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!