Month: April 2017

Southend United vs Bury: Preview

This is it. After Port Vale’s not-at-all unexpected triumph over a youthful Walsall side, the pressure is back on both teams at Roots Hall in the Sunday lunchtime kick off to attain a positive result.

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For Phil Brown and Southend, they must go all out for a win to snatch the final play-off place from Millwall, with Rochdale ready to pounce if they both slip up. The Lions and Dale have on paper tougher fixtures but even that must be called into question with Bristol Rovers out of the picture and Bradford assured of at least fifth place (but with one eye on gaining a second leg clash at home in their semi-final). The Shrimpers’ vastly superior goal difference could still prove to be a key factor, too.

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At the other end, a draw would mathematically see the Shakers safe but that is a dangerous mentality to have when your opponents have a lot riding on the outcome. Immediately below them in the standings, Gillingham have a visit to Northampton with former boss Justin Edinburgh in no mood to give them any quarter.

The Valiants have the daunting task of preventing one of the stories of the EFL this season from having an extremely happy ending for Uwe Rösler’s Fleetwood. The Cod Army are chasing promotion to their highest ever level of professional football but are heavily reliant on rivals Bolton falling to defeat against a schizophrenic Peterborough outfit who wax and wane from dominant to hopeless seemingly at the flick of a switch. With an insurmountable goal difference to make up, they will nevertheless have to push forward from the start, which could leave gaps for Vale to exploit.

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Southend could line up in the same fashion as their last game. Form has been erratic in April but they have had former Bury loanee Christian Walton to thank for keeping them in the hunt for points whilst losing. The Brighton stopper can consider himself a bit hard done by during his time between the sticks for the Lancashire side and could have a point to prove.

The centre back pairing of Antony Ferdinand and Adam Thompson are competent but not commanding, so look for the usual schitck of Tom Pope occupying one or both to create space for James Vaughan in behind.

On the right, Jason Demetriou will prove a more difficult proposition for his opponents. He is quick, adept at crossing and relishes a physical battle and getting forward.

Speaking of agile, Ryan Leonard will cover lots of ground behind the rest of the midfield and hoover up any loose balls and win possession back for the Shrimpers and spread it to both wings.

Will Atkinson and Demetriou make one of the more potent partnerships down a flank in the third tier, so Greg Leigh will have his work cut out to contain both of them.

Up top, Nile Ranger has had a productive season on the pitch and has had a rapport with both his manager and Simon Cox. The summer signing from Reading has largely gone under the radar in terms of end of season awards dished out but his contribution to his side’s cause has been massive, with 16 goals and eight assists to his name. If Southend do make the top six, they will need to call on his vast experience and end product to make it two promotions in three years.

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Lee Clark has claimed that proceedings going down to the wire hasn’t changed his approach to Sunday’s game, so that should be reflected in the lineup as well.

For all his shortcomings, Ryan Lowe has big match experience and is a harasser for the ball and opportunities to manage the game to Bury’s advantage and ought to retain his place.

As for a prediction, I don’t think any of the three teams still threatened with relegation will lose. However, I have a sneaky suspicion that Port Vale will pull it off at Fleetwood in a tense tightly contested affair. Gillingham should get something at Sixfields and there is enough wherewithal in Bury’s squad to claim a share of the spoils. For the reasons stated above, I’m opting for a 1-1 draw, which won’t prove enough for Southend to scrape into the play-offs but will prove sufficient for Clark to plan an assault on the top half of the League One table in 2017/2018.

Exile Jr. believes it will be a 2-2 draw. In both cases, Gillingham are the team we have to go down and Rochdale will leapfrog into sixth. I hope we’re right at least about Bury’s survival!

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Bury 3-0 Northampton Town: Mini Review

I write this mini review as the half time score between Walsall and Port Vale is 0-0. Hopefully, it will remain that way after the match is over…

  • Northampton had a number of players in unfamiliar roles, not least of which was Brendan Moloney in an advanced position off the front two when he has made his career as a right back. Sometimes, this works out but it was representative of a disjointed performance from the Cobblers on this occasion, with Joe Murphy rarely troubled in the Bury goal.
  • Speaking of a lack of familiarity, Ryan Lowe was also played in a similar role to Moloney for the visitors. However, he had much more joy and turned in a man of the match performance, acting as a third forward with the ball with licence to move into the channels and between the lines to occupy the deep-lying midfielders in claret. If he does continue in a playing capacity next season, Lee Clark might have found a new option for him but as always, a note of caution should be applied to one-off stints in new positions.
  • James Vaughan showed just why he is much more than just a poacher as some perceive him to be (due to a lack of assists and chances created for teammates principally) with a brace of real quality. For the first, he maintained his balance and held off his man marker superbly to finish in the far corner after Murphy’s goal kick had bounced over everyone else. It is not the first time the custodian has had a big hand in a goal at the opposite end of the field and the distance and accuracy he can sometimes achieve with his distribution is an asset to the side.
  • For his second, he lashed in with his weaker left foot from the edge of the area. A lot has been made on Bury’s largest unofficial forum recently about how much of an ‘upgrade’ he has been on Leon Clarke last season but such talk misses the mark for me. The former Evertonian does have a more rounded game and a higher work rate but Clarke was often asked to play as a mobile target man with little support and his languid style, coupled with his reputation before signing in the summer of 2015, certainly helps to colour people’s views.
  • The 24-goal hitman has been able to lean heavily on the groundwork Tom Pope has laid in many of their matches up front together. I subscribe to the opinion that whilst the latter hasn’t been at this most effective recently (Saturday excepted), he has helped create space in behind an opposition’s backline by dragging them out of position. With sufficient support, Pope remains one of the best at this level holding up the ball and facing his own compatriots.
  • It would be harsh to exclude George Miller even from a mini review of the encounter, given his crucial header to help calm the collective nerves for the second Shakers goal of the game. He too has come in for criticism recently but can most certainly hold his head high with at least eight to his name in his first senior campaign. It is his anticipation that is his biggest weapon and leads me to believe that he can still improve considerably in seasons to come.
  • On this evidence and even whilst taking into account the absentees and lack of anything realistically riding on the game, the performance from Northampton was quite limited. Only Matty Taylor stung the palms of Murphy from a free kick, the midfielders struggled to gain much of a foothold on the game with both Paul Caddis and Andrew Tutte turning in energetic shifts in white shirts; the makeshift defence came off distinctly second best, too. It was little wonder that manager Justin Edinburgh lamented a gutless display and apologised to the considerable number of travelling fans. 
  • It was very good to see Nathan Cameron make a cameo after spending almost the entirety of 2016/2017 on the sidelines. He is obviously still not fully fit but it would’ve been a huge mental lift for him just to even come on as a last minute substitute and get a crunching tackle in in front of the home supporters.

Friday’s mini preview for the final match of the season will have of course be largely driven by events tonight. One thing is for certain: Southend will be going all out for victory…

 

Bury vs Northampton Town: Mini Preview

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Bury play their final home game of 2016/2017 tomorrow against Northampton Town, with both sides on six match winless streaks and requiring maximum points to make survival more likely in the former case and certain in the latter.

Creditable though the Shakers’ point at the Macron was, it further underlined how one dimensional and increasingly reliant they are on top goalscorer James Vaughan as other reasonably potent sources have completely dried up in the past month. Manager Lee Clark must find a way to reverse that recent trend to avoid a very nervy seaside sojourn to Southend on Sunday week.

As for the visitors, only an improbable combination of results will see them drop to the fourth tier but visit Gigg Lane with four fewer options than they had at the start of their 1-1 draw with relegation rivals Shrewsbury.

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With doubts lingering over the entire midfield diamond that ‘starred’ against Rochdale, we will more than likely see a repeat of the entire matchday squad as on Tuesday but with more emphasis on taking the game to their opponents. Look for captain Antony Kay to play slightly ahead of his central defensive partners when in possession and more onus placed on Scott Burgess to break from midfield to support the strikers and give the marauding wing backs another target to aim for.

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With both stalwart David Buchanan and the talismanic John Joe O’Toole suspended, coupled with the recall of Greg Wylde and Luke Williams to their parent clubs, a big chunk of the consistency and creativity from open play in particular will be absent.

Lewin Nyatanga and Zander Diamond are threats from the commanding set pieces dished out by Matty Taylor and the Cobblers could try to soak up the pressure with a deep defensive and midfield lines and play direct to Marc Richards, with the captain and still effective outlet hopeful of extending his stay beyond the end of the campaign. Much of the link-up play between midfield and the forward line will go through Paul Anderson and Taylor Moore will need to be watchful of his forays forward on the counter.

As for a prediction, I’m going for a 2-0 victory for the men in white. As long as they can stick as diligently as they did on Tuesday to the task of defending from expert dead balls, Northampton shouldn’t be quite the threat they were in the reverse fixture and have less to play for but will nevertheless still push Bury all the way. Exile Jr. has gone for a very similar scoreline of 2-1. I hope we’re right!

Bolton Wanderers 0-0 Bury: Mini Review

I’m currently in the process of packing my bags for a week’s holiday, so all the future articles for the remaining league games will be mini versions. After which, I’ll set out my plans for the blog for the close season, some of which will hinge on which division Bury find themselves in.

  • In an unprecedented move, all four of Bury midfielders from last Thursday’s loss against Rochdale were out of the squad.. and all because of injury. This meant a reversion to the normally solid five at the back. Andrew Tutte came back from his 50th sixth injury of the season and completed a full 90 minutes.
  • Andy Taylor got the nod in the deep role on the left flank for Bolton and was arguably the home side’s best player, looking threatening going forward and completely nullifying what little threat the visitors had down his entire side.
  • Although it shouldn’t really affect whether a player should be sent off, Leon Barnett’s very late tackle on the dangerous Adam Le Fondre early on during the game probably helped to prevent the Shakers being even more up against it. Aside from that, the former Wigan centre back had another very good game from a defensive point of view and his general form is in complete contrast to the dark days of October. Fully fit and understanding the role someone is playing go a long way to explaining why that’s the case (for any pro). His long passes to the forward line could do with some improvement, however.
  • Too much of the spectacle was played high in the air and the quality on show suffered as a consequence. Given the Trotters’ individual and collective superiority in midfield, I’m surprised they didn’t make more use of their ability to hold onto the ball for longer and pick out better options. Jay Spearing was largely prevented from probing by a disciplined performance from Scott Burgess.
  • Cameron Burgess was dominant aerially (as were all three of Bolton’s warriors). It remains to be seen whether he’ll stay at Fulham after the season finishes but if manager Lee Clark is looking for a strong foundation to challenge higher up the league in 2017/2018, then he should look no further. His physique complements Antony Kay’s well and his left foot also provides balance to the spine of the team.
  • Adam Le Fondre made the most of his isolated role up front for the home side and is one of the best at this level in fashioning his own chances. He was desperately unlucky that his long range effort in the second half hit the crossbar and didn’t bounce in conclusively.
  • Both teams were mostly limited to snapshots 25 yards or more out. Tutte, Paul Caddis and George Miller all sliced theirs badly for the away side. David Wheater, with seven league goals to his name, brought the best out of Joe Murphy with his screamer.
  • Bury’s best chance was comfortably kept out by Mark Howard, with James Vaughan shackled by Phil Parkinson’s charges and only managing a single headed effort. Opportunities were always going to be at a premium and the initiative must be taken on Saturday against Northampton to ensure the goalless run doesn’t continue.
  • Filipe Morais’ dead balls were of a high standard but the penalty area was packed with black and neon green shirts at all times. That is both testament to their defensive organisation and also of ‘respect’ given to the winger’s accuracy and level of threat.
  • Although his name wasn’t called from the substitutes’ bench, the very presence of Callum Hulme is a clear indication of his potential ability. Expect to see him feature next season regardless of whether it’s in League One or Two.
  • The stalemate opens the door for Fleetwood to pounce if Bolton drop further points in the final two fixtures, but despite their own recent drought in front of goal, I cannot see them leaving Vale Park on Saturday empty-handed (which would obviously be good news for Bury’s prospects). Once again, the stakes will be high.
  • As for the club on the eastern end of the A58, the point gained last night could prove to be the difference between survival and their downfall. Much still depends on the match between Walsall and Port Vale next Tuesday but if they can better one/both of Shrewsbury and Gillingham’s results this weekend, they ought to be safe.

Bolton Wanderers vs Bury: The Big Preview

I deliberately left writing this preview as long as possible (until after today’s League One matches) to ensure the information was as accurate as possible.

Bury travel the very short distance tomorrow evening to the Macron Stadium to face Bolton Wanderers in a derby match with huge implications for both sides at opposite ends of the League One table.

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Proceedings were going very favourably for Phil Parkinson without even kicking a ball after the lunchtime fixture between champions Sheffield United and Bradford, with the former running out convincing 3-0 winners (with Bury’s leading goalscorer from the previous season, Leon Clarke, bagging a brace). That elation was slightly tempered, however, with Fleetwood triumphing over Millwall. Whilst promotion is still very much within the Trotters’ grasp even with a defeat tomorrow, they can no longer seal their second tier status for 2017/2018 in the most cruel way from a Shakers point of view. Indeed, the majority of the very same set of travelling supporters will be begrudgingly willing their local rivals to put Port Vale to the sword this coming Saturday.

Their final game of the campaign is a favourable home time against a Peterborough United side that seemingly left for the beaches several months ago, should they require a result to confirm their immediate return to the Championship.

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As for visitors, they can be extremely thankful that, on the whole, the two rounds of fixtures that have played in between their guileless 1-0 derby reverse to Rochdale and this clash still have them with their collective heads above water by a point; they also still have the ‘best of the worst’ goal difference, which could still prove to be a key factor over both the two teams above and below them in the current rankings.The extra half a day or so rest and preparation time over their hosts for the 20:00 start might also be a small boost.

Bolton vs Bury

As ever with a Parkinson side, the system Bolton employ has been with the bedrock of a completely solid, reliable defence. None of the trio of Mark Beevers, David Wheater and Dorian Dervite are likely to win foot races against many forwards in this division; the reality is that this has rarely been allowed to happen in any case. Much like Oldham, they take a relatively deep line to compensate for this and with the first two of the aforementioned three particularly in mind, they very rarely lose any physical battles, do the basic duties extremely well and have stood as two colossi when teams have attacked them. Added to that, they have been dominant from set pieces in both boxes, with Beevers and Wheater both bagging seven goals each in the league, which is frankly staggering. It was therefore no surprise to see both of them named in the overall team of the season and the Trotters can boast the best defensive record, with less than a goal a game conceded.

As for elsewhere in the likely starting XI, the withdrawn winger/advanced wing back berth on the left is going to be a battle between Dean Moxey and the returning Andy Taylor. Both are tough customers and will look to nullify any threats down their side, which is probably going to be a very familiar face to many Bolton supporters. Derik Osede has begun to make the destroyer role his own in recent months; the men in black and neon green will need to be much more inventive in their approach play than as of late to get past the former Real Madrid II defensive midfielder, as he recovers well and is yet another player for the home side who relishes an aerial war.

The pair in front of him need little introduction. Both Darren Pratley and Jay Spearing have a decent amount of Premier League experience and possess touches of class on the ball with a penchant to shoot from long range.

The versatile Josh Vela came through the ranks seven years ago and has added goals to his skillset this season with nine; he is not a playmaker when featuring in an advanced role and he is more likely to look to win the ball back aggressively high up the pitch than play an inch-perfect pass for Adam Le Fondre, which has also gained him no shortage of yellow cards. That is not to disparage him in any way as his ever-presence has been another foundation of Bolton’s likely successive assault on the promotion places and his style of play helps to take pressure off the defence.

Of course, the standout player since joining at the very end of the winter transfer window (arguably in the league as a whole) is Filipe Morais and he is the biggest headache facing Clark and the Bury XI. He is not blisteringly quick but his game is much more than that in any case. He is very calm on the ball and can whip an accurate cross in from deeper areas as well as the byline. His quality from set pieces is the biggest strength he has and given the Shakers’ malaise, it doesn’t bode well. The eye-watering number of assists he has in a white shirt in just two and a half months is testament to his overall ability and it will be interesting to see what happens to him next season, given that Bolton aren’t exactly awash with money (a tired old refrain for both clubs, especially in recent times).

Le Fondre’s technique is excellent for this level and he will be more than well supplied by his team-mates. With Gary Madine probably not making it in time, he is expected to lead the line and only needs one or two presentable opportunities to add his name to the scoresheet. Cameron Burgess and Leon Barnett will have to be extra vigilant of his movement.

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With Tom Walker ineligible to feature against his registered club, Clark will probably persist with the narrow ‘diamond’ in midfield, owing to a chronic lack of width available to him not called Jermaine Pennant. Greg Leigh, who has shone despite recent form, will have licence to roam forward. Reece Brown will need to combine with C. Burgess to plug the gaps behind him with a marauding Filipe Morais pushing forward whenever Bolto gain possession back.

Clark has called on more risks to be taken in midfield to create openings both for themselves and James Vaughan and his strike partner, which could rotate again (I have a feeling Ryan Lowe will start). To this end, Callum Styles and Jacob Mellis will be tasked with getting beyond at least one of the forwards and somehow drawing out Wheater and Dervite. Beevers against Lowe will be an interesting duel if it takes place; whilst no stranger or shirker from physicality, the Liverpudlian has a propensity to go down easily and winning free kicks in favourable areas could be a strategy that pays some dividends, if only to relieve pressure in a match where the home side are likely to dictate the tempo for much of it. Again, the former Kilmarnock manager is demanding ingenuity from set plays but it remains to be seen whether anyone can step up to the plate – Lowe himself is competent with direct free kicks and only Brown out of the others has shown a glimmer of output this season.

As for a prediction… despite today’s other results, I still fear the worst for Bury. Leigh will have his hands full with Morais, which will in turn negate his own effectiveness from an attacking point of view. The Trotters are deadly from attacking set pieces and will be up against a very ordinary and largely inexperienced midfield regardless of shape employed. Pratley and Spearing will be hard to win the ball from and I have already waxed lyrical about their defence. Despite a recent drought in goals and some especially wayward finishing, I have no doubt in my mind Bolton will score and I have sadly gone for a repeat of the drubbing they dished out back when they last clashed in the league in BL6 under the ‘auspices’ of one Neil Warnock: 4-0. Exile Jr. is much more positive, however. He somehow ‘thinks’ it will be 2-1 to the Shakers. In truth, anything from the game will be a massive boost to a squad that has looked particularly gutless in derby matches this season.

Bury 0-1 Rochdale: Review

Bury offered effort but no guile or cutting edge in another goalless and winless derby match in the league against Rochdale last night, making it five from six this season with the final one coming in a daunting trip on Tuesday to deadly rivals Bolton Wanderers.

Versatile defensive-minded player Reece Brown was thrust back into the thick of the action after an injury spell (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) and target man Tom Pope, fresh from an FA warning over comments made on social media, was restored to the lineup ahead of a diamond-shaped midfield in a change of strategy from manager Lee Clark.

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Thankfully for Dale, Joe Bunney was fit enough to return to the left back berth, allowing Calvin Andrew to concentrate on attack as part of a front three with the full backs on both teams asked to provide most of the width.

An early set piece in the home side’s favour saw Cameron Burgess a whisker away from connecting with Brown’s deep effort with some debate over whether he was held back slightly by Andrew. In my view, that would’ve been a harsh penalty to have given and the referee made the right call to ignore the Fulham loanee’s half-hearted pleas.

A quickly taken free kick from top goalscorer James Vaughan was spread wide by Jacob Mellis to Caddis, who did well to whip a low cross in that had Vaughan shooting on the turn but he could only hit it straight at goalkeeper Conrad Logan.

Chances were once again at a premium in a recent game involving the Shakers, with the Spotland outfit’s first effort on target arriving with nearly 40 minutes on the clock. Good work down the right flank by the probing Nathaniel Mendez-Laing after a give-and-go with Callum Camps resulted in a looped cross to the far post. Ian Henderson got a good connection on his header but Caddis defended expertly. However, the loose ball fell to the advancing Bunney, who found Mendez-Laing in a roundabout fashion. With four red shirts lurking deep inside the area, the winger with more than a couple of tricks up his sleeve got the better of Greg Leigh and aimed a powerful drive at Murphy from an acute angle, much to the consternation of some of his team-mates.

The one moment of real controversy of the entire match also affected its outcome greatly. Deep into first half injury time, Jamie Allen and Brown contested a loose ball and the latter appeared to win it cleanly. However, the referee was close to the incident and immediately blew up for a direct free kick, much to the ire of the crowd and Brown himself. From the resulting set play (and with a hole in Bury’s wall), Camps still had a lot to do to score from around 30 yards out but found the net nevertheless, with Murphy appearing to be caught out, either from a possible deflection or the setup of the wall. It proved to be the winner in a contest bereft of quality in the final third from open play. Camps on this evidence continues to go from strength to strength and his importance to Rochdale cannot be overstated, even at the age of 21.

The need to quickly hit back forced Clark’s hand early in the second half, with the disappointing Kean Bryan replaced by the largely frustrating Hallam Hope, with the younger of the former Everton strikers in a white shirt playing through the middle and being flanked by Vaughan and Pope for a short spell that simply didn’t prove to be effective.

Vaughan did draw an avoidable foul from former Shaker Jim McNulty whilst working the channels. The free kick was whipped in well by Brown but Mendez-Laing, on defensive duties at the near post, stopped Pope’s downward header from possibly creeping into the corner. Pope then had another presentable headed effort end up on the roof of the net in what was proving to be a fruitless evening for the team. Dale, without having the lion’s share of possession, had a well-marshalled defence in spite of recent jitters on the road and a midfield unit confident in their roles and with no shortage of off-the-ball movement. An extra man in forward positions when they lost the ball immediately dropped off to regain control of the ball, exemplified by an excellent sliding challenge by Henderson on Mellis in a rare break forward by the home side. A patient spell of interchanging play eventually had Bunney off down the left and Andrew was close to putting the game beyond Dale’s near neighbours’ reach but the full back’s cross had a little bit too much on it.

Mellis was having another poor game despite being in a role that was more suited to his individual strengths and once again, the final ball or decision was eluding Bury with most of the more attack-minded players avoiding risk and allowing their opponents to cut off any openings by dwelling in advanced areas. Hope has a penchant for this with a yard of space inside the area at the worst possible times; his shot was charged down much too easily and the moment of danger passed. The negative body language of most of the XI by this point was all too apparent and Vaughan’s trademark petulance could’ve resulted in a much worse outcome than just a free kick outside the area with the minutes ticking away. Camps tried his luck once more but this time, it deflected over the bar.

The introductions of all of Bury’s substitutes were completely nullified by Keith Hill’s charges. George Miller was well shackled by McNulty and his central defensive partner Harrison McGahey; Tom Walker was anonymous. The hosts’ most improved player over the season in Leigh was second best to Joe Rafferty and Andrew Cannon, who both stuck to their task and prevented the former Bradford man from making too many forays deep into enemy territory.

The final whistle blew and with it, the pressure increased tenfold on Bury to get something out of their final derby match of the season at Bolton on Tuesday night. At the time of writing, they sit perilously close to the drop zone and could easily be in it once the next round of fixtures are completed on Easter Monday. For the visitors, they need maximum points from their remaining three games to stand any chance of dislodging Millwall in sixth place.

Bury will need to show much more inventiveness to come away from the Macron with even a point and I am the least confident I’ve been at any juncture in 2016/2017 of that occurring, especially if the Trotters best Oldham in tomorrow’s lunchtime kick-off and can seal promotion straight back to the second tier with a win over the Shakers…

Bury vs Rochdale: The Big Preview

Bury still have their destiny in their own hands but that will only remain the case with a long-awaited league victory over local rivals Rochdale, with both sides needing maximum points for very differing reasons.

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The wheels have fallen off the Shakers’ revival of late, with the dreaded combination of goals drying up in attack and the defence springing a leak once again. The pressure is now really on manager Lee Clark to get his players performing to a higher standard (especially between both boxes) with their third tier status depending on the final four games.

Only a single point separates the three sides immediately above the drop-zone and Port Vale, who still have a game in hand away at Walsall in the same week as the last round of fixtures of the regular season. The Valiants still have to play the top two at home but defeats in either or both of those clashes cannot be relied upon to take place. Similarly, Shrewsbury and Gillingham stopped the rot with positive results on Saturday, with the former coming against Rochdale.

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The 1-0 reverse at the Greenhous Meadow Stadium dealt a hammer blow to Dale’s play-off prospects and manager Keith Hill didn’t hold back in his post-match interview, lambasting their away form and even stating that some of his players whose contracts are expiring at the end of the season will take no further part in the first team.* Indeed, they have only won five on the road and accrued the same number of points as their hosts tomorrow evening, which is the chief reason why they’re unlikely to be still playing into May.

All that being said, I would give almost anything for Bury to be run in the same way as Rochdale; chairman Chris Dunphy runs a very tight ship, they’re much less reliant on selling academy graduates before they have firmly established themselves for a number of seasons in the first team and because of the relative success of a lot of their signings in recent history, when they do leave and are sold on again, the deals are structured in such a way as to guarantee their continued operation on an even keel.

There is also much to admire about the managerial philosophy of Hill himself and how he sets out his teams. They rarely hit and hope, value incisive wing play and have had shapes in the past where the deployment of three players in forward positions didn’t detract from their strategy. Like Clark, he is completely unafraid of extensively using academy players if he feels they are of sufficient quality and that has been the bedrock of a lot of Dale’s success. He is also a man who clearly holds the club close to his heart and in my view, is one of the best managers outside of the top flight. The challenge for him is to push on next season and claim at least a top six spot after two (probably three) near misses in successive years. It will just take a bit more consistency.

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With Craig Jones out injured yet again after a 30 minute cameo, Taylor Moore will regain his place. As I have written extensively before, the game will be won or lost in midfield. Expect to see Kean Bryan come in for one of Jacob Mellis or Callum Styles to plug gaps in front of the backline. Paul Caddis is likely to be the pivot and could gain confidence from having another more defensively minded player alongside him. A lot of the attacking onus will fall on Greg Leigh and whoever the most advanced midfielder is. Styles created Bury’s best openings against a tight Bradford defence but Mellis has more big match experience and is stronger (but not necessarily any better) in challenging for the ball and there are bound to be some crunching tackles during proceedings.

Rochdale vs Bury

Hill promised to ring the changes ahead of the derby match and with that in mind, I have tried my best to predict what those will be. The immediate oddity is of course Calvin Andrew at left back; he has plied his trade as a mobile target man for most of his career in the lower leagues, with occasional stints playing in the right channel off the front one or two. However, he has been asked to play a very unfamiliar role due to Joe Bunney’s injury and Joel Taylor not featuring for two months. Whilst that would ordinarily be an exploitable weakness, it remains to be seen whether Bury will be able to. Without Jones or a winger to press higher, there is less chance that he will be pinned back and could roam forward quite far without really being challenged.

Former Shaker Jim McNulty will cover for Andrew; however, his partnership with Harrison McGahey has been shaky and numerous individual errors from the defence as a whole have cost Dale points, with 60 goals in total shipped. The hosts must look to unsettle the back line of their near neighbours as much as possible. George Miller might have to settle for another substitute appearance after fluffing his lines last time out. Tom Pope could come back in and provide the foil that James Vaughan has been missing as of late.

It is probably midfield where Rochdale are strongest, which will in turn make tomorrow night extremely difficult for Bury. Callum Camps is a young star able to fulfill several wildly different roles in the middle of the park more than comfortably. Capped at youth level by Northern Ireland, he has a bright future ahead of him and will look to carry the ball from one transition to the next and take the game to the opposition.

Camps is likely to be flanked by a rotation of Peter Vincenti, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Reuben Noble-Lazarus. The ‘middle’ of those three has already scored against Bury this season and his pace and trickery will test Greg Leigh and Moore’s collective mettle. Vincenti is the slowest of the group and whilst he has only been selected sparingly in 2016/2017, he is more than capable of hurting the opposition and his goal record in the blue and black shirt is proof of that. Noble-Lazarus has good feet and his ‘weak’ right is better than most in the third tier.

They will be the supporting cast to acting captain Ian Henderson and possibly Steven Davies. The latter has been utilised from the bench frequently and his physical presence will be something to look out for, especially from crosses and set pieces. The former likes to work the left channel and is very creative; he manages to combine that with a deadly eye for goal, with admirable composure in one-on-one situations. With a combined tally of 22 goals and assists in League One (13 and 9 respectively), he is in the vaunted company of Vaughan and the three Player of the Year finalists in terms of output.

As for a prediction, I’m going to plump for a scoreline that will suit neither team. Even on the road, Dale rarely remain goalless after 90 minutes and against a very accommodating midfield and defence that likes to back off, they’re going to get numerous chances to add to their goals for column. However, with defensive jitters of their own and the stakes so high, Bury will at least restore a modicum of confidence before the daunting trip to the Macron Stadium to face Bolton next Tuesday with a 2-2 draw. Exile Jr. has opted for a 2-1 win for the home side, which would shift all the pressure back onto the five sides currently below them. Here’s hoping…

On a more serious note, the 15th minute will mark a round of applause for Joe Thompson, who is fighting cancer for a second time at the age of just 28. Having played for both sides and returned to the visitors, his battle is a great reminder of the power football can have to bring fans of even bitter rivals to get behind a common cause and I wish him all the best and for a speedy recovery. I would also like to express my admiration for the way Rochdale have continued to support him.

 

 

 

 

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Bury 0-2 Bradford City: Review

As expected, Bradford City had too much without really hitting top gear for a Bury side who now go into their final four games of 2016/2017 a single point above the relegation zone, having shipped seven goals in their last two games without a single one in reply from open play.

Manager Lee Clark recalled Shakers veteran Craig Jones to the first XI after his latest spell out from injury, slotting in at right wing back in place of loanee Taylor Moore; Clark also surprisingly plumped for perennial sub George Miller to partner James Vaughan up front. His opposite number Stuart McCall set up the Bantams as I had anticipated, with Mark Marshall being asked to swap wings and provide most of the width in the side.

The visitors looked to play out from the back at every opportunity, which they were more often than not afforded because of a lack of pressing high up the pitch from the opposition. One such passage of play in the opening exchanges included a passing triangle that completely bypassed the Shakers’ midfield; impressive left back James Meredith was only just beaten to the ball by goalkeeper Joe Murphy, who took a heavy hit in the process.

Greg Leigh, who played in the claret and amber last season, was visibly up for this encounter and clearly relishes any chance to burst forward (a throwback to his days in the Manchester City academy age groups as a winger playing much higher up the pitch). A neat move allowed Jacob Mellis time and space to cross, but as is almost always the case at present from anyone in white, the final ball was badly lacking and didn’t trouble Colin Doyle. Directly from his hands, Bradford broke with the irrepressible Marshall getting the better of Cameron Burgess and sending in a ball that Alex Jones could’ve done more with, especially given that he wasn’t tightly marked.

Jones of the Craig variety then conspired to give away possession extremely cheaply, with Bury’s deep defensive line backing off even deeper but hotshot Charlie Wyke could only sting the palm of Murphy on that occasion.

Marshall had the run of both flanks and his movement and quick feet are exactly what Bury are lacking in the prolonged absence of both Danny Mayor and Zeli Ismail. His good cross was picked up on the opposite wing and sent straight back in to the far post, with Murphy missing the ball but in doing so, inadvertently put Wyke off what would otherwise have been a presentable chance to head in for the lead.

Unfortunately, Craig Jones then succumbed to yet another injury after only half an hour back in the starting lineup, which sums up his season. As much as Clark has expressed his admiration for him during interviews, it makes you wonder whether a more clinical approach might be taken with his contract expiring in two months’ time.

Right back Tony McMahon then demonstrated his qualities with a looping cross that fell at the feet of Romain Vincelot but the anchor man fluffed his lines and the chance was gone.

The hosts hit back with the opening period coming to a close. Callum Styles, also back in the XI and just turned 17, picked up the ball and dribbled to the edge of the area with three men in black chasing him. He then played an excellent through ball that evaded the remaining two defenders and just in front of Vaughan and in space. However, the former Birmingham striker was closed down superbly by Doyle and opted to go for his near post. With clear cut chances really coming at a premium in recent outings (for Bury in general), the 22-goal hitman must make the most of what comes his way if relegation is to be averted.

Leigh was again very positive and managed to maintain his balance in a battle with Marshall by the corner flag; he cut the back ball to Mellis who struck it well but a yard or so wide of the post. The Lancashire outfit were passing the ball crisply but were consistently let down by the final decision or pass, with the midfield line often stretched beyond breaking point when Bradford regained possession. From one such passage, Jones laid the ball to Marshall in a two-on-two situation but his effort was beaten away by Murphy. The away side were well set up to play on the break and were making their hosts run hard in the hot weather for every lost ball.

Styles, perhaps under instruction from Clark, was getting further forward than in most of his appearances to date and opting to shoot more often; he skied an effort from the edge of the area with his first try, however.

Marshall stole the show by opening the scoring from a curling that was finessed into the corner. Meredith beat two defenders with some close control and recycled the ball to Wyke. Vincelot then spread the play to McMahon, who linked up well with his compatriot all afternoon long. He cut inside and with no-one coming to meet him, angled it past a statuesque Murphy to give the play-off contenders the advantage.

Miller’s first touch was shown once again to be his biggest weakness when even a half-decent connection would’ve set him free for a direct run at goal. Styles was once again the architect of that move and received the ball again, this time an on-target chance that Doyle did well to remove from more immediate danger.

Marshall had the beating of the defenders once more and another shot just inside the 18 yard box was saved by Murphy. More concerted pressure from Bury was the aim of substituting on Ryan Lowe for Moore in a purely tactical switch (which nevertheless always looks humiliating for a player who himself came on earlier). Leigh and McMahon were having a closely fought duel and this time the former Bantam won out, skipping past his man but his drilled cross was well defended at the near post by Rory McArdle. From the resultant throw-in, Scott Burgess, thrown on for Mellis in the last 10 minutes of the match, weakly shot on the turn and Doyle could breathe a sigh of relief.

Wyke sealed the victory for McCall’s charges with several minutes remaining. A slightly aimless header by Barnett inside his own half was won cleanly in a 50/50 battle by Josh Cullen. With gaps opening in front of him and to his left, he spread the ball to Jordie Hiwula (a previous tormentor of the Shakers this season in the Checkatrade Trophy). He cut back across the six yard area for Wyke to tap in. I can only guess Cameron Burgess wasn’t aware of Wyke’s presence because he was equally statuesque as Murphy was for Bradford’s opener.

Once more, the final whistle sounded and Bury were pointless. Two crucial derby games have now become even more intense events with almost all the pressure on the relegation threatened side to find a way to turn things around. Most fans have now identified that the main problem is the midfield – the balance is still incorrect and it’s hampering their endeavours in both boxes. Rochdale await on Thursday and a vast improvement in the area where their near neighbours are strongest will be the only way Bury will come out of it with any kind of positive result.

 

Bury vs Bradford City: Preview

Bury go into Saturday’s clash at Gigg Lane against play-off contenders Bradford City boosted by results on Tuesday after last week’s shellacking away to Oxford United threatened to dent to seriously dent their survival hopes. As it is, the Shakers still sit in 17th position but the gap is down to three points:

5 Games Left 17

The Bantams will of course do the Lancashire outfit no favours as they jockey for position at the top of the play-offs for the often crucial home advantage in their second leg tie (should they manage to maintain their decent run of form into the remaining five fixtures). Manager Stuart McCall, in his second spell in charge following Phil Parkinson being lured to Bolton before the campaign kicked off, has been nominated for the League One Manager of the Month award for March. He has also managed to consistently keep the claret and amber army in the top six since only the third game of the league season, which is testament both to his own skills, as well as that of his charges and being able to regularly choose the same players week in, week out; a ‘luxury’ no Bury boss has had for at least three years.

vs Bradford

Playmaker Callum Styles could return to the XI after his absence was keenly felt in the previous game. Craig Jones has trained for the past several weeks and is in with a shout of reclaiming his place in a role that is a more immediate fit for him than Taylor Moore. Moore could be left vying for a more central position with Leon Barnett and it is a toss-up as to who will ‘win’ that particular battle. Expect to see Cameron Burgess back from international duty with Australia and slotting back into the defensive five; he should be a more outwardly physical and assertive presence than the versatile Kean Bryan but the whole line looked shaky with the directness Oxford offered.

Bradford vs Bury

As for the visitors, both full backs are menacing for different reasons. The pace and willingness to get forward of James Meredith will keep Jones occupied all game long; the Australian left back has had an excellent 2016/2017 and beat off some serious competition to be named in the Team of the Season. On the right, the experience of Tony McMahon, coupled with his dead ball ability, will be just another threat to consider in a plethora of them in Bradford’s ranks. The duo of Nathaniel Knight-Percival and Rory McArdle will look to physically impose themselves in every possible situation; Romain Vincelot will sit just in front of them and is yet another player who relishes attrition in a Bury midfield three distinctly lacking in that department.

Mark Marshall is another winger with blistering speed and an eye for goal. His crossing ability will be the weapon of choice for striker Charlie Wyke, who has made the step up from the fourth tier with no shortage of ease after signing late in the January transfer window from then-promotion chasing Carlisle. Billy Clarke will cut in from the channels and must be watched carefully by both Barnett and Bury captain Antony Kay so that he doesn’t wreak havoc between the lines.

McCall has a number of tasty options from the bench to call upon: Nicky Law, who scored in the reverse fixture between the two sides, is recovering from a recent injury but could still play a part in deciding the outcome and has six league goals this campaign. Jordie Hiwula, another direct runner, is an excellent substitute against any tiring defence and has more than proven his worth during his loan spell from Huddersfield with a dozen in all competitions in his best season to date.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Bury will bounce back from the crushing disappointment against Oxford and the Bantams will run out 3-1 winners. Their physicality, coupled with their potency and dominance from corners and free kicks, will help to all but secure their play-off berth. The large travelling support will also give their men plenty of encouragement whilst there will be many nervous glances at smartphones for the white and blue faithful during the game. Exile Jr. is much more confident of a result, opting for a 2-0 victory for Bury. The two derby days are likely to go a very long way to deciding which tier the Shakers will be plying their trade in at the start of August and any potential setback from Saturday must be quickly forgotten about for them to be safe before the final day.