he has at his disposal.

Both chairman and manager must be able to say ‘no’ to each other without it causing too much tension in their working relationship. Clark must say ‘no’ to any interference in the playing side of things, which has been alleged under Brass’ stewardship. Day must also say ‘no’ to Clark wanting to sign too many players after the summer transfer window is over and to any attempts to change how the youth academy is run, which would be detrimental to the long-term survival of the club.

His job starts in earnest against Chesterfield tomorrow. He is unlikely to have any players returning from injury fit enough to start against the Spireites at the Proact Stadium, but the likes of Danny Mayor, Kean Bryan and Ishmael Miller might be in contention for a place on the bench. Another unknown is what strategy he will adopt from game to game to ensure survival, other than a “winning one”. As a result, the predicted XI involves a little bit of guesswork, coupled with Tom Pope looking off-colour in the past few outings:

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As for the hosts, their only success this season in the league has come against the only team currently below them, the much beleaguered Coventry City. Their shape as of late has flitted between a fairly defensive 3-5-2 without the ball to a more standard, rigid 4-4-2, especially in home matches. Infamous striker Ched Evans will miss out through injury and, much like most other sides down at the bottom with the exception of Bury, they have found goals difficult to come by, averaging less than one a game.

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Chesterfield like to keep the ball down on the deck than perhaps most teams at the lower end of League One. Expect David Faupala, on loan from Manchester City, to lead the line but whilst he has a strong aerial presence, isn’t a target man by trade and possesses a good amount of pace. Reece Mitchell and Dan Gardner, another name familiar to Bury fans, will look to join in the attacks and look to cut inside to offer support to the strikers. Ian Evatt is always a threat at set pieces and Dion Donohue is as comfortable bombing up the left flank as he is stopping crosses coming in, so it will be interesting to see where he plays and if anyone is pitted directly against him (most likely Jermaine Pennant).

It’s hard to know exactly what to expect from this encounter: both teams desperately need the points and Lee Clark’s appointment has thrown a spanner in the works in terms of preparation for the match. I think he will opt for a slightly more attacking style and match up the Derbyshire outfit in midfield in terms of numbers. Another tight one is on the cards but I’m predicting a 2-1 triumph for Bury. Exile Jr. is much more confident, plumping for a 4-0 shellacking!

Bury 0-0 MK Dons: Review

As with every remaining game between now and the end of the campaign, Bury needed a result more than a performance. Whilst the two together would be nice, the recent switch in shape has left the side looking quite negative in order to really clamp down on the ridiculous number of goals conceded to date. Only one change was made to the starting XI but it was Reece Brown who made way for Andrew Tutte because of an injury.

As I discussed in my preview, Robbie Nelson had several enforced changes to make for last night’s match, with Dean Bowditch also coming in for Nick Maynard. The MK Dons back four looked considerably more inexperienced than their counterparts but were rarely tested in what was a largely comfortable evening for them. Indeed, the best chance of an utterly forgettable first half was from a poor backpass from Tutte, almost letting the lively Chuks Aneke through. Fortunately from a Bury point of view, goalkeeper Joe Murphy was just first to the ball.

The only other thing of note in the opening 45 minutes was James Vaughan struggling with cramp. It was a nice surprise to see him replaced by George Miller as a precautionary move by head coach Chris Brass, but with an out of sorts Tom Pope, almost all the pressure was then on him to put the ball in the back of the net. All three midfielders were sitting quite deep, roles that were ill suited for all of them but especially Jacob Mellis, who isn’t nearly as effective in withdrawn positions on the pitch.

Indeed, the only instance in which Bury found themselves in behind the visitors’ defence was from a searching long pass by Greg Leigh. It took a heavy touch off Miller’s knee in an attempt to control it and his shot from an acute angle was easily stopped by David Martin. Pope then had a headed half chance on the rare occasion when the Shakers committed bodies forward but he just isn’t getting into the right places at the moment and, coupled with the current tactics, is severely limiting his effectiveness in what has otherwise been a season he has contributed to massively. Neither Ryan Lowe nor Jermaine Pennant, on as second half substitutes, had much impact on proceedings.

The second period had an extremely similar pattern to the Swindon game on Saturday; MK Dons would cut through Bury’s midfield almost at will but find the combined forces of their former captain Antony Kay, Leon Barnett and especially Cameron Burgess rock solid. Then, in the exact same spot inside the penalty area, the game’s only clear cut chance fell to Stuart O’Keefe. However, he leaned back and blasted the shot well over the bar.

To almost everyone’s relief, the final whistle came and both teams had largely cancelled each other out. A better balance needs to be struck between defence and attack for the Shakers to maintain third tier status this season. Another massive game looms large on Saturday away to Chesterfield but a new face will be in the dugout. More on that in the next couple of days…

Bury vs MK Dons: Preview

How different Bury’s fortunes seemed after these two sides last met. I was a witness to that game and in truth, a draw would’ve been a much fairer result than the 3-1 reverse MK Dons suffered. The game proved to be the zenith of the Shakers’ season; however, it was just another statistic in a long, unwanted sequence for the home side, with fans having to wait until December to see a win at stadium:mk in the league.

The Buckinghamshire outfit have turned their season away from the rocks after appointing Hearts manager Robbie Nelson. Much like the outgoing Karl Robinson, he is a young coach and is likely to be given time to put his mark on the club (although some of their supporters would argue Robinson was given too much time). Early signs have been encouraging for him and, given his charges’ current position, can start to make plans for an assault on the top six next season.

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The last game also proved very costly in terms of player availability: vice-captain Darren Potter, given the armband in the absence of long time skipper Dean Lewington, hauled down Rob Hall deep inside the area, leaving the referee no choice but to give him a second yellow. Centre back Joe Walsh was also cautioned, leaving the Dons desperately short of experience in their backline and deeper midfield.

Highly rated Chuks Aneke has recovered well from a long injury setback (and indeed only made his debut in November). He has pace to burn and an eye for goal, which has already been proven in spectacular fashion very recently. Nicky Maynard does a lot of the dirty work to allow Aneke the space to show off his talent and his role cannot be ignored.

In a reversal of the fixture earlier in the season, Bury will probably have the majority of the possession and MK Dons will look to counter at even the sniff of an opportunity. The Shakers are likely to make just one change from the victory over Swindon, with Andrew Tutte making an impact from the bench in that game and he should replace the off-colour Scott Burgess. The same defensive solidity will be key to earning a positive result, but more craft and guile going forward will also be required to unlock a side that are likely to be only too happy to have men behind the ball and soak up any pressure.

I think because they are shorn of Ben Reeves, who dictated the tempo in September’s match, as well as Lewington, Potter and Walsh, Bury have a real chance of winning this match. Of course, Bury have their own list of absentees as they have done all season and whilst they are unlikely to be able to play as good quality football as the visitors, perhaps having more at stake will give them the edge. For that reason, I am going for a 2-1 victory. By sheer coincidence, that is the scoreline that Exile Jr. picked out. Hopefully, it will be enough to leapfrog Oldham and be above the relegation zone.

Bury 1-0 Swindon Town: Review

On a weekend when eight of the bottom nine were pitted against each other, the need for one of the sides at Gigg Lane to claim a win to boost their flagging fortunes was more pertinent than St previous point in the league campaign.

Bury head coach Chris Brass sprang a surprise with his team’s shape, opting to start with three centre backs, including a return to the fold for the somewhat maligned Leon Barnett. Scott Burgess and Jacob Mellis were also drafted back into the midfield. Joe Murphy also made his debut on loan from Huddersfield, becoming the sixteenth goalkeeper to be selected between the sticks for the Shakers in just four years.

Swindon also made a couple of changes to the side that deservedly lost in their fiery derby encounter against Oxford. Striker Jermaine Hylton was only named in the XI after a warm-up injury to the less than prolific Lake Norris. Rohan Ince also came in for Yaser Kasim. This left Nathan Thompson tasked with carrying the ball out of defence in a role mirroring Antony Kay’s for Bury, with the wing backs for both being asked to provide all the width.

It was the visitors that started the brighter, perhaps partly a result of a greater and more recent familiarity with their formation. Fankaty Dabo, one of the better performers for the Robins this season, was having the better of his early tussles with Greg Leigh. However, it was Taylor Moore who struggled with his new role, several times being caught of position high up the pitch. In a match with of very few clear cut chances, he was fortunate his shakiness went unpunished.

Speaking of fortune, that is certainly a term that can be ascribed to Bury’s penalty. A corner was floated in from the right by Mellis and the referee immediately blew for a spot kick, much to the confusion of players and fans alike. Brass stated in his post-match interview that it had been because of shirt pulling by Raphael Branco on Tom Pope and that Pope himself hadn’t thought it was worthy of being a foul. James Vaughan, fresh from being named January’s League One Player of the Month, emphatically dispatched the penalty, sending the ball high into the middle section of the goal.

Bury’s soft centre in midfield was exposed several times during the course of the match, even by limited opposition low on confidence. Ben Gladwin was allowed to waltz through the middle all the way to the edge of the area, his shot only narrowly flying over the crossbar. Shortly after, Dabo was also free in almost the same spot, his effort being headed away from danger in spectacular fashion by Kay.

The second half was for the most part a repeat of the first, with Thompson starting off moves for the away side that would often break down because of under or overhit passes, mirroring Bury’s own recent problems in retaining possession even when not under much pressure.

The Shakers’ engine room did improve somewhat with the introduction of Andrew Tutte, who has had a torrid season with injury problems throughout. He replaced Scott Burgess, who was mostly a passenger in the game and one of only a few poor showings from the youngster. Tutte added energy and vigour to the ranks and let loose with a couple of long range efforts. Vaughan was restricted to a snapshot from a delicious through ball from Mellis and a powerful hit that fell wide of the near post but can take a lot of heart from another good performance, rarely giving the Robins’ back line a moment of peace.

George Miller put in a similarly tenacious showing from the bench, again coming on for Pope. The veteran target man, penalty incident aside, was a largely subdued figure and credit must go to both Branco and Dion Convoy for marshalling him effectively.

The most presentable chance for Swindon fell in the dying embers of the game to Charlie Colkett after good work holding the ball up inside the area from substitute Jonathan Obika. However, he dragged it wide when it was easier to hit the target and make Murphy work. Fortunately from a Bury point of view, the whistle for full time went not long afterwards, marking only their second victory in 25 matches and even more rarely, a clean sheet.

It wasn’t difficult on Saturday’s evidence to see why both teams find themselves now in the bottom four. Bury’s midfield rarely looks like a unit and are very narrow, which allows a lot of penetrative play from the opposition. For Swindon, it’s badly lacking a cutting edge in front of goal, with even the (re)addition of Nicky Ajose not changing matters. With three centre backs, Bury looked more solid and gave up a lot fewer chances than has been the norm. Cameron Burgess in particular has looked excellent in recent games and Barnett will be buoyed by a near error-prone outing after the nightmare of November.

A better general showing will be required against MK Dons on Tuesday evening by the home side and Northampton away will be a hard task for the Robins, so shorn of self-belief. A preview of the former will be up on the blog tomorrow.

As for the father vs son predictions, it’s ‘nul points’ all round, with the feast of goals predicted by Exile Jr. not materialising!

 

Bury vs Swindon Town: An Unconventional Way of Predicting the Score

Over the years, there have been many ways of predicting the outcome of football matches, from the analytical to the ‘gut feeling’ you have on the day of the game,  all the way through to the downright odd but uncannily successful.

Today, I am introducing a new method. My son (let’s call him Exile Jr. for the sake of this blog), is sixteen months old as I write this. It’s going to be at least several years until he develops an interest in football, if he ever does. That said, I wanted to test out whether he could predict Bury’s scorelines any more accurately than so-called experts.

I wrote the numbers nil to four twice on a piece of paper and then cut it into squares. Whichever two he selects first for each match will be considered as his prediction, with the home side being the first number and the away side the second. In the very unlikely event that Bury ever play on neutral ground in a competitive fixture in the not too distant future, Bury will be the ‘home’ team. Not like I’m taking this too seriously or anything!

Anyway, I predict a tight game as I said in my preview yesterday, but you can pretty much guarantee there will be at least one Swindon goal. I think it will end in a 1-1 draw.

Exile Jr. has an altogether different ‘theory’. He predicts a six goal thriller, which would definitely be in keeping with Bury’s season. Unfortunately, only two of those are going the Shakers’ way, with the Robins plundering four and easing their own relegation worries.

Future father vs son predictions will be incorporated into each preview and after several games, I will be adding a table to keep easier track. I have a feeling Exile Jr. will come out on top!

Bury vs Swindon Town: Preview

Bury and Swindon Town know that a win in the clash on Saturday is absolutely vital to gain momentum and pull away from danger. Both teams narrowly lost 2-1 last weekend to Shrewsbury Town and bitter rivals Oxford United, but in truth were well beaten by a well-drilled defence and superior finishing respectively. The damage was already done when goalkeeper Lawrence Vigouroux was wrongly sent off for not touching Oxford striker Kane Hemmings and he has since his red card rescinded.

Bury welcome back Mayor and Tutte into the fold after long injury lay-offs but are unlikely to feature in the XI from the off. As it’s a home fixture, Mellis, who scored last time out in the late fightback that never actually materialised, should return to the centre of midfield in an otherwise uncharged lineup:

vs-swindon

The Robins have now last three on the bounce and confidence is low. First team coach Ross Embleton vowed to help right the wrongs in their last game but the starting XI is unlikely to change too much but the option is there to revert to a three-man back line to help nullify Pope’s strength and aerial ability:

swindon-vs-bury

Nicky Ajose is more than just a familar face to the vast majority of Bury fans and, as ever, he will pose a big threat to the most leaky defence in the league by some distance. He is as comfortable operating in the channels as he is centrally, so Kay and Moore will need to be vigilant. He didn’t score on his debut’ for Swindon but still appeared in the right areas, which is half the battle for any forward. The Wiltshire outfit will look to stretch the play and move the ball from side to side quickly, making the pitch as wide as possible and force a narrow Bury team on paper to do likewise.

For Bury to be successful, they must take the game to Swindon from the off. Defensive frailties are still majorly apparent, so the best option would be to get Mellis on the ball as often as possible, playing it to Pennant and Pope. The latter will need more support to escape the close attentions of Lloyd Jones and Raphael Branco and the service into him and Vaughan needs to be of a better quality to do damage. Both Branco and Kay are only one yellow card away from suspension and it would be no surprise to see them both issued with their tenth cautions of the league campaign. Vigouroux’s availability is also a big boost; he is certainly an interesting character but that should not take away from his ability to command his area; he is more unafraid than most to come off his line and out of his comfort zone to help his defence out.

Much like Shrewsbury, Swindon have found goals hard to come by and no current member of the squad has more than three in the league to their name. In Ajose however, they have someone more than proven at third tier level as he showed to devastating effect in a red shirt last term, racking up 25 in all competitions. Bury’s defence are likely to afford him several opportunities and he is normally just as clinical as Vaughan.

Both Swindon and Bury face off against other relegation rivals in the coming weeks and these are likely to be the games that will define their seasons. I will save my prediction for my next post tomorrow, which will include a very different method of doing so!