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.
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…