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.

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