Another season of tumult is done and three months of more of the same are likely to await both Bury as a football club and its fans. The retained list is only the start of a massive rebuilding process Lee Clark, Alan Thompson, the board and the rest of the management and recruiting team will undertake to achieve Stewart Day’s stated aim of pushing for promotion by this time in 2018.
Of course, at the dawn of 2016/2017, David Flitcroft’s job was considered to be one of the safest in the EFL. Many column inches in the local press, airtime given on talkSPORT and BBC Radio Manchester and YouTube to the ‘special relationship’ he and Day enjoyed. The Shakers had of course a mixed campaign in 2015/2016, with a strong start that was halted by injuries, tactical naivety and inflexibility on the manager’s part, eventually finishing in
14th 16th after the decision to give Callum Styles a very early debut in his career backfired (through no fault of the player).
My own personal expectations were tempered by not adequately replacing Leon Clarke. The languid target man had largely carried the Shakers’ forward line but had departed to promotion favourites Sheffield United; Tom Pope had found goals at a premium and Nicky Clark, signed after his release by Glasgow Rangers, was untested in English football. All in all, I would have been happy by a repeat of the original finishing position, considering question marks were present in attack, whether Neil Danns could be the midfield dynamo Bury had required for years in an attacking 4-4-2 shape, not forgetting the lack of defensive cover for Greg Leigh.
Not much was expected from the first match of the campaign against recently relegated Charlton Athletic, but thanks to a Danns penalty and a rare goal from Kelvin Etuhu, Bury got their season off to a perfect start. They then made their customary first round exit in the EFL Cup away at Championship outfit Burton Albion after at least forcing the encounter to go to extra time.
A winless run of three games (which would look like an Indian summer not long afterwards) followed, with a stalemate at Coventry City bettering the previous trip to the Ricoh by six sandwiched between narrow defeats to Gillingham and local rivals Oldham Athletic, with Leon Barnett deflecting the ball into his own goal; the former other Latics centre back was only drafted into the XI after a late injury to Nathan Cameron in the warm-up put paid to him featuring for the rest of the season.
At this stage, the absence of someone to finish off the decent number of chances being created by wide players Danny Mayor and Zeli Ismail was causing Bury to stutter badly; in stepped James Vaughan on a free after he had his contract with Birmingham cancelled. His reputation, like several other signings made in the summer, was someone who had a lot of natural ability but a very spotty injury record, but this was to prove to be one gamble that spectacularly paid off almost immediately.
A trip to the Banks’s Stadium to face Walsall awaited Vaughan and his new teammates, but few would’ve foreseen what a topsy-turvy game was to be played out. The Saddlers were more than good value for their 3-0 lead at half-time, with teething problems in defence and the home side possessing players who enjoy playing between the lines. A tactical switch at the interval by the manager shifted momentum in the away side’s favour, with parity restored before the 70 minute mark and a debut strike for Vaughan to boot. Indeed, Flitcroft’s men were unlucky not to make the journey back up the M6 with all three points.
The change in format to the EFL Trophy placed Bury in a group with fellow League One side Bradford City, Stoke City ‘U23s’ from the Premier League and Morecambe from the tier below their hosts at the end of the month. The coastal Lancashire side were… swept away by their county compatriots, falling to a 4-1 reverse with a strong XI put out by Flitcroft in a bid to progress from their mini-league. 15 year-old centre back Emeka Obi came on as a late substitute and shortly after was the subject of a bidding war, with Liverpool the eventual winners of his signature.
Bury 2-0 Charlton Athletic Burton Albion 3-2 Bury (aet; EFL Cup) Gillingham 2-1 Bury Coventry City 0-0 Bury Bury 0-1 Oldham Athletic Walsall 3-3 Bury Bury 4-1 Morecambe (EFL Trophy) 14th, Played 5, Won 1, Drawn 2, Lost 2, For 6, Against 6, Points 5, GD 0 Top Scorer - Tom Pope (2 in all competitions)
Bury repeated the 4-1 scoreline just days later at home to Port Vale. Vaughan was already proving his credentials by this point, bagging a brace; the divisive Jacob Mellis scored one of the goals of the season and it would prove to be one of the few games that the Shakers truly dominated throughout.
Another win put the men in white and blue on an upward curve in a feisty encounter on and off the pitch with Shrewsbury Town, with both teams being reduced to 10. Vaughan received a second yellow in the first half for a very late challenge on ex-loanee Adam El-Abd, but the Egyptian centre back also received his marching orders for a ridiculous bodycheck on Mayor in a dangerous area of the field. With the scores level in the dying embers, the inside forward produced a remarkable turn and finish to claim all three points (it’s worth slowing down the video to truly appreciate the work he had to do).
A rare Hallam Hope double put paid to Swindon Town at the County Ground for another 2-1 triumph and a trio of them was secured with a draw on the cards after a great recovering tackle and cross by on-loan Tom Walker that found Pope perfectly.
I was then witness to a
slightly fortunate fifth win in a row, this time over MK Dons. Karl Robinson’s charges gave a good account of themselves but lacked a cutting edge, with the Shakers profiting on the counter for all three of their goals, enabling Flitcroft to claim the Manager of the Month award for racking up maximum points and second position. Two injuries in defence to Craig Jones and (nominally) his cover Niall Maher would come back to bite as the days got shorter…
Bury 4-1 Port Vale Bury 2-1 Shrewsbury Town Swindon Town 1-2 Bury Bury 2-1 Chesterfield MK Dons 1-3 Bury 2nd, Played 10, Won 6, Drawn 2, Lost 2, For 19, Against 11, Points 20, GD 8 Top Scorer - Tom Pope & James Vaughan (5 each in all competitions)
A tight but entertaining top-of-the-table clash at Gigg Lane against early pacesetters Scunthorpe United ended in the Irons’ favour; Tom Soares and Mellis collected their fifth yellow cards, putting him out of the televised game away at Peterborough United. Mellis picked up a knock during the second 2-1 defeat in the space of four days at Bradford in the EFL Trophy, leaving Bury without their first choice midfield pairing, who, up until that juncture, were performing remarkably well in unfamiliar box-to-box roles despite often being a man short against most other sides’ shapes.
Their absences were keenly felt at the ABAX Stadium. Despite another former Shakers loanee, Hayden White, giving the visitors the perfect start with an own goal from a low Ismail cross, the home side rallied and dictated the tempo of the game, especially once Pope was forced off after a rib-cracking aerial challenge from goalkeeper Luke McGee. That proved to be the first real evidence that without him as a focal point in attack, the ball would not stick and the opposition would quickly regain possession, a trend that would continue for many more matches.
Another woeful performance away to Rochdale was the nadir in a literally pointless month for Bury; disciplinary problems were beginning to show, with only nine men completing the game. Versatile Kean Bryan, who hadn’t put a foot wrong when called upon previously, then had both off the ground and wasn’t seen again until March after ironically suffering an injury in training whilst serving his suspension. Mellis also saw red late on for another poor tackle, which only highlighted his lack of ability in timing them correctly.
Flitcroft could count himself unlucky to lose to AFC Wimbledon the following Tuesday, however. An injury time winner by Jonathan Meades dealt another hammer blow to dwindling confidence amongst both players and fans that there was any chance of turning the corner and arresting the slide back down the standings.
Another televised game followed at home to local rivals Bolton Wanderers for the first league meeting in 17 years. The dour tie was settled by two penalties scored by the talented and… canny forward Zach Clough, who had a slice of fortune with both incidents but showed his composure to stroke the ball past Ben Williams on each occasion.
A sixth league defeat in a row was dished out at the Sixfields Stadium by Northampton Town. The Cobblers romped to a 3-0 lead at a canter; two late goals in reply were insufficient. However, the first consolation was also a first for George Miller at senior level and he would often be looked to on the subs bench to help change proceedings thereafter.
Bury 1-2 Scunthorpe United Bradford City 2-1 Bury (EFL Trophy) Peterborough United 3-1 Bury Rochdale 2-0 Bury Bury 1-2 AFC Wimbledon Bury 0-2 Bolton Wanderers Northampton Town 3-2 Bury 15th, Played 16, Won 6, Drawn 2, Lost 8, For 24, Against 25, Pts 20, GD -1 Top Scorer - Tom Pope & James Vaughan (5 each in all competitions)
The draw for the first round of the FA Cup pitted Bury against AFC Wimbledon, with the two clubs facing each other for the second time in a three-week span. The Shakers raced into a 2-0 lead by the half-hour mark, with Hope once again scoring a brace. The visitors roared back in the second period, and, with the men in white squandering numerous opportunities, ensured a replay would be necessary to progress to the next round in a very winnable trip on paper to Curzon Ashton.
Stoke City ‘U23s’ were the next opponents – the quote marks there are because the Potters’ equaliser came courtesy of a Peter Crouch knockdown to Bojan, which forced the game to a penalty shoot-out. Andrew Tutte and Danns missed Bury’s first two and gave the Premier League side two points for the win and one point for the visitors.
What I have termed ‘the week of thwackings’ commenced the following Saturday, with Southend the next side to profit from defensive indecisiveness and cut through the rearguard all too easily; 4-1 did not flatter Phil Brown’s men. The result marked the 10th game without a win and the pressure was really mounting from the sidelines on Flitcroft. My own personal opinion at the time was he had to rally his squad to at the very least a gutsy performance in the replay to still have my backing…
What followed was one of the most lacklustre displays in living memory for any fan, be they a stalwart or a newcomer. A 5-0 roasting, especially considering the financial incentives on offer to the club for progression, was unforgivable. That was the final straw for supporters and also Stewart Day, who reluctantly terminated Flitcroft’s contract and placed director of football operations Chris Brass and U18s manager Ryan Kidd in temporary charge.
The fixture computer had conspired to throw up a very swift return to the scene of Bury’s collective ‘crimes’ and with the change in management, there had to be some change on the field, right? Right? Well, Vaughan managed to score… with the Shakers already 4-0 at that point. Three of those AFC Wimbledon goals came in a nightmarish spell of just two minutes. I’d certainly picked another game I could see in person that I wouldn’t forget in a hurry. An unfit Barnett was at the centre of a lot of ire and Pope, who had managed to return extremely early from two broken ribs, had this damning assessment of how things were going after the game.
The daunting short trip to leaders Sheffield United followed quickly. The Blades dominated the ball from the first to last whistle but came up against a newly stubborn defence. Then, very deep into injury time, yet another one-time loanee, Ethan Ebanks-Landell, found a yard of space in the area to ensure that all the resolute efforts of the away side were in vain.
Bury then snatched defeat from the jaws of victory in the final game of the month against Millwall. Two Vaughan strikes had the home side well on course for a desperately needed three points, only for the collapse to start after Maher deliberately handled on the line to concede a penalty and receive a red card. The Lions’ relentless pressure kept building and with the game poised at 2-2 into the third minute of added on time, Aiden O’Brien popped up with the winner to compound matters.
Bury 2-2 AFC Wimbledon (FA Cup) Stoke City U23s 1-1 Bury (aet; Stoke won 4-3 on penalties; EFL Trophy) Bury 1-4 Southend United AFC Wimbledon 5-0 Bury (FA Cup replay) AFC Wimbledon 5-1 Bury Sheffield United 1-0 Bury Bury 2-3 Millwall 20th, Pld 20, Won 6, Drawn 2, Lost 12, For 28, Against 38, Pts 20, GD -10 Top Scorer - James Vaughan (9 in all competitions)
There was a significant gap until the next match for the Shakers, owing to the almost annual lack of participation in the second round of the FA Cup. As well as the form column at this point appearing as though someone had put a large weight on the ‘L’ key, the goals conceded column was increasing at an alarming rate.
The centre back situation in particular had reached a critical juncture, with 16 year-old Jacob Bedeau drafted in from the U18s midway through the Millwall game and making his full debut at the Memorial Stadium against Bristol Rovers in an odd and worrying pairing with Soares. Danns and Etuhu offered the youngster scant protection from a marauding Pirates midfield, with the former getting himself sent off in one of the stupidest ways possible, hitting James Clarke for no apparent reason. General fan opinion of Danns was brutal before the incident but turned positively mutinous afterwards.
The two small chinks of light from the 4-2 defeat were the goalscorers Scott Burgess and George Miller. Burgess had found opportunities severely limited under Flitcroft for whatever reason and I had hitherto concluded that his future in the game lay away from BL9. Under Brass and Kidd however, he was beginning to feature much more prominently and look like one of the better individual players in a side that had scarcely shown themselves to be a coherent unit in the losing run. The
fitter younger Miller was mostly being used as a late sub but had found the knack of being in the right place at the right time to score, which is half the battle for any forward.
Goalkeeper Ben Williams was also coming under a lot of scrutiny, with several mistakes damaging confidence in him and affecting his on-field rapport with his defence. He was dropped for the home match versus Oxford United, only to be witness to his replacement Paul Rachubka simply not dealing with the free kicks Michael Appleton’s men won in advanced areas. Bury let another lead slip and the 12th straight league defeat was sealed when the hapless Leigh turned a low cross into his own net.
The Christmas period is historically not a time of good tidings on the pitch for the Shakers with trips to Fleetwood Town and Bradford appearing to be written off as numbers 13 and 14 on the long run, especially considering that no team in League One up to that point had prevented the Cod Army from scoring and Valley Parade always enjoying a large contingent of support and a partisan atmosphere.
Remarkably, both encounters ended in draws 0-0 and 1-1 respectively. Rob Lainton had been brought back to the club just prior to the short drive to Highbury Stadium but in truth, had little to do as Uwe Rösler’s players couldn’t find a consistent way through the backline, with Bedeau acquitting himself well alongside captain Antony Kay (another senior player who had received a barrage of criticism since joining).
The match on the 30th was a more entertaining affair, which had probably my favourite assist of the season from Pope’s hold-up play and pass to Burgess was matched by his finish. Nicky Law deservedly gave the Bantams a share of the spoils with a fierce shot just outside the area in the second half but a modicum of pride was restored for the fight and at time skill Bury had displayed in the pair of fixtures. One of the chief architects in the mini revival was Callum Styles, who held his own admirably by coming into a high pressure environment and arguably showing up several of his peers with his early performances. Remarkably, they still found themselves just outside the relegation zone as 2016 segued into the new year.
Bristol Rovers 4-2 Bury Bury 2-3 Oxford United Fleetwood Town 0-0 Bury Bradford City 1-1 Bury 20th, Pld 24, Won 6, Drawn 4, Lost 14, For 33, Against 46, Pts 22, GD -13 Top Scorer - James Vaughan (10 in all competitions)
The transfer window reopened and Brass wasted little time in making a move, signing winger Jack Mackreth from National League outfit Macclesfield Town. He could scarcely have asked for a tougher debut with league leaders Sheffield United his first opposition in the third tier. An excellent goal from a shot outside of the area by Mellis was as good as it got for the Shakers and the constant pressure from the Blades was too much in the end.
Two more players were added to the ranks: Reece Brown was re-signed on a short-term contract until the end of the campaign and the problem right back area appeared to be resolved with the loan signing of Taylor Moore from Bristol City.
Scunthorpe were next on January’s fixture list and it was little surprise that Stephen Dawson ran the show (in more ways than one), physically dominating Styles in midfield and finishing expertly after a long dribble for the hosts’ second. He also displayed his propensity to be in the referee’s ear constantly and appeared to be a big influence in persuading the officials to allow Josh Morris’ free kick for the Irons’ third to stand.*
(*Unfortunately, you need to have a PlayerHD/iFollow subscription to see the full incident).
Brass sought a more combative centre back in the prolonged absences of Cameron and Barnett and found his man in the imposing shape of Cameron Burgess on loan from Fulham. His first outing in the white shirt was a thrilling goalfest against Peterborough, with Bury rallying from conceding in the opening minutes to claim all three points after going a goal down for the first time all season long (and win for the first time since September). The centre stage belonged completely to Vaughan, however. The former Evertonian had been quietly impressive considering he was often bereft of service and isolated with Pope but on this occasion, he burst into life with a barely believable four goal haul in just 20 minutes. Both teams had further good chances of their own and in truth, the margin of victory flattered the home side a little but you wouldn’t find anyone associated with the club who cared.
It was vitally important to continue the long-awaited return to winning ways and a match against Port Vale was certainly a presentable opportunity to do just that, with the Valiants similarly floundering at the foot of the table. Despite Vaughan taking his tally to six from just two games, Bury had to settle for a draw, coming back twice to claim a point but there was more than a tinge of disappointment that it wasn’t the maximum.
By the time the Walsall game rolled around, another very familiar face had returned to the fold. Veteran striker Ryan Lowe signed for a third time, combining coaching duties with his playing ones. He was joined surprisingly by Jermaine Pennant, who had a storied career of his own and many fans were skeptic as to what he could add after a long period outside of the English game, having once been at the very top of it.
For the only time in Bury’s entire professional league history, both games against the same opponents ended 3-3. On this occasion, it was Brass’ charges that had a comfortable lead, only to once again surrender it in a short flurry. With the clock ticking, Tom Soares equalised in his last appearance before signing for AFC Wimbledon on deadline day.
Bedeau also left after protracted negotiations, joining Aston Villa for the second highest transfer fee ever received by the club. The much-maligned Danns departed temporarily to Blackpool to aid their play-off push in League Two.
Further cover was added to the defence in the shapes of Sylvain Deslandes at left back from Wolves and centre back Tom Beadling from Sunderland in order to provide much-needed competition for places in an underperforming side.
Experienced goalkeeper Joe Murphy was brought in two days prior from Huddersfield Town with the first team squad now ‘boasting’ four contenders for the gloves in between the sticks.
Bury 1-3 Sheffield United Scunthorpe United 3-2 Bury Bury 5-1 Peterborough United Port Vale 2-2 Bury Bury 3-3 Walsall 21st, Pld 29, Won 7, Drawn 6, Lost 16, For 46, Against 58, Pts 27, GD -11 Top Scorer - James Vaughan (17 in all competitions)
It was at this point that I decided to start my own blog. I needed something to focus my mind on other than some very difficult personal circumstances and I couldn’t see any others out there solely dedicated to writing about the club. That you are reading this is hopefully proof that my choice was a good one!
What was mostly considered an underwhelming transfer window by fans was brought into sharp focus by the midfield’s collective showing in a 2-1 reverse at Shrewsbury. A late Mellis consolation was not was required against another relegation rival with the defence once again not coping with runners from midfield.
It was perhaps this more than any other factor that prompted Brass’ more pragmatic approach, adding an extra centre back for greater solidity from thereon. The home fixture against Swindon had both sides employing similar systems but it was Bury that narrowly won the game with a very softly won penalty converted by Vaughan proving decisive.
Pragmatism was once again the main talking point in a terribly dull stalemate against MK Dons. The balance between fewer risks being taken and ensuring no space was found in the defensive line was a little too skewed towards the latter. There cannot be much doubt that Brass had at least righted some of the (many) wrongs of the season and whilst it wasn’t too great a surprise that someone more permanent was brought in… but the timing and the man himself was. Lee Clark arrived with a reputation for honesty and passion but also one of overseeing a high turnover of players and a heavy reliance on the loan system to supplement his squad. Of course, a large portion of that remains to be seen…
His first game in charge was another ‘six-pointer’ away to Chesterfield. A rare mistake from Cameron Burgess allowed the Spireites the lead and Lowe was fortunate his missed chances, especially from the spot, weren’t too costly. Tutte, who had flitted in and out of the matchday squad in another season dogged by lengthy injury lay-offs, scored a long-range screamer that levelled matters (and would later be voted Goal of 2016/2017 by supporters). George Miller displayed persistence in forcing goalkeeper Thorsten Stuckmann into a bad first touch, allowing the young striker to poach the ball off his toe and nick the winner at the death to ensure Clark started his stint in the dugout with a precious three points.
I then took the short train to London the following week to see Bury withstand concerted pressure from Charlton to complete the double over them. Lowe atoned for his last match in the best way possible with a cool finish after the Addicks failed to clear their lines three times. The relatively new shape of the defence appeared to have the right balance and the midfield had a good mixture of creativity and pressing during certain periods of the encounter, with the signing of free agent Paul Caddis adding experience and he did well considering his lack of gametime at Birmingham for several months.
The winning streak stretched to three after the Shakers held off a spirited Coventry fightback to be the victors and put clear daylight between themselves and the bottom four.
Shrewsbury Town 2-1 Bury Bury 1-0 Swindon Town Bury 0-0 MK Dons Charlton Athletic 0-1 Bury Bury 2-1 Coventry City 18th, Pld 35, Won 11, Drawn 7, Lost 17, For 53, Against 62, Pts 40, GD -9 Top Scorer - James Vaughan (19 in all competitions)
Shot and possession dominance were for once in Bury’s favour in 2016/2017 at home to Gillingham but even Vaughan’s spectacular overhead kick wasn’t enough to claim a point as the Kent outfit demonstrated the clichéd art of ‘playing poorly but taking your chances’.
Another goalless display in a local derby seemingly played on a beach at Oldham was a result that neither side would’ve wanted going into the game with the hosts at Boundary Park keeping Vaughan at arm’s length and having the greater number of chances.
Stuart Sinclair’s ‘double dive’ swung an end-to-end affair at Gigg Lane heavily in favour of the Shakers, who also benefitted from a(nother) kind decision from the referee to award a penalty after the steadily improving Greg Leigh went down easily in the area. The 3-0 scoreline was again not a completely fair representation of the game, with the Pirates giving more than a good account of themselves despite being a man short for the majority.
The two subsequent matches were goalless affairs, with Millwall unsurprisingly bossing the tempo at the Den and Bury edging it against Fleetwood back in Lancashire.
The four shutouts in a row were testament to a well-drilled defence, with Barnett looking much more solid since slotting into the back five and the combination of a vocal Murphy and Kay marshalling and organising in a highly competent manner. It was for that reason that it was a bit of a mystery why the shape was drastically altered for the rearranged Tuesday night game at the Kassam Stadium, with EFL finalists Oxford routing Bury 5-1 in a display out of character under Clark.
The individual ‘performance’ (in the loosest possible sense) of Pennant epitomised just why fans at lower league clubs are cynical about players who drop down the steps from the Premier League, with a gutless, lazy outing that helped horribly expose the outnumbered defenders and undermined the solid platform the club had built up over the month. Lowe’s horror tackle on Marvin Johnson, borne from frustration, was reckless and he set a poor example to his teammates with his ‘challenge’ when experienced and cool heads were required.
Bury 1-2 Gillingham Oldham Athletic 0-0 Bury Bury 3-0 Bristol Rovers Millwall 0-0 Bury Bury 0-0 Fleetwood Town Oxford United 5-1 Bury 18th, Pld 41, Won 12, Drawn 10, Lost 19, For 58, Against 69, Pts 46, GD -11 Top Scorer - James Vaughan (22 in all competitions)
Bury headed into the final month of the season with a difficult five games on paper to negotiate to ensure safety was achieved. They had a longer break between the Oxford and Bradford games than usual but it didn’t appear to have brought any benefit to them as a listless showing afforded the Bantams a comfortable 2-0 win on their quest to tighten their grip on their play-off position.
Both Easter fixtures were moved days on police advice, so the derby between the Shakers and Dale was contested on a Thursday. Clark again experimented with the midfield shape (in a narrow diamond) but it’s reasonable to say that it didn’t have the desired effect. A very rare error from Murphy from a Callum Camps free kick gave the away side the boost they needed to chase the top six whilst plunging their near neighbours back into serious trouble.
Indeed, such were the poor individual and collective displays from the midfield that none of them were even in the XVIII that made the hop to the Macron the following Tuesday. Phil Parkinson’s men had the bulk of possession but found their opponents resolute, badly damaging their slim chances of catching Sheffield United at the very top and the ‘replacements’ in the engine room sticking doggedly to the task and numerous threats from the Trotters’ lineup.
Spirited as the display was, the chronic shortage of created chances and goals were a big concern with only two games remaining. Thankfully, with Northampton’s own status assured, Bury took full advantage and ran out 3-0 winners. Nathan Cameron made a very welcome cameo from the bench after being out of action for eight months and Vaughan took his tally to 24 for the campaign, second in the top goalscorer charts in League One only to Billy Sharp. All eyes then shifted to Port Vale’s rearranged trip to Walsall in the final gameweek of the season. Another Shakers old boy, Chris Eagles, made certain that it would go down to the wire between the two sides and Gillingham.
None of the trio could muster a single goal between them, condemning caretaker manager Michael Brown’s team to League Two. Bury seemed to strangely lack any urgency against Southend, who were cruelly denied the last play-off place by Millwall’s thrilling 4-3 win over Bristol Rovers. The remit had been achieved by Clark by a single point.
Bury 0-2 Bradford City Bury 0-1 Rochdale Bolton Wanderers 0-0 Bury Bury 3-0 Northampton Town Southend United 1-0 Bury 19th, Pld 46, Won 13, Drawn 11, Lost 22, For 61, Against 73, Pts 50, GD -12 Top Scorer - James Vaughan (24 in all competitions)
Overall Assessment of the Season
Even by Bury’s own standards, 2016/2017 will go down as a very strange campaign with undoubtedly many more lows than highs. As I stated at the start of this blogpost, my own expectations were, I thought, relatively conservative. The number of injuries were one of the two biggest reasons why things started going so wrong so quickly; the finger of blame rests squarely on David Flitcroft for failing to demonstrate his ability to arrest another slide and come up with an adequate Plan B.
To an extent, the attacking talents of Danny Mayor, Zeli Ismail and James Vaughan (ably assisted by Tom Pope) papered over the cracks in midfield especially that had not had adequate attention given to them in the close season. The retained list and Lee Clark’s own philosophy are not massively dissimilar to Flitcroft’s and he will need to succeed where his permanent predecessor failed. On current evidence, he achieved what he was tasked with and credit must also go to Chris Brass for eventually finding a formula that would keep the club in League One. It is remarkable that a side that lost 12 straight games and went 16 without a win is still in the third tier and such barren spells cannot be allowed to happen again.
It is likely that this close season will be another hive of activity; youth products George Miller (with eight goals in his first full senior year) and playmaker Callum Styles will doubtlessly attract interest from larger clubs, as will several of the current U16s and U18s. Vaughan’s all-round talents, coupled with his largely injury-free season, will severely test the board’s resolve to keep hold of him.
The return to fitness of Mayor, Ismail and Cameron (and keeping them that way) will be vital to next season’s fortunes. Clark is more than willing to give young players a chance, so we will see if he sticks to his word and bucks his trend at other teams he has managed up until now. I am cautiously optimistic that things will improve but not to the degree that chairman Stewart Day is; he believes Bury can clinch promotion in the final year of his plan when he took over the football club of playing in the Championship. Much will depend on who Clark can persuade to join, flexibility in strategy and how training methods are changed to prevent the biblical scale of injuries suffered in 2016/2017.
In my next article, I will run the rule over the remaining players at the club.