Two old and all-too familiar foes returned to haunt Bury on Saturday, causing them to fall to a damaging 2-1 defeat against relegation rivals Gillingham, allowing the visitors to leapfrog them in the table.
Lee Clark opted to keep the XI that started the win against Coventry. His opposite number Ady Pennock, another manager under pressure from his own fans, was able to call upon the services of talismanic Bradley Dack after a short spell on the sidelines.
The Kent outfit were mostly content to sit back and play on the counter, as evidenced in the early stages with even Leon Barnett making forays well into the opposition half. Snatched shots by James Vaughan and Jacob Mellis were a sign of things to come, both in terms of missed chances and possession dominance.
It was then a combination of Paul Caddis’ loose pass and Mellis allowing the ball to run on a heavy pitch that gave Gillingham the springboard to launch a swift breakaway. Mark Byrne cleared the ball well to Lee Martin and, with no shortage of skill, he managed to push the defenders back before shifting it to the right where the unmarked Dack was waiting. He had time and space to finish precisely into the corner from the edge of the area, avoiding a number of bodies in the process.
Having the advantage allowed Gillingham to manage the flow of the game expertly, if not exactly in a way that was easy on the eye or the blood pressure of the home supporters. Even in the first half, it was not an uncommon sight for them to take a lot of time over goal kicks and throw-in and you can understand that given the position they are in, especially before Saturday.
More than presentable opportunities came and went for the Shakers. Vaughan squandered from 12 yards and then left wing back Greg Leigh conspired to poke wide from a deep Caddis cross at the far post. Pope was once again a bit off colour and Vaughan uncharacteristically kept rushing his thought process in front of goal.
Almost straight from the restart, Bury were two down. Dack turned provider from a corner kick and picked out striker Cody McDonald, who wasn’t challenged by Tom Beadling to head home to give Gillingham breathing space.
By now, Bury were practically camped midway in their opponents’ half. Clark had seen enough and sent on perennial substitute George Miller for Pope to help penetrate the deep back line. Mellis subsequently had a powerful drive tipped brilliantly onto the post by Stuart Nelson.
Midfield was understandably forsaken to a degree with Ryan Lowe coming on for Caddis and he had a big part to play in the consolation goal. From a Leigh throw in, the ball found Lowe unmarked on the edge of the ‘d’. He chipped the ball into the air and Vaughan met it with a spectacular overhead kick, which most fans by now were expecting that only something out of the ordinary was going to get Bury back into the game despite the siege.
It would be a misrepresentation to suggest Gillingham didn’t have a few chances of their own to put the game beyond doubt. Goalkeeper Joe Murphy had to clear with his foot off the line to prevent a third and a kind deflection from a goalbound shot reminded Bury that they still posed a threat of their own.
Miller hit the post and in the dying embers, Vaughan headed a Jermaine Pennant cross straight at Nelson when with the power it had, a yard either side of him would’ve given Bury deserved parity. But it wasn’t to be.
Credit must go to Gillingham. They set themselves up in the right way to achieve the desired result by exploiting the two big weaknesses that still exist in Bury’s side: a porous midfield and poorly organised defending set pieces. At least one of those issues needs to be resolved before the season is out to be more certain that another summer can be utilised in strengthening the squad at League One level. As I feared in the preview, Dack’s inclusion was a big boost for Pennock’s side.
A similar pattern of play might well happen against Oldham on Saturday and Bury will need to find answers in both boxes to avoid another derby day disappointment.