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:
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.
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.
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.