Taking the long view, both teams go into tonight’s game in pretty decent form. Bury have lost just twice in the last 11 games since the alarmingly long winless run was halted in spectacular fashion.
Bristol Rovers are unbeaten in their last nine, albeit the majority of those are draws. Their previous two games have bucked that trend, however. They deservedly bested two of their rivals for a possible play-off spot in the shape of Oxford and Southend and did so without conceding a goal.
The Gas’ current streak is epitomised by young manager Darrell Clark’s bullishness. It is not outside the realms of reality that he could lead his charges from the National League to the Championship in consecutive campaigns, which would be an amazing feat; even if it’s not achieved in May, they are more than likely to finish in the top half and that can be an excellent springboard for a more concerted assault on the promotion places in 2017/2018, providing they can retain some of their better players.
They are likely to face a Shakers side with two changes from the Oldham stalemate; Jacob Mellis is a serious doubt after going off injured and Ryan Lowe is unlikely to start two games in such quick succession. Luckily, Andrew Tutte is back from his latest spell on the sidelines and manager Lee Clark will need him at his box-to-box best. He is likely to partner Paul Caddis, who is still a little bit off full fitness and the youthful exuberance and élan of Callum Styles, fresh from only playing the first half of the derby as a precaution after receiving a yellow card. Tom Pope is likely to come back in attack and ask questions of The Gas’ backline.
Bristol Rovers are likely to retain the same XI who brushed aside Southend at the weekend; as energetic midfielder Ollie Clarke serves the second game of his ban. Since leading goalscorer Matt Taylor’s under-the-radar move across the city, the burden of scoring has been shared throughout the side. The most direct threats come from both wings, with Christian Montaño and Billy Bodin providing pace and a goal threat. Look for them to try to clip Bury’s wing-backs’ own attacking effectiveness whilst their central midfield colleagues sit deeper and soak up the pressure. Rory Gaffney has already scored once against the Lancashire outfit this season and whilst far from consistent in front of goal, he can hurt the defenders in white.
The defensive unit has not been tested too much in the past couple of outings, ably helped out by physicality throughout the ranks. Bury will need to find a way to bypass Pope’s good friend Chris Lines and put them on the back foot as much as possible. Both sides have scored and conceded plenty in the league this term and it is hard to see tonight being a drab affair. Unfortunately, whilst I don’t think it will be “an easy win” for the visitors, I do see them continuing their great run and upping the ante for their opponents’ relegation worries with a 2-1 success. Exile Jr. is of a similar mindset but sees more goals in the game once more, opting for a 3-2 win to take back to the Memorial Stadium and give them a real chance of gatecrashing the top six.