Month: August 2017

Rochdale 0-0 Bury: Review

  • Joe Murphy’s distribution was poor throughout his time on the pitch. I thought that his early kicking foot ‘swap’ against Bristol Rovers was a temporary measure but perhaps his left foot has more lasting problems than originally envisaged. As a result, many balls went wayward for throw-ins or to a blue shirt where otherwise they would likely not have done. As for his red card, I believe the referee made the correct decision, even if he was only marginally outside of his area.

 

  • The late loan captures of Rohan Ince and Jordan Williams for Bury (announced on Friday), coupled with Nathan Cameron returning to the starting eleven, gave a vastly different complexion to the team. Phil Edwards’ holding midfield role played to his conservative strengths and simple passing game. Ince immediately gave the middle of the park the injection of dynamism it required in Stephen Dawson’s prolonged absence; nominally more defensive minded than the former Scunthorpe United captain, he got stuck in with some gusto, offering crunching challenges, decent skill on the ball and height, which is perhaps an overlooked attribute in the areas Lee Clark will want him to operate in.

 

  • Cameron gave the Shakers what he always has done since his on-field upturn in fortunes in 2014/2015: leadership from the back, awareness of where the gaps are and the pace to cover them and moreover, a comfortable posture on the ball, which allows him to turn with it in tight areas with confidence and shepherd it out of defence. Fatigue certainly crept in with the second period halfway through but that’s more than understandable, given that it was his first start in an entire year. The knee problems he has are unfortunately going to persist throughout his career (and life after hanging up his boots), which will restrict his training regimen and preclude him from participating in consecutive matches that fall close to each other in the fixture calendar.

 

  • I admit that I didn’t know anything about the Jordan Williams in a black shirt prior to his arrival at Carrington. On the evidence of Saturday’s match, he is more than comfortable playing senior football at 17 in an attacking right-back role, showing some good touches and combining a thrust going forwards with the necessary steel and positioning to keep the defensive shape when Rochdale did push up his flank.

 

  • Tsun Dai didn’t give the best account of his talents in a role which might have suited Callum Styles more (had he been on the bench). Tasked with linking the double-pivot in midfield with the front three, he found himself in good positions off-the-ball more often than on it and was well marshalled by Jamie Allen in particular. Callum Reilly, on his place early in the second half, fared little better in an attacking sense but he was only on for three minutes before Murphy was sent off.

 

  • Murphy’s replacement, Leo Fasan, acquitted himself well under the circumstances he was thrown into. Had Matty Done got the ball out of his feet when one-and-one, he might have worked the Italian custodian a little more decisively than he eventually managed and under pressure from Reilly, the follow-up from Ian Henderson was high over the crossbar.

 

  • Dale’s illnesses and injuries were clearly biting into their small squad and they were as poor as I can remember them (and even then, they had the better chances). Losing Kgosi Nthle with barely 20 minutes on the clock meant a switcharound in defence; Reece Brown came on in the right-back berth and he and Joe Rafferty swapped sides from time to time. The latter held Nicky Ajose at arm’s length throughout proceedings and only enhanced his burgeoning reputation at the Crown Oil Arena. Brown should’ve been greatly troubled by the directness of Harry Bunn but in truth, the organisation on show from Jim McNulty was excellent and they almost always kept their shape, rarely allowing him or Jermaine Beckford a pocket of space in between the centre backs or in the channels. Without Chris Maguire or Jay O’Shea, Bunn carries most of the creative burden on his shoulders and needs to show much more often that he is up to the task.

 

  • Beckford’s pressing in the first half deserved more support from his teammates. On several occasions, he forced McNulty and Harrison McGahey into a rushed pass or won the ball back and could’ve profited from the wide men or Dai anticipating this and taking a little more of a risk. He cut an understandably isolated figure once more during the second period as Keith Hill elected to bring forward their defensive line and trap the Shakers in their own half. With only Ajose, Maguire and player-coach Ryan Lowe on the books who can comfortably play as an out-and-out striker (now that Chris Sang has joined Southport on loan), I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see yet another player come in before the deadline has passed.

 

  • Ryan Cooney had little time to demonstrate his ability but his late cameo on for Edwards is another endorsement of the academy at the club; versatile enough to play anywhere in midfield and defence, he is likely to be called upon from the bench this season primarily but will be someone who Clark can utilise in many different contexts of a football match.

 

  • The overall spectacle was bereft of real quality, much goalmouth action and perhaps some of the intensity witnessed in prior derbies. The visitors being a man light and favouring caution over a more cavalier approach (unsurprising given that they had conceded seven in the last two games). August hasn’t been kind to either side in terms of both results and performances and decidedly tough games await both south Lancashire outfits in September with key personnel still out.
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Rochdale vs Bury: Preview

Expectations are extremely low from both sets of supporters for the first of three derby matches between the two sides (the EFL Trophy game in September sandwiches the two league encounters). On the surface, it’s very easy to see why this is the case. At Rochdale, Keith Hill quietly talked up his squad in pre-season, fully cognisant that the Spotland outfit would once again go under the radar when pundits and third tier enthusiasts alike were forming their predictions for how 2017/2018 would pan out. In contrast, Lee Clark’s Bury had plenty of bombast and media attention in the summer months, making many eyebrow-raising signings and seeing their odds drop for promotion significantly as a result.

The opening fixtures have neither yielded the performances nor points either manager would’ve wanted at this juncture. The men in blue and black had a difficult opening day down on the south coast, falling to a buoyant Portsmouth side 2-0. They followed this up by escaping from Mansfield with a slim victory to put them in the second round of the EFL Cup and did so a player light after Keith Keane’s red card. A highly creditable 1-1 tie with Scunthorpe United segued into a very disappointing 3-2 reverse at Shrewsbury Town, with a multitude of penalties deciding the outcome. A largely expected 4-0 hammering at the hands of Stoke City on Wednesday night brought their foray into the secondary cup competition to a close but there was no shame in losing to an extremely strong Potters’ XI. Of more concern is their defensive shakiness and an attack whilst boasting the likes of Ian Henderson, Matty Done and Steve Davies, still hasn’t quite clicked yet, particularly in open play.

Events at Gigg Lane have been little better and the problems are similar to their neighbours on the pitch but have been felt much more acutely in midfield, which was plain for all to witness during the sorry display last time out against Bristol Rovers. With the days available to Clark to make a move in the transfer window ticking down, no ‘replacement’ for Stephen Dawson has yet been obtained, nor a strategy to ameliorate his loss to the team.

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Akin to Clark at the moment, the lineup Hill will employ is anyone’s guess. What is likely however is that Callum Camps will be entirely absent from the matchday squad. The injury he sustained in the first half against Shrewsbury precluded him from both the cup fixture and being part of the Northern Ireland national team squad for their forthcoming qualifiers for Russia 2018.

Brendan Moore, a summer signing from Torquay United, could continue to deputise in goal should Josh Lillis not make it. His time deputising for the more experienced custodian has garnered mixed reviews from Dale fans to date but he had a big say in keeping them in the game against the Shropshire side and keeping the scoreline respectable against more vaunted opposition at the bet365 Stadium as his shot-stopping ability was sternly tested all night long.

In front of him, the pairing of Jim McNulty and Harrison McGahey have not started the campaign well. The former Shaker has been so poor that the contract extension he signed in May has been called into serious question already in some quarters. McGahey has fared little better, often looking hesitant. They have not been aided by Kgosi Ntlhe on the left flank, so expect to see the attacking stylings of Joe Bunney in his place, subject to fitness. Only Joe Rafferty has emerged with some credit thus far and he will have his credentials under the microscope more than most of the teamlines if he is pitted against Harry Bunn.

In midfield, the aforementioned Keane has already been suspended once this season and is prone to making rash challenges on the counter. His inclusion in the lineup is another bone of contention in the nascent campaign but if he maintains his discipline, he can be an excellent shield in front of a decidedly infirm back four. Shorn of Camps, Ollie Rathbone or Andy Cannon will be part of the more attack-minded element in the middle of the park with Jamie Allen. Their runs will be crucial in linking the threatening trio in attack with the rest of the side and all of them are more than capable of dictating the tempo of the encounter and keeping Bury on the back foot.

The permanent capture of Done gives them both excellent verticality and width. He should seek to exploit any uncertainty and unfamiliarity in the Shakers’ backline and keep the unit deeper than Clark would like them to be. Henderson is excellent at laying on chances for his teammates and profiting from them himself and is sure to keep the centre backs occupied. Davies is a canny striker and will seek to make the most of any crosses the full backs or Done manage to make.

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At this stage, it’s a crapshoot as to who will partner Tom Aldred in the heart of defence; Alex Whitmore’s reputation wasn’t damaged last time out but he could still be the victim of Adam Thompson being restored to the lineup or Alex Bruce shifting into his favoured role. Phil Edwards will make his debut at right back; a more physical, conservative player than the (yet again) injured Craig Jones, keeping Done at bay will require his concentration to be at its peak throughout.

Bruce could of course still be chosen in a defensive midfield position to more directly combat the attacking posture of Rochdale’s 4-3-3. Sticking close to Callum Reilly in possession will be vital to avoid any further chasms opening up in the middle. Bunn and a possibly fit again Chris Maguire might need to be involved in more phases of play than they would normally like to prevent Bury from being penned in and outnumbered in the engine room. The former Oxford forward could find a lot of joy attacking down the right if he can catch Bunney upfield and out of position or by getting in between Ntlhe and McNulty, the latter of whom has a tendency to cover a wide area on the left of his defence.

Nicky Ajose must also be much more prominent in the match and take heart from opening his account during his third loan spell at the club last weekend. That will require support from Reilly and the ‘wide’ midfielders who will act more as inside forwards if they are afforded the space by Dale. Jermaine Beckford is also in dire need of reinforcements when the ball is won back in favourable areas. He should get more change out of McGahey than he did against Tom Lockyer.

As for a prediction, you might have read my piece over on AFC Rochdale.com, which as well as giving you more of an insight into my history as a Bury fan, also states that the home side will run out 3-1 victors. The thing you always have to remember about a side under Keith Hill is that he always seems to set them up very well against the Shakers and they rarely concede, let alone lose, regardless of their run of form prior to the derby. The absence of Camps and Stephen Dawson from the game puts a different complexion on the battle in midfield and it could come down to which defence cracks first… and both haven’t exactly been bulwarks thus far. The extra movement and overall balance in midfield the hosts will have on the field will in my view swing things in their favour. It’s up to Clark to prove me wrong and end a wretched third tier record against the team seven miles down the road.

Bury 2-3 Bristol Rovers: Review

  • Billy Bodin was a cut above every other played who featured in the five-goal encounter. It is clear how important he is to Bristol Rovers as the threat he carries is dual: both aerially and with the ball at his feet. He bamboozled Bury’s backline on several occasions in the first half without any reward with his stepovers, quick feet and excellent close control. In the latter period, he got the brace his overall play deserved. The opening salvo was a dominant header from a curling cross on the right flank and the second showed his ability to turn inside the area whilst under close attention from Tom Aldred and wrongfoot Joe Murphy (albeit with a small deflection). On recent evidence, he is one of the best players plying their trade in the third tier.

 

  • The major issue confronting Lee Clark right now is that, regardless of formation, it is simply much too easy for the opposition to play almost freely in between the lines. Stephen Dawson’s absence only partially explains this phenomenon. Whilst the Shakers captain would certainly shore up the midfield from a more defensive aspect, it is also concerning to see the gap between the ‘unit’ and the forward line is so large. For me, that isn’t down principally to the personnel used in his stead but more the organisation of them.

 

  • Alex Whitmore had an odd game to say the least. At times, he looked the most assured presence in the central defensive three, turning well to free himself from pressure. On the other hand, the general left-sided weakness amongst the trio was plain for all to witness and the lack of control inadvertently led to the first goal when he allowed the ball to go over the byline for a corner kick. Nevertheless, the Burnley loanee doesn’t look out-of-place in the side, even if there is a question mark over his inclusion above that of Adam Thompson.

 

  • Jermaine Beckford once again cut a frustrated figure for almost the entire duration of the match. Bereft of real support from any source, he had to make do with scraps of scraps in an attempt to fashion chances of his own, which isn’t playing to his strengths. In Tom Lockyer and Ryan Sweeney, he received little in the way of favours and despite some histrionics and decisions on 50/50 challenges not being called as fouls by the Pirates, he has little cause for complaint in that regard. Elsewhere however, he has ample. Only with the tie well beyond Clark’s men did he receive anything like the quality in passing and reinforcement in numbers to make the best use of his talents.

 

  • Linking back to Dawson, the lack of concerted pressure on a black shirt from anyone in the Bury midfield was the key reason for the defeat. I lost count of the instances in which Chris Lines and Ollie Clarke in particular had yards of space on the ball in which to pick and choose passes and look for the runners ahead of them. Whilst you cannot expect the likes of Callum Reilly, Callum Styles or Tsun Dai to offer the same bite as the former Scunthorpe United dynamo, the least you can ask for is for them to make their opposite numbers feel their presence and harry them into a possible mistake so that possession might be won back. Without this being remedied, repeats of the last two performances are almost certain to take place.

 

  • What is Harry Bunn’s role supposed to be at this moment in time? Clark said in his scathing post-match interview that it was a midfield ‘five’ but it resembled a ‘two’ at most. The nonchalant way he meandered in the vague direction of Lee Partington for the right back’s cross for the second goal for the visitors will stick in the memories of the Shakers’ faithful, rightly or wrongly. On the ball, he gave Partington and the rest of his backline several stern examinations but he wasn’t on it enough, nor did he have sufficient support often, to cause real damage. He drifted in and out of the game and thus his effectiveness similarly waxed and waned.

 

  • Greg Leigh will continue to endear himself to the supporters with his displays… for the most part. You can never accuse the former Bradford City full-back of a lack of effort and desire; he got forward with no shortage of class on the odd occasion and always offered an outlet to Bunn or Dai. His first-time drilled cross earned him an early assist (and matches his total from 2016/2017 of one already). However, he was found badly wanting for the second and third goals the Lancashire outfit conceded. For the second, he wasn’t in the correct area to put a challenge in on subsitute Rory Gaffney or the Partington and for the third, the red-haired striker was goal-side of him and he failed to react to the alarming danger Bodin’s turn in the box entailed.

 

  • Callum Styles was substituted at half-time and, at first glance, it’s not difficult to see why. I totted up four awful balls that put his teammates immediately on the back foot. Having said that, he never shied away from looking for the ball and some of his craft might have yielded better results on another occasion. His give-and-goes were evidence of a player who wants to make a positive contribution to the side.

 

  • Darrell Clarke’s men were obviously instructed to make the most of quick set pieces in an effort to disrupt Bury and it often worked a treat. The ire was visible from the home dugout that the hosts weren’t doing the same as it allowed the visitors to appear more resolute and be in their positions ready for what was thrown at them.

 

  • Something that I noticed early on is that Joe Murphy seemed to do some damage either to his left ankle or the foot itself. The veteran custodian always normally uses his left foot to take both goal kicks and free kicks but switched to his right very early on. Subsequently, his distribution wasn’t up to his normal standards but the same could not be said of his shot-stopping; a handful of times, he rescued the outfielders with saves at his near post especially but was helpless for all three goals – Bodin’s second took a deflection and crept in. Clark must hope against hope that any pain he was suffering with in the course of proceedings is confined to it.

 

  • Whether by accident or design, both Craig Jones and Leigh kept clipping lofted balls down their flanks and it was puzzling to witness why. For a start, they made up almost the entire width of the XI, so there didn’t tend to be a recipient in a white shirt waiting for their ‘passes’ and it did nothing to relieve the pressure they came under – in fact, it just started the whole cycle again.

 

  • Lockyer’s header for the first goal was absolutely shambolic from a Bury perspective. One of the biggest threats Bristol Rovers possessed from a corner routine was left utterly free to nod home. It was so insipid that even after watching it back on more occasions than I’d like to freely admit, I’m still unsure whose task it was to mark him, zonally or otherwise.

 

  • Tsun Dai’s introduction at the start of the second half was a small positive. Far from looking out of his depth, he at least attempted to take the game to the other team, managed a modest amount of tackles (and won the ball cleanly) and had a big say in both late consolation goals from his corner and through pass to Leigh respectively. Don’t be surprised if he starts at Spotland on Saturday.

 

  • The Pirates’ second goal was almost as bad as the first. Whitmore was once more out of position (as was Leigh as I said above) and there was no pressure on the cross. Bodin effectively got goal-side of Chris Humphrey with a late run from deep and it didn’t appear as though the former Hibernian player knew of his presence.

 

  • The killer third goal, originating from another set piece, didn’t cover Aldred in much glory as he missed the header, allowing Bodin the time and space to turn and finish.

 

  • The belated reply from Beckford owed much to Dai’s delivery but also the former Preston North End striker getting in front of his marker and still managing to stoop to head it in despite being in a tussle. The stoppage time second consolation was one of the few times Bury got bodies forward and played a fast tempo; Leigh’s cross was in a dangerous area and Ajose was on hand to stroke it into the far corner.

 

  • Without doing the Pirates a disservice, I don’t think they needed to up their game in any sense to gain the victory and their first points of the campaign. 90th minute onwards aside, they dealt largely with the sporadic attacks the Shakers could muster, had a well-drilled midfield that, whilst lacking an anchor man, still hassled and cajoled their opposite numbers to regain possession. Elliott Harrison made some clever flick-ons and his burst of pace helped to keep them on the front foot for large swathes before his substitution. The duo of Liam Sercombe and Bodin ran the show from advanced areas and they will take some heart from their performance.

 

  • Back to the drawing board for Clark. Whatever the situation truly is with Andrew Tutte, it is obvious he isn’t being considered for selection. In his stead, he needs to go all-out for a ball-winner in the dwindling days of the transfer window and have them registered in time for the Rochdale derby. Alex Bruce, whose individual display can be charitably described as like an ice cream in the Gobi Desert, is unlikely to be the long-term solution in the engine room, even with greater fitness levels. Talent-wise, there isn’t a shortage in midfield for Bury, even with Dawson out of the picture. The problem is that the balance is still off and it should’ve been addressed long before the current situation arose. It’s not the only headache he has but his gambit has failed in the early going in 2017/2018.

Bury vs Bristol Rovers: Preview

Both the hosts and the visitors they welcome to Gigg Lane for tomorrow’s clash do so on the back of 4-1 defeats to Wigan Athletic and Peterborough United respectively. The heavy reverse at the Memorial Stadium against the Posh leaves Darrell Clarke’s men currently pointless after two matches and propping up the provisional League One table (although it must be reiterated that such a measurement at this stage is largely meaningless).

The problems the Pirates experienced during that game were twofold: firstly, individual mistakes at the back allowing the opposition’s front three in behind time and time again. Secondly, although they created some good openings, they didn’t take the chances which came their way at important stages, hitting the crossbar twice. It must also be said that their back four wasn’t helped by a lack of defensive midfield screen and it is an issue Bury also have in the absence of Stephen Dawson. Clarke has admitted that Bristol Rovers are still in the market for a specialist anchor and also a left-footed winger.

In contrast, the Shakers haven’t been able to conjure up much from open play thus far. Both goals garnered so far this season have been via set pieces from Chris Maguire and whilst that is now an excellent option to have that was most certainly absent from the previous campaign, they need to show more craft and movement in the final third.

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If Clarke opts to keep the same shape as last time out, the bulk of the natural width will come from the full-backs, particularly Lee Brown. Stuart Sinclair is better in narrower areas and will sit with Billy Bodin and Liam Sercombe without the ball and strategically look to get forward when they have possession, especially with Chris Lines’ eye for picking out a pass. Brown and Daniel Leadbitter will need to balance their willingness to join in with attacks with their defensive duties, as although Lines sits deeper than the rest of the midfield, he’s a playmaker in style and not the quickest at getting back. This could lead to situations where the defence are overloaded.

Further upfield, Bodin and Sercombe will be big threats behind the strikers and have already notched on three occasions between them in the EFL Cup and will be looking to translate that into the league. Expect them to play long diagonals to Ellis Harrison and Tom Nichols. The latter is renowned for his proclivity for poaching and will always look to position himself well for any second ball that comes his way.

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For the Lancashire outfit, Craig Jones is likely to retain his place at right-back for now. Phil Edwards should make the bench and an improvement from the Welshman is required. He is likely to come up against Brown most often but no direct winger… but that doesn’t mean he can rest easily as Bodin and Sercombe will look to either go beyond their own strikers or play them in between him and the closest centre back, Adam Thompson. Greg Leigh probably won’t win many aerial duels with Leadbitter and both possess plenty of pace, so their battle could resemble a game of cat-and-mouse.

Alex Bruce could once again be tasked with providing some protection for the back four and get the ball to Callum Reilly so that the latter can distribute it to the wide men. Harry Bunn needs to be more prominent and should have some joy when linking up with Chris Maguire. The onus is on the former Oxford United forward to feed Jermaine Beckford to prevent the talisman from cutting an isolated, frustrated figure once more. Zeli Ismail could start only his second match of 2017 on the opposite flank.

As for a prediction, it’s a hard one to call. Both managers will be looking for that oft-used ‘reaction after a heavy loss’ cliché. Neither XI have defended well from set pieces or dealt with opposition sides playing in between the lines thus far. For those reasons, I can’t envisage either team keeping a clean sheet in a 2-2 draw. There are question marks for the Pirates over goalkeeper Adam Smith’s first few displays and he should be put to the test more often than the Shakers have managed against any other side in the nascent term. On the other hand, the right balance has yet to be struck in the white and royal blue midfield and consequently, neither the attack nor the defence have been served well. The teething period is likely to continue for some time to come.

Wigan Athletic 4-1 Bury: Review

  • The absence of Andrew Tutte from the Bury matchday squad speaks volumes about his current status. Originally, I thought it must have been because he had succumbed to a knock sustained in the midweek customary EFL Cup first round exit against Sunderland but the reality is more damning for the Liverpudlian on two fronts: firstly, according to manager Lee Clark, he has “fallen down the pecking order behind Tsun Dai and Callum Styles”, both of whom, for all their skills, are not really in the same mould as Tutte’s ‘jack-of-all-trades’ style of central midfield play. Secondly, the signing of free agent Alex Bruce and thrusting him straight into the first XI is a further damning indictment. Couple this with the admission that three or four players could leave Gigg Lane before the end of the current transfer window and even with Stephen Dawson consigned to the sidelines until the Christmas period, Tutte’s future looks likely to be elsewhere.

 

  • Speaking of Bruce, he was tasked with largely combatting Wigan’s attacking midfield trio behind Ivan Toney by himself in an anchor man role. Whilst performing admirably in the first half (and taking his equaliser superbly), he was inevitably going to tire in the second 45 minute period. Dawson’s prolonged absence highlights a lack of a true replacement in his role. The former Hull City player is of course a tough tackler but is only a stop-gap in an area in need of dire attention before the month of August is over… and he’s currently only at the club on non-contract terms.

 

  • For the Latics’ opening goal, the defensive positioning by Craig Jones is insipid. For the second match in a row, he gets sucked in to where the ball is rather than the man he’s supposed to be marking, leaving a massive gap down his flank for Sunday’s hosts to attack. Michael Jacobs drifted inside from the left and wasn’t tracked by Jones until it was too late, getting on the end of a simple cutback from the supremely impressive Nick Powell. The level of movement and intricacy of play between Powell, Jacobs and Gavin Massey is something that should be keenly looked at by Clark and his coaching staff if they want to take the game to the opposition during most encounters. Their ability to do is was down in no small part to the solid ‘base’ further down the pitch…

 

  • Paul Cook changed tack after going in to the dressing room at half-time at level pegging, sensing that the ‘groups’ in midfield could press higher up the pitch. This had a twofold effect: firstly, it meant that there was always an extra man free (normally Sam Morsy) but beyond the halfway line, reducing the recovery time further for those in black shirts when possession was conceded. Secondly, it also meant that the space between Jermaine Beckford and his teammates became akin to a chasm as Clark’s charges had to commit more bodies to defensive duties in an attempt to punch back in the midfield battle. It worked a treat for the former Portsmouth boss and allowed them to dictate the tempo for the rest of the match. Powell was the beneficiary from Lee Evans’ deep cross and they often had at least three bodies in the area taking up good positions.

 

  • The lead-up to the penalty should ring alarm bells for Clark. The Latics were able to pass and move around the box with little in the way of defensive responsibility being taken to at least disrupt their flow, if not win the ball back. I’ve seen the incident for the penalty a few times and it’s hard to disagree with the referee’s decision; Adam Thompson’s needless heavy handling gave him little option and Powell’s spot-kick was coolness personified. By then, the match was over as a contest.

 

  • The fourth goal was an excellent long-range strike by Evans… but it was just unutterably easy for them to play between the rigid-looking lines the visitors were in and for the Wolves loanee to pick his spot and not be closed down. If you wanted to use this match as evidence for how the two Lancashire teams’ respective seasons were going to pan out, you would say that Wigan are a well-drilled outfit, particularly blessed in midfield and with Toney and Will Grigg as options up front, they could easily ‘beat’ my prediction of a comfortable mid-table finish. Likewise, you could say that especially shorn of Dawson, Bury won’t be flirting with the play-offs. However, I am of the belief that it’s simply far too early to draw any meaningful conclusions after just two league matches. Doubtlessly, the Latics have been impressive thus far but I’ll stick with my pre-season judgement.

 

  • As for the Shakers, they need to show more defensive resolve and the returns to fitness for full-backs Joe Skarz and Phil Edwards in time for Saturday’s clash with Bristol Rovers should go some way to helping in that endeavour. Equally pressing is the need for more midfield cohesiveness to enable creativity from players like Harry Bunn and Chris Maguire in open play. Beckford is ploughing somewhat of a lone furrow at present and as dangerous in front of goal as he is, he isn’t able to do much without more ample support and that must come sooner rather than later.

 

 

 

 

Wigan Athletic vs Bury: Preview

Contrasting EFL Cup fortunes in midweek, coupled with the players available to both managers for Sunday’s fixture form the backdrop of this local derby. Wigan Athletic boss Paul Cook rang the changes, with the entire lineup that started last Saturday’s 1-0 away win over MK Dons rested for the Blackpool match and yet they were still able to progress to the second round. Lee Clark on the other hand is already feeling the bite of injuries at such an early juncture in the season; a lacklustre attacking performance characterised the slender defeat to Sunderland and he will need to find an answer to the lack of creativity in open play demonstrated thus far.

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The Latics of the WN5 variety are unlikely to deviate too much from the blueprint set out by Cook; in both games so far, they have looked comfortable. Since my season preview, they have picked up Ivan Toney on loan from Newcastle United. The livewire forward has previously had successful spells in the third tier and almost always looks a handful when I have seen him in action. He will ample support from an impressive looking attacking midfield trio, each of whom will look to burst forward to keep Wigan on the front foot. Nick Powell carries the main threat but look out also for Sam Morsy pulling the strings further back.

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Even some of the above individuals are doubtful to make it; both Craig Jones and Andrew Tutte looked to be carrying knocks last night sustained over the course of the encounter. This fixture will come too early for Phil Edwards to participate in, so Jones is almost certain to be risked. In Tutte’s case, there aren’t really any other players in the squad who can adequately ‘replace’ Stephen Dawson; if he doesn’t make it, it’ll either be Tsun Dai or Callum Styles, both of whom have developed physically after the last six months but might not be especially suited to the kind of contest the game is likely to be.

Jones and Greg Leigh will be tasked with providing the majority of the width; Harry Bunn and Chris Maguire (if he has recovered from his own knock) will nominally start wide but cut inside to support Jermaine Beckford. Nicky Ajose must make a marked improvement in his third outing to be considered from the get-go for the fourth; to that end, he should look to get closer to Beckford when making moves to receive the ball from the midfield or his strike partner.

As for a prediction, I think it will be a relatively comfortable home win for Wigan with a scoreline of 2-0 to the hosts. Their ability to stretch the play in the final phase, coupled with having a much fresher lineup, should be sufficient to gain maximum points.

Given the injury problems and the time it will take for the squad to gel for Bury, I would be satisfied with a points total after 10 games of the same number of points. There are some very tough looking games to play in that period and Sunday is no exception. Anything gained from the DW Stadium will be seen as a bonus.

Bury 0-1 Sunderland: Review

  • The reversion to a 5-3-2 shape, eerily similar to my suggestion of how it could look earlier this week, was a sign of Bury manager Lee Clark giving in my view Sunderland too much respect. Undoubtedly with the strong lineup Simon Grayson chose, there were numerous threats in midfield for the Black Cats. That said, they were always going to look to stretch the game and double up on the Shakers’ wing-backs. In my view, it was a mistake in particular to let this happen on Craig Jones’ flank. More on him later.

 

  • The encounter started much more openly than I’d originally anticipated. Stephen Dawson’s reassuring presence allowed both Tsun Dai and Callum Reilly to burst forward in support of Nicky Ajose and the best opening of the first half for the home side was for Dai, but he couldn’t quite his foot over the ball in time as he was closed down quickly, a staple feature of the game. Dawson’s subsequent injury was tantamount to conceding the midfield battle to the visitors and allowed the likes of Darron Gibson and Didier Ndong much more time in possession.

 

  • His early replacement, Andrew Tutte, is admired by many supporters. I am not one of them. He will always give his you best effort, that much is for certain… and he did have a largely thankless task in attempting to wrestle back some semblance of control from a higher calibre of opposition. I think of any player in a white shirt that featured last night, his name was mentioned the least in the commentary. He is better driving forward than he is being the lynchpin in the engine room and that did manifest itself with the clever pass for Greg Leigh late on in proceedings. A rethink is required on Sunday away at Wigan Athletic in the absence of Dawson as Tutte himself looked like he was carrying a significant knock (before the cramp) and that’s something that’s dogged him throughout his career.

 

  • Aiden McGeady showed some lovely skill whilst on the pitch and he fashioned the best chance all of his own making in the opening 45 minutes, turning Jones inside and out and drawing an excellent save from Joe Murphy. Early evidence suggests his acquisition is a shrewd move by a manager who has worked closely with before at Preston North End last season and who has the ability to motivate him. There is no disgrace in being outclassed by a winger who has played at the highest level and has international caps to his name, but Jones’ positioning was still questionable at best from a defensive point of view. He is similar to Tutte in terms of effort, overall ability and underlying injury proneness. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he’s also out of contention for a number of weeks and that would leave a gaping hole at right back in a flat four as there aren’t any other natural options whilst Phil Edwards is also on the sidelines.

 

  • Restricting the Black Cats to so few chances (of their own creation) says a lot for the strides made by Clark during his tenure, especially when you take into consideration how early into 2017/2018 it still is and that Alex Whitmore, on loan from Burnley U23s, was making his debut. Tom Aldred and Adam Thompson look like they are forging a commanding partnership, only letting the opposition in once behind them, even though the back three were at times playing a high line. Granted, they were the victims of dwelling on the ball once or twice whilst being pressed but overall, their performances have been encouraging. Whitmore looked as though he could provide decent cover for either of them.

 

  • I’ve seen some comments elsewhere that Dai ‘looked lost’ and ‘was bullied’. I disagree. The team pressing by Sunderland rarely afforded any white shirt time on the ball and if you look back, he was rarely wasteful with it, even when operating in tight spaces. The midfield ‘unit’, such as it was, lacked the ability to reliably win the ball back when Dawson went off injured, try as though he and Callum Reilly did.

 

  • This was not a game to pump balls up to Nicky Ajose with the drifting support of Harry Bunn. These players need it to feet. Ajose is many things but a target man is not; that doesn’t mean he can’t play by himself up top but it does mean that the type of pass aimed for him needs to take into consideration his strengths and weaknesses. I don’t believe he looked ‘disinterested’ but he was surely a little disheartened to lose so many aerial battles to John O’Shea, who simply lapped the high balls played into the final third up as I’d anticipated. The occasions when he did get in behind, he was (rightly) flagged offside. When Jermaine Beckford was introduced, the meagre threat offered prior to his entrance shot up fourfold. Beckford could have done better with the cross Ajose put in but, like Thompson and Chris Maguire, was surely being saved for another thorough examination in the league less than 72 hours later.

 

  • A word on the pitch. Described as a ‘carpet’ by one journalist, it must have been a very wet, slick carpet. Players from both sides struggled to get to grips with the surface. It could’ve had a hand in Dawson’s injury and it certainly made Wahbi Khazri lose his footing on several occasions.

 

  • The set pieces offered up last night were woeful. The few the Shakers earned had zero threat attached to them whatsoever in the absence of Maguire and Jay O’Shea but what was more surprising was the lack of quality from the Wearside outfit in this department and with no shortage of viable targets to aim for.

 

  • From a Sunderland point of view, the all-round display from George Honeyman should be a real boost; although he has historically been more of an attacking midfielder, his runs to the inside channels and also tracking back to help out Adam Matthews are the epitome of a player grabbing his chance to impress both the fans and his manager with some aplomb; his dinked finish for the solitary goal of the match, a move he started, was a real moment of class. He was head and shoulders above everyone else.

 

  • Elsewhere, Lewis Grabban showed his versatility, opening up space for the runners from midfield with his hold-up play but had little in the way of clear-cut opportunities himself. His replacement, a certain James Vaughan, struggled to make the most of the fitness edge he and his teammates had (from not chasing the ball for the majority of the evening). He had a couple of efforts at Murphy’s goal but were comfortable for the veteran custodian to handle. Wahbi Khazri flitted in and out of the tie, Ndong and Gibson (in from the cold) showed their qualities and substitute Joel Asoro linked up well with his compatriots in a free role and largely did well.

 

  • Further forward, there’s a lot for Clark to consider. Injuries aside, he didn’t set up Bury tactically to give the Black Cats’ backline too much cause for concern and the opening salvos of the season have not been good from a creative standpoint in open play. It was hard to reach a conclusion if you took last night in isolation that little but the personnel had changed from the conservative strategy in 2016/2017 under his watch. The first round exit from the EFL Cup marked the 14th time from a possible 24 in my years of watching the club (and they haven’t even reached the fourth round in that period). Still, there’s always the league…

 

Bury vs Sunderland: Preview

Only a month after meeting in a pre-season friendly that surprisingly wasn’t cancelled after the draw for the EFL Cup First Round was made, Simon Grayson’s Sunderland once again make the trip down south to Gigg Lane  The Energy Check Stadium at Gigg Lane as it known as from today. This time of course, the Black Cats have a certain James Vaughan in their ranks and he is sure to receive an excellent welcome from the home support on national television. A huge flag will also be donated to the family of the late Bradley Lowery tomorrow evening, which has helped to engender (and renew) lots of goodwill between the two sets of fans, which stretches back as far as 1999 when the visitors clinched the second tier title in a thrilling 5-2 encounter and again, many of the Shakers’ spectators applauded their opponents after the match.

18 years on (with a home triumph in the EFL Cup in 2006 before Roy Keane took charge), the two sides meet once more with the television cameras present. Of admittedly little relevance, Bury won their opening league game 1-0 against Walsall despite missing two penalties and the visitors were perhaps unfortunate not to win in their Friday night clash with Derby County, having to settle for a 1-1 draw in the end. The performance was largely encouraging for the long-suffering contingent in Wearside and, with an eye on Sunday’s game with highly fancied Norwich City, Grayson is likely to make a number of changes to the starting lineup:

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Using the Roker Report’s excellent piece as a guide for how the away team should look, it is apparent even at first glance that their squad isn’t as large as was certainly in the case in recent seasons and with a number of injuries to factor in, some of the players pick themselves. Robbin Ruiter should be handed his competitive debut for the club and an encouraging outing will provide his manager with plenty of food for thought, especially when taking into consideration the mixed display Jason Steele had under the floodlights last week.

Everton loanee Brendan Galloway will give his side plenty of thrust down the left and should be mirrored on the opposite flank by Adam Matthews. If Lee Clark decides to have a narrow midfield, they could have plenty of opportunities to get forward. Tyias Browning will offer the pace his partner John O’Shea simply hasn’t got when dealing with Bury’s attacks but as a pair, they will lap up high balls that come their way.

Didier Ndong is certainly one of the best central midfielders outside the top flight (providing he isn’t shooting from range). He will be looking to wrestle possession and advance a decent distance with the ball, recycling it at times to Jack Rodwell and out wide, especially to Wahbi Khazri. If Aiden McGeady is rested, the Tunisian international is by the far most dangerous player in a red and white striped shirt; he can operate with consummate ease anywhere behind the forwards, is lethal from set pieces and will undoubtedly prove to be a major headache for Craig Jones all night. His off-the-ball skills are almost as impressive and he will be the one Grayson looks to to create an opening.

Rodwell is a bit of an enigma but should have some time and space to make himself useful. On the other hand, he has a tendency to dive into tackles he has little chance of winning, so if he gets an early yellow card, expect him to be substituted before he is targetted for a second one. On the right, George Honeyman will seek to continue his encouraging start to 2017/2018. Whilst less explosive than Khazri, he has a good work ethic and a penchant for popping up in the channel in a pocket of space.

Josh Maja, who did so brilliantly in the exhibition match, is unlikely to make the bench, so the forward line is likely to still be James Vaughan and Lewis Grabban. Grabban will sit centrally and use his strength to back into Tom Aldred, pushing the defensive line deeper. He is adept at dribbling and won’t need many chances to score. Obviously, Vaughan’s attributes are well-known and he will be desperate to get off the mark. He will use his knowledge of how Bury are likely to set up to his advantage but there is a small chance that eagerness will make him less effective, particularly if he takes up similar positions as he did against Derby.

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The injured Jay O’Shea aside, Clark could persist with the same XI that started at the weekend. New signing Harry Bunn is likely to be on the left and Chris Maguire on the right. As stated above, Jones is likely to be occupied all night but if he can break forward, he should have an array of options to aim for. The defensive instructions elsewhere should be fairly similar, especially with Ndong sitting deep when he doesn’t have the ball. A lot of the onus will be on Bunn to escape Matthews’ attentions and ensure that Nicky Ajose is involved to a much greater extent than he was on the previous occasion. His pace, along with Jermaine Beckford’s, could hurt the Black Cats if they can get in behind O’Shea. The other weapon in the Shakers’ arsenal will be Maguire’s free kicks, which have already borne fruit.

As for a prediction, I think it will go the distance and into extra time. Grayson is more limited than Clark in who he can bring off the subs’ bench to affect proceedings in a positive manner but I still think they’ll just have the edge. Khazri could put himself in the shop window with a stand-out turn and I think he’ll have the running of Jones, which there is no shame in whatsoever for the latter. To that end, I’m going for a 2-1 defeat that is sealed right at the death (before Maguire and Beckford have the chance to atone!).

Shapes ‘n Shapes: August 2017

As promised in my last blogpost, I want to take some time to explore the options now available to Bury manager Lee Clark, especially after the signing of Harry Bunn from Huddersfield Town last week.

Below is the current squad depth (i.e. everyone who has been assigned a squad number for 2017/2018), including injured players. Positions are not necessarily reflective of individual roles:

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At just 16, Mark Edwards-Williams is highly unlikely to be called in goal as Lee Clark continues his pursuit of a true competitor for Joe Murphy’s green jersey

This is how the Shakers started against Walsall last Saturday:

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The idea was for attacking full-backs Greg Leigh to provide almost all of the natural width in the side and shift Walsall into a narrow battle in midfield, with Tom Aldred stepping up higher than the rest of the defensive line off the ball if the gap between Callum Reilly, Leigh and himself was sizeable. Chris Maguire was tasked with providing an option in the half-space to ensure Jermaine Beckford didn’t cut an isolated figure up front; Nicky Ajose started further towards the byline than most other forwards would in a nominal two up front.

The flexibility amongst the squad has now increased as we’ll see below*:

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Attacking 5-3-2

A setup similar to what Clark ‘inherited’ from interim head coach Chris Brass in February could be replicated well with the current personnel. The two key differences would be in the centre of defence and the nature of the two forwards. In the defensive three, less horizontal space would be covered; this is partly because both attacking wing-backs are used to their roles and generally tend to track back well and can continue to do so for the duration of the match. Additionally, there are now two choices for each berth: the naturally left-footed Callum Reilly has previous experience of the position and on the opposite flank, Chris Humphrey is a ‘defensive winger’ who roves downfield as much as he does up and he has the added advantage of being a better crosser of the ball than Craig Jones. That attribute now stands as Greg Leigh’s own greatest weakness but the emphasis would be more heavily placed on support play than chance creation.

Returning to the back ‘three’, they would stick quite rigidly to their starting positions in order to avoid the Shakers being greatly outnumbered on the counter if both wing-backs are still in the opposition half. The midfielders ahead of them would cover the space in between the two lines in that situation to avoid one or more of the Tom Aldred-Adam Thompson-Alex Whitmore triumvirate breaking ranks and exposing Joe Murphy.

Tsun Dai (or Callum Styles) would principally support both the midfield two and the forwards, sticking closely to the former when the unit are pressing to win the ball back and to the latter when shepherding it to set up a supply line. Jermaine Beckford would continue in his preferred role of advanced forward, i.e. looking to beat an offside trap and being a moving, disruptive target always at the coal face in attack. Chris Maguire would work the channels and feed off Dai’s surging runs but also be a focal point himself to create space and chances for Beckford and the supporting cast from midfield.

 

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Narrow 5-4-1

The above shape would firmly put the onus on Greg Leigh and Craig Jones to provide all the width but in truth, it would be about compacting space and making it extremely difficult for the opposition to pass through or around the midfield and defence. Tom Heardman would not just be a target man but also the first line of defence, looking to lead from the front and pressurise the other side into either making a mistake or hitting it long.

The narrow midfield would seek to dominate possession and, with two attack-minded midfielders in the side, ensure there was sufficient support for Heardman by crossing to him from deep areas and running beyond him courtesy of his ability to hold up the ball. Of course, we’re unlikely to see such a system deployed throughout the entirety of a match but it could be viable to close out a win/draw, especially through effective game management.

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Narrow 4-4-2

The major differences with this shape to the one already seen against Walsall are that the full-backs would not get up in support of the wide midfielders and that the second striker role would be withdrawn from the spearhead of attack, particularly off-the-ball. Joe Skarz would provide defensive cover for Tom Aldred if the latter needed to intercept a long pass in between the sitting midfielders and the back four. Callum Reilly and Stephen Dawson would shift into wider areas with the ball to replace the lack of overlap from further downfield whilst ensuring that the other of the duo remained in a central area to avoid an overload if possession was lost in the second phase.

Harry Bunn and Jay O’Shea are not conventional wingers by any means. However, they would sit in the outside channels without the ball in order to ensure the area of play is as stretched as possible. Once one of the duo has the ball, they would either immediately cut inside and look for a passing or shooting opportunity whilst the other maintained their position. Alternatively, they would look to cross from out wide as their teammate tucked in, giving a third person to aim for in the penalty area. Chris Sang would link the midfield and attack, staying close to Bunn/O’Shea and pulling a centre back out to create space for Jermaine Beckford to operate in.

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Narrow 4-2-3-1

The backline’s strategy is almost a carbon copy of the shape above, the sole exception being that Joe Skarz wouldn’t need to cover for Tom Aldred as much because both Callum Reilly and Stephen Dawson would be primed to support the defence first and foremost and when in possession, recycle the ball to the attacking midfield trio ahead of them and not get too involved with the attacking phase, maintaining a disciplined wall in the central area of the pitch.

Higher up, the three behind Jermaine Beckford would have the ability to swap positions during a match. This isn’t something we’ve seen at Bury very often down the years and has historically consisted of wingers occasionally swapping flanks. The key difference now is that there are individuals within the roster who are strong with both feet, so it wouldn’t just appear to be a one-trick strategy. The idea of course is to make man-marking almost impossible, trap the more defensive-minded midfielders into always being on the back foot (in turn cutting off support for their more ‘advanced’ teammates) and swarm the 18 yard-box, offering outlets aplenty and an attacking presence hitherto unseen in recent seasons.

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Attacking 4-3-3

The final one is what I’d like to see in an ideal world as I believe it strikes the right balance between defence and attack whilst utilising the skills the roster have to their maximum. The centre back pairing would be further apart than most others typically are in order to cover more ground laterally if required. The full-backs would start from deep but bomb on to the periphery of the final third, thus not over-encumbering themselves if there’s a turnover in possession.

Callum Reilly would sit furthest back in midfield and pick passes, occasionally filling in for Greg Leigh. Stephen Dawson would still be tasked with going forward but would divide his time equally between both duties and go wider to the right as his natural tendency if the flank is exposed. Tsun Dai (or Callum Styles) would always look for a pocket of space to show for the ball and then turn with it, searching for the best direction with which to move forward for it.

The front three would operate in a fashion not too dissimilar to a ‘false nine’ as has been popular at times in the elite level. Again, the frontline would swap roles and duties with the distinction that they would stay close to each other in possession but then press wide without it, stemming the potential forays down the wings that the other side could look to do in such a scenario and force them inside.

Conclusion

Ultimately, we’re not likely to see all of those this season… but it does highlight what’s available to Clark in quite a stark way in comparison to previous incumbents of the manager’s position. With a fully fit squad (goalkeeper aside), there are real choices and individual/collective strengths and weaknesses of every player can be accentuated and hidden respectively to a higher degree than at any time I can remember as a Bury fan in 24 years of supporting the club. Of course, the new-found flexibility doesn’t make success on the pitch inevitable and the sport has evolved tactically in leaps and bounds during that period. That said, it’s an exciting time to be a fan when you can have a real debate over who should play where and what formation they should go for rather than it being a case of the XI picking themselves.

*Unfortunately, I’ve ‘dismissed’ Nathan Cameron and Danny Mayor from consideration until their injury situations become clearer, especially in Mayor’s case.

Bury 1-0 Walsall: Review

I will be reverting to bullet points in my match reviews this season as I feel, especially with the addition of full match replays on iFollow, it makes the content ‘flow’ better and read less like a match report and more akin to observations on both teams that don’t necessarily have to follow a set chronology.

  • Both sides lined up pretty much as I’d anticipated, with a toss-up in midfield for the hosts between Callum Reilly and Tsun Dai and for the Saddlers up top, with Simeon Jackson getting the nod over Amadou Bakayoko. Nicky Ajose operated fairly far apart from Jermaine Beckford and the latter acknowledged after the game that their partnership (such as it was) is only in its embryonic stage and that a deeper understanding would take time to forge. Ajose for his part looked a little behind most of his peers in terms of sharpness and it will be intriguing to see whether his place is retained on Thursday. Beckford offered plenty of off-the-ball running and took his headed goal well, especially considering the path of the ball was altered at close quarters.

 

  • Walsall were almost always neat and tidy on the ball until it came to chance creation; as expected, the onus fell extremely heavily on Erhun Oztumer to conjure something out of nothing with limited movement laterally or ahead of him. That said, he was still able to pick a couple of superb passes, particularly in the second half. One of them had Craig Jones watching him rather than his man, marking the only real time they got in behind the backline.

 

  • Speaking of Jones, he turned in a good performance otherwise, offering a similar thrust to Greg Leigh in the transition to attack whilst never neglecting the need to track back and stick to the task at hand. His body language does suggest however that his injury troubles are never too far away; with Phil Edwards out of contention until at least the short trip to the DW Stadium to face Wigan Athletic on Sunday, the right-back berth looks to be an area in need of some attention already.

 

  • Both goalkeepers were excellent when they were called upon. More overtly, Mark Gillespie did brilliantly with both penalties, especially Beckford’s. He wasn’t at fault for the solitary goal he did concede and looks on early evidence to be an assured presence between the sticks. His counterpart Joe Murphy’s distribution was top-notch, notably when kicking the ball out of his hands and calmly passing it along the ground.

 

  • The aforementioned Reilly had an encouraging debut for the Shakers, covering ground alongside Stephen Dawson with no shortage of grit, determination and an eye for a forward pass. His more experienced colleague did exactly what was expected of him, including winning a penalty and openly voicing his thoughts to the referee. Expect to see both of these in high frequency throughout the campaign.

 

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Tsun Dai delighted the home supporters with his 30-minute cameo from the bench, offering up a real mixture of skill, vision for a pass and most impressively of all, off-the-ball movement to get into the right areas in both attacking and defensive contexts; his utility is an excellent asset to the club and there now exists a growing number of ‘followers’ from Hong Kong tracking his rapid ascent to prominence
  • Chris Maguire showed from dead balls (other than the spot kick) what Bury have been missing since the departure of Chris Hussey to Sheffield United last summer. Although his effort for the goal was deflected, the whip he was able to get on it from such a position will cause problems regardless if that standard is kept up during 2017/2018. The former Oxford forward grew into the match as it elapsed, offering a good platform for attacks in open play in the second half.

 

  • Opposition manager Jon Whitney claimed after proceedings that his charges lacked a cutting edge up front, which will come as a surprise to precisely zero supporters of the West Midlands outfit. Their hosts had eight in the starting XI making their debuts (although in Ajose’s case, it’s actually his third loan spell at Gigg Lane) and in truth, didn’t produce anything scintillating, which is going to be par for the course whilst the squad knits together. Walsall had more cohesion and width but no real outlets and, relatively solid as they were as a back four, are going to need something more in attacking areas to put paid to the notion that it will be a year of real struggle.

 

  • As for Lee Clark, he was mostly pleased with how the first match unfolded, especially how solid the new central defensive were in earning a clean sheet… but did seem to single out Zeli Ismail for some criticism in his post-match interview. The Albanian winger had looked bright in pre-season after returning from his own long-term lay-off and got into some good areas when he was summoned from the subs’ bench to replace Jay O’Shea, who seemed to take a knock a few minutes prior to the change. His end product was often found wanting because of poor decision-making, shaping to shoot when teammates were in space on the counter. His positivity with the ball did win him the second penalty and if O’Shea isn’t fit on Thursday, he might get the opportunity to start.

 

  • The night before League One kicked off, the club announced the capture of Harry Bunn from Huddersfield Town is what is likely to be a club record fee (although the details of the deal were as ever undisclosed). Elliott Wheat-Bowen over on Talk of the Town wrote a deeply insightful piece on what fans can expect of the latest addition to the squad; there now exists an abundance of options in both wide and central areas behind the forwards; to that end, my next blogpost will be on the possible shapes, strategies and combinations Clark now has at his disposal to utilise over the course of the season.