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.
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.
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.