In a match with an outcome and pattern of play not dissimilar to Saturday’s game against Charlton, Bury again gained maximum points with the margins of victory very slim indeed.
As I had anticipated in my preview, strikers Tom Pope and James Vaughan (back from injury) came into the XI in place of Ryan Lowe and Hallam Hope. Tom Beadling made his EFL debut in the centre of defence as Antony Kay is suspended.
In a break from recent times, Coventry boss Russell Slade opted for a flat 4-4-2 shape, with Stuart Beavon fit enough to return to the starting lineup.
The hosts attacked the Sky Blues from the off with the first half-chance falling to Paul Caddis after a poor clearance. The former Birmingham utility player crashed his volley straight through a sea of players straight into the arms of a relieved Lee Burge.
Taylor Moore was roving forward at every opportunity and fashioned a decent chance for James Vaughan, only for the hitman to direct his header straight at the goalkeeper when a yard either side could have yielded a goal.
Joe Murphy’s long, accurate kicking has borne almost as much fruit as his more traditional goalkeeping skills in a Shakers jersey and they were causing the backline problems. One such instance resulted in a quickly taken free kick, with Moore’s passing with both feet coming to the fore as it did at the weekend. Caddis, who could eventually prove to be an extremely shrewd signing by manager Lee Clark once he’s fully match fit, played the ball into the feet of Pope, who laid it off to Vaughan. He still had a lot to do but managed to turn sharply on a heavy pitch, taking two defenders out of the reckoning in the process of doing so before coolly finishing past Burge for his nineteenth league goal of the season. Once again, this move underlined the importance of the front pair and the understanding they have managed to forge in a side bereft of sustained partnerships.
Coventry almost hit back immediately thanks to the impressive run of Callum Reilly, who somehow managed to retain possession despite several challenges. He found Kwame Thomas, who then cut the ball back for Charles Vernam, whose fierce drive was well held by Murphy.
A couple of decent openings came and went begging for both sides before what proved to be the decisive goal arrived. Former Shaker loanee Nathan Clarke hoofed the ball under little pressure and his opposite number Cameron Burgess replied with gusto, heading the ball powerfully straight to the feet of the precocious Styles. The young playmaker then drove forwards with the ball, releasing it at the perfect moment for the canny Pope, who had tracked his run to stay onside and finish first time with aplomb into the corner. The through ball drew plaudits from his teammates and is a glimpse into his future, even if he did have a mixed bag otherwise.
Slade rolled the dice at the interval, bringing on two defenders in a change of shape designed to maximise defensive solidity and a platform for counter attacks. It’s reasonable to say it changed the flow of the second half and on another occasion, the ploy could’ve easily given the luckless visitors at least a share of the spoils. Pope could’ve put the game beyond reach early in the second half but the face of Burge had other plans, deflecting the point-blank strike away to safety!
The visitors then began to dictate the game in midfield as a tiring home side conceded ground dangerously. Reilly, who came away with a lot of credit from this encounter, was at the heart of most of Slade’s charges’ good work, buzzing about the pitch with purpose and always wanting the ball, with which he created good chances for himself and Vernam that both flashed agonisingly wide.
They were to get their just rewards at the midway point, however. A lofted ball found Reilly, who sprayed the ball wide with Leon Barnett badly out of position. Ryan Haynes had time to check for the late run into the area of Stuart Beavon, who duly obliged when unmarked to plant his header past the helpless Murphy, marking his second goal in a Coventry since joining on a free from Burton, who he also scored for against Bury in the EFL Cup back in August.
The pressure was now very much on Bury to stand firm and repel a team desperate for every goal and point they can muster in order to escape almost certain relegation. The three centre backs were on less certain terms than they had been previously and Kay’s absence was certainly felt last night.
The introduction of both Hope and supersub George Miller failed to have the desired effect and their first touches were letting Coventry have the ball back a little too easily.
In the closing minutes, Kevin Foley then took his turn to have a shot, drawing a decent save from Murphy. Reilly again made the goalkeeper work before the final whistle came to Bury’s relief. It was far from the walkover some fans from both teams had predicted prior to the match and without sounding patronising, Coventry can take a lot of heart from their second half endeavours. They have another away game next at Shrewsbury before a tricky trio of games is book-ended by a vital rearranged home clash with fellow relegation rivals, Port Vale. They will need to start playing well before they are two goals down in order to grab results if they are to have any chance to survive. Of course, the real problems are still off the pitch, so I hope that somehow they are resolved for their fans, even if it means starting the rebuilding process from the fourth tier.
As for Bury, they will need to control the midfield for longer on Saturday against Gillingham in order to maintain Lee Clark’s 100% start at the helm. The firepower up top is there but the options behind them are limited in terms of being able to rotate with no fewer than 10 players not in contention for another six-pointer against the Kent outfit.
As for the results of the predictions yesterday, I gained another point with Exile Jr. drawing another blank to match his score ‘choice’, making it 5-1 in the current standings.