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.
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.
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.
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.
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.