Coming into Saturday’s clash, which some fans and local press dubbed as a ‘relegation six-pointer’, both teams had turned in better performances in 2017. Shrewsbury have in particular started to gain traction and only a narrow 1-0 defeat to the division’s form team Fleetwood Town has blotted their copybook this calendar year. Bury, like many other times this season, had conspired to throw away a victory in their previous outing against Walsall, the cost of which is currently likely to be felt very keenly at the end of the season. The scorer of a very late equaliser in that 3-3, Tom Soares, joined AFC Wimbledon on transfer deadline day in a move that shocked most fans and I include myself in that. That said, there was cautious optimism that Bury could at least eke out a draw against the Salop.
I predicted a 4-4-2 out of possession (more on formations in a future post), with Reece Brown and Etuhu staying deep and probably neither of them making many forays over the halfway line unless things became desperate.
The only major difference was that veteran goalkeeper Joe Murphy, on loan from Huddersfield, only made the bench. The aim of the shape was obviously to keep things tight at the back (‘tight’ being a very relative term for the Shakers since early 2015), rely on the harrying of Hope to win the second balls should the punts to Pope prove unsuccessful and for Pennant to mark his first start with a spark of creativity in a line-up that on paper looked utterly bereft of it if you exclude the much travelled winger himself.
Shrewsbury retained the flat 4-4-2 shape that had served them well in recent games and also had the better of the early exchanges, with the familiar spectres of defensive uncertainty rearing its head in the Bury area, even when under no immediate pressure. Visiting fans were also treated to an opposition midfielder being allowed to run unchallenged for several seconds into the penalty area from an innocuous starting position and the major sign of frailty this season.
Despite (or because of) the deepness of the central midfield pairing, Shrewsbury were able to enjoy a lot of time on the ball and play some neat passes; there seemed to be a real lack of urgency to regain possession. Only Cameron Burgess of the outfield ‘back six’ looked like being aware both of the importance of the match and in charging down any shots or loose balls in and around the area.
Bury’s only shot of note in the opening period fell to Reece Brown, who despite his goal and assist last week, is probably not who you want to see a presentable opportunity fall to on the edge of the area. His poor control let the hosts off the hook.
Lainton, who has always had his critics amongst the Bury support, saved his side several times in the first half and his positioning outside dead ball situations seems to have improved in his second spell at the club.
Shrewsbury’s first goal came not long after the restart from a throw-in. You could make an argument that Moore’s slip allowed Junior Brown to square it to Tyler Roberts but there was no point in his battle with the left back that he had parity. What was much worse from a Bury perspective was the freedom Roberts had, which he didn’t waste with an expert finish that while close to Lainton had too much power to stop.
At the other end, Pope was feeding on scraps of scraps. He has a lot of attributes to his game but pace isn’t one of them, so when he does win the high ball, he can sometimes struggle to be in a penetrative area should a cross be played into the right zone for him to challenge for again.
Shrewsbury made three like-for-like substitutions, with manager Paul Hurst pleased with how his side were able to shut out the visitors’ very limited creativity on the day. One of those, Freddie Ladapo, a Crystal Palace loanee, gave Bury all the warning they should’ve needed when he flashed a fast, low cross wide from the six yard-line after Leigh had been well beaten on the flank once more. The latter then made amends by saving a goalbound shot from the striker soon after.
The third time was the charm for Ladapo after Reece Brown once again gave away possession cheaply and then was slow to recover. Roberts was able to advance to the edge of Bury’s area and, although there was more than a touch of fortune that his shot ended up at Ladapo’s feet, he was cool enough to finish on that occasion and put the tie seemingly beyond Bury’s reach.
The late reply came courtesy of no skill and a high amount of scrappiness. Reece Brown lost his footing before taking an indirect free kick and the ball was eventually recycled back into the area by Mackreth (a more orthodox winger than Hope). Leutweiler failed to cleanly claim the ball under pressure from Vaughan and from George Miller’s blocked shot, Mellis was able to aim into the unguarded far corner – in a roundabout way, all three Bury substitutes had combined to some effect.
However, there was no late rally to speak of and Shrewsbury are now able to start looking up the table, proving to be much the better side on the day for what in truth wasn’t a game full of quality. Bury on the other hand must find some sort of answers to the defensive questions that have dogged them all season if they are to retain third tier status, whilst also finding the right balance between creativity and ‘solidity’, because neither was on show at the Greenhous Meadow.
Head coach Chris Brass gave an honest assessment of the match but there are lingering question marks over his ability to galvanise what looks on paper a very strong squad going forward, even with the amount of players currently out injured. Swindon on Saturday are another side hovering just above the relegation zone but Bury will need to be much more effective in both boxes if they are to obtain a positive result.