Update: It has been brought to my attention that Conor McLaughlin has been called up for Northern Ireland’s World Cup Qualifier on Sunday against Norway. Joe Davis or Victor Nirennold are likely to deputise and both of them are a touch more comfortable at centre back first and foremost, so it will be fascinating to see what difference it makes to Fleetwood’s strategy.
Since completing their remarkable rise up the FA pyramid to be included in the top 92 clubs in England (& Wales) several years ago, Fleetwood Town have enjoyed having a bit of an Indian sign over Bury, having never lost to their hosts for tomorrow’s match in any competitive tie.
On paper, they look unlikely to give up their dominance over the Shakers and sit in an extremely impressive third place despite being quoted with odds of 12/1 and longer prior to the opening weekend of the season to be promoted. Uwe Rösler has to be given a lot of credit for the success the Cod Army have had thus far and it was no surprise to me that he was announced as Sky Bet League One Manager of the Season earlier this week. Relative to the expectations of the club, the lateness of his own appointment just prior to the curtain-raiser and fanbase size, they deserve all the plaudits they are currently receiving regardless of what happens between now and the end of the 2016/2017 campaign. Rösler was harshly sacked by both his previous clubs (Wigan and Leeds) and is someone whose progress as a manager I have been keeping a close eye on and on at least two occasions, I have wanted him and his methodical approach to be employed at Gigg Lane.
The Lancashire side’s form has taken a little bit of a wobble by their extremely high recent standards, having gone 18 league matches unbeaten before succumbing to resurgent promotion rivals Bolton 4-2 at the Highbury Stadium and now look up at the Trotters four points off the pace and with an inferior goal difference. Nevertheless, they can be confident of coming away from Greater Manchester with at least a point and can boast one of the most settled sides in all of the divisions.
There are no new injury concerns for Rösler to contend with and central midfielder George Glendon will still be available for selection despite serious off-the-pitch allegations made against him. Alex Cairns is a goalkeeper blessed with excellent reflexes and he marshals his defenders more than competently.
Cian Bolger and Ashley Eastham are familiar names to Bury fans for differing reasons; the former was part of a Shakers side that arrested their poor form and finished 2015/2016 in a safe mid-table position. For his part, he looked comfortable if not spectacular. Eastham is remembered for less glowing reasons, with his nadir coming in a televised game away at Notts County in 2012/2013, being culpable for three of the Magpies’ four goals. However, along with loan signing Ben Davies from Preston, they have shut out many of the third tier’s most dynamic attacks, including runaway leaders Sheffield United. Davies’ versatility helps him cover for the foraging runs made by Amari’i Bell. Bell is an explosive talent at left wing-back and a big threat crossing from the flank. It is no surprise that he has continued to attract interest from higher leagues and he will provide Taylor Moore with his toughest challenge yet in a Bury shirt.
On the other wing, Conor McLaughlin also cannot be ignored. His place in the Team of the Season was more than warranted despite Kieron Freeman’s prolific scoring record from a similar role. He isn’t blessed with as much pace as Bell but can still rove up and down the length of pitch more than happily and chip in with a few goals of his own.
Markus Schwabl, a January signing from the 3. Liga in Germany, is not a natural defensive midfielder but has slotted in nicely in that role and offers another layer of protection when teams press Fleetwood high up the pitch or look to play on the counter.
Bobby Grant, a stalwart in the red, white and black and fresh from signing an extended contract, will drive forward at every opportunity afforded to him and ask questions of the Bury rearguard. He has seven goals to his name and is an ever-present figure in the side this season.
Up front, David Ball is just as happy attacking from a deeper position as he is leading the line and he offers plenty of support for forward runners and his strike partner, which is likely to be Ashley Hunter. The latter can play anywhere across the front of an XI and again, that versatility can assist him in finding pockets of space and drawing men to the ball.
As a result of the Cod Army’s many threats and the relocation of Andrew Tutte to the injury table yet again, I expect that Lee Clark will give the visitors a lot of respect and blunt his own squad’s attacking ambitions up to a point. Greg Leigh and Taylor Moore will of course still be tasked with providing all the width but Moore in particular with his hands full with Bell and will need to call on Leon Barnett to assist him in stopping as many lofted passes into the area coming in as possible. Captain Antony Kay will have to keep Grant’s scheming and Kyle Dempsey’s direct dribbling in check and that could mean fewer opportunities to play the ball out from the back.
Paul Caddis, now fully up to speed, will be the most natural choice to drop back as and when required. The impressive Kean Bryan probably won’t start as Clark continues to manage his recovery from long-term injury, so most of the onus will fall on the former Birmingham utility man’s shoulders from a defensive point of view. Callum Styles should return after being taken out of the firing line against Milwall last Saturday and along with Jacob Mellis, they both need to balance positional discipline with creating goalscoring opportunities for James Vaughan and Tom Pope, which were severely restricted at the Den.
As for a prediction, I’m going to go for a low-scoring draw of 1-1. Most of the threats both teams possess, coupled with largely matching shapes, will cancel each other out. Exile Jr. is once again of a different opinion – he thinks it will end up 3-2 to Bury. A point would represent a very good result and most eyes in the home end will be glancing at their phones to keep abreast of Port Vale’s match with MK Dons and willing the away side to victory almost as much as their own boys in white.