Last Friday, this season’s retained list was released by the club. I made my prediction on what it would be on the largest unofficial Bury message board as per below:
The reality is largely in line with my forecast; in previous years, it’s been wildly different. Listening to Lee Clark’s rhetoric since being appointed manager, it has come as little surprise that so many have been released and whilst you could argue that 17 have still been retained from the first team playing squad, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they will all still be there come the opening weekend in August, especially in one or two specific cases.
It is also a mistake to assume that because a player has been released, it means that they’re not good enough. There are countless reasons why a manager/director of football chooses to take this action, including a different tactical approach, personality clash, player unhappiness, a player’s salary being too high or having a release clause in their contract in the event of relegation or another criteria not being achieved and so on.
As I set out in my previous post, I will now try to assess why the 11 who are being let go and then the six loanees who have returned to their parent clubs. For each one and in future squad reviews, I will state what their principal or most used role was at Bury/their previous club and where possible, what I believe their best role to be based on my own opinion from observing them during matches:
Anthony Dudley, 20
Principal role: Advanced Forward
Exile’s ‘Best’ role: Inside Forward
2016/2017 Bury stats (all competitions): 180 minutes played, 2 starts, 4 sub appearances; 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 hockey passes.
Assessment: A player who undoubtedly performed well at U18 level, Dudley is another who has found the step up to professional football difficult despite high hopes being placed on him. His chances have been scant but he has witnessed both George Miller and Rob Harker move ahead of him and they are significantly younger. Successful loan spells at fifth tier sides Guiseley and Macclesfield have indicated that he has a future in the sport and it would be hasty to write him off completely just yet. Expect the Silkmen to make a move for him in the coming weeks.
Kelvin Etuhu, 28
Principal role: Central Midfielder
Exile’s ‘Best’ role: Ball-Winning Midfielder
2016/2017 Bury stats (all competitions): 1,369 minutes played, 13 starts, 9 sub appearances; 2 goals, 0 assists, 1 hockey pass.
Assessment: Not achieved the level of consistency required to continue his time at Gigg Lane in the third tier. There have been purple patches where he has been deployed to great effect as a shield in front of the defence (when it was a back four) and even popped up with the odd goal or two. One of many utilised too quickly in wildly different roles as the season progressed. Hampered by injury and, after Clark’s arrival, out of favour even when fit and the team setup was crying out for some protection in midfield.
Hallam Hope, 23
Principal role: Defensive Winger
Exile’s ‘Best’ role: Deep Lying Forward
2016/2017 Bury stats (all competitions): 2,091 minutes played, 22 starts, 17 sub appearances; 5 goals, 3 assists, 2 hockey passes.
Assessment: Hasn’t progressed on the pitch since signing permanently after two loan spells from Everton. There is no questioning the level of effort he puts into every performance but the end product is sadly not there and his endeavours are often curtailed by a poor first touch. Too often, his anticipation let him down when a more predatory instinct in the penalty area was required on the occasions he found himself in such positions. Previous manager David Flitcroft often placed him in a wide left role where his endless running helped out Greg Leigh early in the season but not much was forthcoming from an attacking point of view. A return to Carlisle might be in the offing, especially if their play-off bid falls short later this month.
Jacob Mellis, 26
Principal Role: Central Midfielder
Exile’s ‘Best’ role: Roaming Playmaker
2016/2017 Bury stats (all competitions): 3,210 minutes played, 36 starts, 5 sub appearances; 3 goals, 6 assists, 4 hockey passes.
Assessment: The most divisive individual on this list in terms of whether he should have been offered new terms to stay at Gigg Lane. Recovered from a generally poor first season at the club in 2015/2016 to form a brief but potent ‘box-to-box’ midfield partnership with Tom Soares, whose rhythm once broken up through injury and suspension was never quite the same. Almost always proved to be more effective as the spearhead of a three-man midfield as his penchant for not tracking back and rash tackles rankled many fans’ perceptions of him.
When at his best, he was the sole player (besides Callum Styles later on in the campaign) capable of creating something out of nothing from the middle of the park. Often attempted through balls, which were his calling card and when they came off, they were reminders of why he once played at a higher level. Playmakers often drift in and out of matches if their creative outlets are thin on the ground and Mellis was no exception to that. Beguiling and frustrating in equal measure, his release comes at a pivotal point in his career and also could serve as an indication of how Bury will set up for their Plan A in 2017/2018. I don’t think he will have a problem in finding a new club but he must work on his discipline and be used correctly by his new manager if he is to prove Lee Clark definitively wrong for releasing him.
Niall Maher, 21
Principal Role: Limited Centre Back
Exile’s ‘Best’ role: Limited Full Back
2016/2017 Bury stats (all competitions): 1,422 minutes played, 16 starts, 6 sub appearances; 1 goal, 0 assists, 0 hockey passes.
Assessment: He will be remembered for two things in years to come whilst in Bury colours: firstly, being the only player to score a direct free kick for the Shakers in the entire season. Secondly, for harshly conceding a penalty in the televised game against Bolton (as shown in the photo above). Ostensibly signed to provide cover initially, he was thrust into the first team picture by a defensive injury crisis and suffered a baptism of fire, where every mistake he made seemed to cost goals and points.
As with Nathan Cameron in his inaugural season several years ago, it is clear to me that there is a ‘player’ in there and with the right kind of coaching (especially with regards to defensive positioning), his abilities will come to the fore. Asked to slot in to too many roles and positions too quickly, he is nevertheless comfortable on the ball and a threat down the flank. He might have to drop down to come back up but in my view, he could still have a long-term future in the game.
Rob Lainton, 27
2016/2017 Bury stats (all competitions): 630 minutes played, 7 starts, 0 sub appearances; 12 goals conceded, 1 clean sheet; 0 assists, 0 hockey passes.
Assessment: The first of two players on this list to be released at the end of the previous season, only to be re-signed under Chris Brass’ temporary management. Impressive on his second debut to keep Fleetwood at bay (a turning point after a wretched, record-breaking losing run), he nevertheless lost his place to Joe Murphy when the Irish stopper from Huddersfield initially arrived on loan in January. Shot stopping has never been in question but there are persistent doubts about his temperament, which is equally important as ability in professional sport.
Propensity to be statuesque from long distance drives has decreased since his first stints in 2013 but hasn’t been able to achieve the high level of consistency required of a goalkeeper in the third tier. Emergency loan to Cheltenham earned him favourable reviews from Robins’ fans despite conceding three; long-term future could be at stake this summer and he needs to find a club that will invest their resources into making him their #1 and keeping him there through positive reinforcement.
Reece Brown, 25
Principal Role: Anchor Man
Exile’s ‘Best’ role: Anchor Man
2016/2017 Bury stats (all competitions): 586 minutes played, 7 starts, 0 sub appearances; 1 goal, 1 assist, 0 hockey passes.
Assessment: Another mixed bag for the much younger brother of Wes and the second of two on this list to be re-signed by Brass. It is my belief that football will (continue to) evolve to a state where almost all outfield players are utility men/women and he certainly embodies that now. Not quick enough to be a full back, his positional sense is best utilised in a deep-lying midfield role. Crumbled along with the rest of the midfield in a diamond shape against Rochdale, his legacy will be an indirect free kick goal that he didn’t mean. Competent, full of effort and carries himself in an understated manner.
Jermaine Pennant, 34
Principal Role: Roaming Playmaker
Exile’s ‘Best’ role: Winger
2016/2017 Bury stats (all competitions): 201 minutes played, 2 starts, 5 sub appearances; 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 hockey passes.
Assessment: The cynics who questioned his signing from day one were proven to be emphatically correct based on the limited evidence available. The only mitigating factor was being shoehorned into a more central role, where he seemed especially unsuited for, given the need for discipline, the ability to track back on the counter and be in positions to support team-mates and take the game to the opposition. His halcyon days are far behind him and had he been able to play in his more favoured role, Brass and subsequently Clark might have squeezed something productive out of him. The first half shambles against Oxford will continue to both give fans nightmares well into the foreseeable future and be a warning to Clark and chairman Stewart Day against signing players based on past glories and reputation rather than current (and potential) ability and effort.
Chris Brown, 32; Paul Rachubka, 35; Ishmael Miller, 30
2016/2017 Bury stats (all competitions) – Chris Brown: 0 minutes played, 0 starts, 0 sub appearances; 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 hockey passes.
2016/2017 Bury stats (all competitions) – Paul Rachubka: 90 minutes played, 1 start, 0 sub appearances; 3 goals conceded, 0 clean sheets; 0 goal, 1 assist, 0 hockey passes.
2016/2017 Bury stats (all competitions) – Ishmael Miller: 55 minutes played, 0 starts, 3 sub appearances; 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 hockey passes.
None of these three managed more than 90 minutes between them, so it’s difficult to really ‘assess’ any of them. In Chris Brown’s case, he was injured shortly after arriving and never even kicked a ball in training afterwards.
In Paul Rachubka’s case, the perennial substitute goalkeeper only signed for Bury because of Chris Kirkland needing time away from the game. His one appearance had him badly at fault for two of Oxford’s goals from set pieces but still managed to chalk up an assist of his own. He leaves the Shakers with only two senior goalkeepers on the books at present.
In Ishmael Miller’s case, the signing smacked of desperation by Flitcroft to bolster the one area of the pitch that really didn’t need it at the time. Out of shape and often injured (stop me if you’ve heard that sad, old refrain before), he made zero impact in his ephemeral time in Bury colours.
Cameron Burgess, 21 (Fulham)
Principal Role: Centre Back
Exile’s ‘Best’ role: Centre Back
2016/2017 Bury stats (all competitions): 1,620 minutes played, 18 starts, 0 sub appearances; 0 goals, 0 assists, 1 hockey pass.
Assessment: Spent the first half of the season at neighbours Oldham and whilst he was part of the meanest defences in the league, praise from their fans wasn’t exactly glowing. However, in a white shirt, he has barely put a foot wrong (with the exception of a mistimed header leading to Chesterfield’s goal in Clark’s first game in the dugout). His solidity and physicality were key additions to a defence that had lacked a bit from both columns in the prolonged absence of Nathan Cameron. Strong left foot provided much-needed balance to the back line and his positional sense helped Leigh feel more confident to bomb forward. With Fulham in the Championship play-offs and a one-year extension to his contract a possibility the Cottagers could look into, his immediate future is unclear. If he can improve his composure on the ball, the young Socceroo could eventually go to the highest level of the sport on merit and hopefully Bury can be a more permanent step on that journey.
Kean Bryan, 20 (Manchester City)
Principal Role: Ball-Winning Midfielder
Exile’s ‘Best’ role: Anchor Man
2016/2017 Bury stats (all competitions): 791 minutes played, 7 starts, 6 sub appearances; 0 goals, 0 assists, 1 hockey pass.
Assessment: Like Cameron Burgess, his presence helped bring balance to a squad bereft of natural left-footed players. Impressive when I saw him in person against MK Dons last September in a four-man defence that suffered two injuries in the same match, he kept his composure well. His horror tackle against Rochdale signalled a long hiatus, firstly through suspension and then injury. His eventual return wasn’t as promising but he was utilised in a number of different positions within quick succession. He needs a sustained run in a settled side next season but that is almost certainly not going to be with his parent club.
Tom Walker, 21 (Bolton Wanderers)
Principal Role: Winger
Exile’s ‘Best’ role: Winger (but slightly further forward)
2016/2017 Bury stats (all competitions): 611 minutes played, 4 starts, 11 sub appearances; 0 goals, 0 assists, 1 hockey pass.
Assessment: Signed on loan to provide competition for Danny Mayor, he is another in need of regular senior appearances at this point in his career. He did have two highlights in his limited outings: a superb recovering tackle and cross to Tom Pope to provide the winner in the dying embers of the home match against Chesterfield and his run and finish against Bradford in the EFL Trophy. Almost certain to be released by Bolton following their immediate return back to the second tier.
Taylor Moore, 19 (Bristol City)
Principal Role: Wing Back
Exile’s ‘Best’ role: Ball-playing Centre Back
2016/2017 Bury stats (all competitions): 1,574 minutes played, 18 starts, 1 sub appearance; 0 goals, 2 assists, 0 hockey passes.
Assessment: Tasked almost exclusively with playing an unfamiliar role, Moore acquitted himself very well. Oddly better at crossing with his left foot, he was mostly ineffective in the final third but understandably so given his preferred position and career thus far. Excellent with the ball at his feet and comes across very intelligently and eloquently during interviews, he needs to work on his left side and positioning in order to make the step up and claim a more permanent spot in Lee Johnson’s XI at Bristol City.
Tom Beadling, 21 (Sunderland)
Principal Role: Ball-playing Centre Back
Exile’s ‘Best’ role: Half Back
2016/2017 Bury stats (all competitions): 180 minutes played, 2 starts, 0 sub appearances; 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 hockey passes.
Assessment: Opportunities dented by a vastly improved defence during the latter days of Brass and then Clark, he performed admirably during captain Antony Kay’s suspension. His penchant for carrying the ball out from the back during admittedly limited viewing time suggests someone who could fulfill a role higher up the pitch and slot in as an auxiliary centre back if his side are under pressure. Like many of Sunderland’s younger players, he has not been given any chances at his parent club and the tumult surrounding the Black Cats at present after an early relegation to the Championship. A repeated refrain on these pages, he needs minutes in a competitive environment to help reach his potential.
Sylvain Deslandes, 20 (Wolverhampton Wanderers)
2016/2017 Bury stats (all competitions): 0 minutes played, 0 starts, 0 sub appearances; 0 goals, 0 assists, 0 hockey passes.
Assessment: Hmm. Not much can be said without a single minute on the pitch. Was his presence helpful in pushing Greg Leigh to greater heights because he had genuine competition on the left flank? It’s impossible to know for certain. All I hope is that it doesn’t dissuade Paul Lambert and Wolves from loaning their young players in the future as their academy is one of the better ones outside of the Premier League.
With the exceptions of Mellis and Hope, none of the contracted players featured in even half of the games in 2016/2017, with injuries continually decimating the squad. The aforementioned pair’s exit suggests a change of direction in how Bury will shape up during 2017/2018. Clark is known to favour two ‘box-to-box’ midfielders and two forwards, which limits the scope for playmakers in such a system and forwards who have been played as defensive wingers for extended periods of time and shorn of confidence. The two in the middle will need to emulate Soares and Mellis’ early season performances but on a more consistent, sustained basis if what I believe comes to fruition. Tsun Dai has been promoted from the youth team and as he can fulfill a number of roles throughout the centre of midfield well (and even on the right flank), his versatility is likely to be one of the main reasons why he and he alone from the second year scholars who didn’t feature for the first team has been retained.
Creativity is more likely to be sought from the wings and one of the strikers. With James Vaughan almost certain to leave for a bigger club, Tom Pope’s future uncertain, Ryan Lowe all but retired, Brown, I. Miller and Hope released (as well as mobile target man Nathan Turner from the U18s), the forward line is likely to undergo almost as big a shake-up as ‘the engine room’.
In my next blogpost, I will review the season month-by month and subsequent to that, look at the retained players (as well as the U18s likely to feature), assess their performances from 2016/2017 where possible and see how they can improve and also where they are likely to be used.