Month: September 2017

Bury vs MK Dons: Preview

There’s nothing like a much-needed victory to improve the mood in the camp but now Lee Clark must prove that he can turn an impressive win over Oxford United into a sustained run to fire Bury back up the table and into a position more befitting of the outlay on the talented roster in the close season. Tomorrow, they welcome Robbie Neilson’s MK Dons to Gigg Lane, a venue the visitors have never lost at and they will be aiming to make it 10 points from a possible 12 in the process. The Buckinghamshire outfit had a slow start to 2017/2018 but have picked up momentum in September and reside in mid-table with similar pretensions of achieving a top-six finish as their hosts.

lineup

Barring any further injuries sustained in training since Wednesday morning, even Clark is likely to stick with the same XI that started; there is a chance Neil Danns might start in place of Callum Reilly but I envision once more that he’ll come on around the hour mark. His presence might be required up against another strong-looking midfield with greater numbers in more withdrawn areas. Chris Maguire will go toe-to-toe with Ousseynou Cissé, so he might not have the same freedom to drift between the lines as on Tuesday.

lineup (1)

Scott Wootton and George Williams are one of those central defensive pairings often seen at the moment where one member has the height and strength and the other has the pace and is better on the ball; the difference here however is that Williams is quite short for someone playing at centre back (although he has been utilised across the defensive line previously) but makes up for that with his excellent aerial ability. Nevertheless, he’s more likely to be told to stick to Jermaine Beckford than Michael Smith, even though Beckford’s powerful presence in the box has been demonstrated several times already in 2017/2018.

Callum Brittain has a promising future ahead of him and possesses a strong left foot to go with his preferred right, which in turn offers a more diverse array of passes and crossing ability. On the opposite side, Scott Golbourne is reasonably quick and isn’t short of tenacity in the tackle; he could be asked to double up with Wootton on Smith to prevent him from winning flick-ons for Maguire and Laurent to latch onto. Cissé will offer crucial support to the back four but he cannot be allowed to have space of his own as there is more than one facet to his game, often picking out runners from deep areas with a high degree of accuracy.

Alex Gilbey is a tireless dynamo ahead of him and will usually be the most advanced of the Dons midfield trio when they are in possession. He backs up his tough tackling with a proclivity for taking long shots and playing in teammates, particularly the imposing figure of Osman Sow up top and Ryan Seager. The latter, a loanee from Southampton, is by no means a conventional winger and if anything, he will push to the inside channel at every opportunity to mop up any second balls and be an outlet for Sow, who is yet another player far from a one-trick pony. He is a good technical dribbler and will look to beat the offside trap as often as he will seek out a yard of free space to win headers.

The main threat comes from Gboly Ariyibi on the left. Three goals to his name in the league, the speedster will test Chris Humphrey’s tracking skills to their limit. Equally as comfortable on the right or left, he has the quick feet to unlock defences. Phil Edwards will need to ensure he works in tandem with Humphrey to close the American down before he can punch his way through as he doesn’t need many chances to score.

As for a prediction, I’m going to be positive and say 1-1. The visitors have threats on the bench that also need to be taken into consideration, not least of which is Ethan Ebanks-Landell, recovering from an injury. It could be another open game but I wouldn’t expect as many chances to fall the way of the hosts. Even if a second win in a week is achieved, the postponement of next Saturday’s derby at managerless Oldham Athletic could stop the impetus of the mini-revival. Here’s hoping it doesn’t!

Advertisements

Bury 3-0 Oxford United: Review

  • That performance Chris Maguire produced on Tuesday night was the reason I was so excited for his arrival and Oxford United fans a mixture of disappointment and envy. As he said in his post-match interview, he needed that goal whatever the source. He has had the understandable air of feeling his way into the campaign without much of a pre-season programme to fall back on and as a consequence, we’ve only been privy to glimpses of his talent as he has flitted in and out of the reckoning before the long-overdue win. He was at the heart of most of the good work in the final third, crafting several openings and drifting behind the front two made him that much more difficult for the opponents’ midfield to track. If anything, taking a penalty against Simon Eastwood (someone you’ve done so in training hundreds of times), not to mention the added pressure of putting your side into the lead, made the outcome much less certain. Fortunately, he sent Eastwood the wrong way and changed the course of what had hitherto been an open, very even contest.

 

  • I still maintain my belief Greg Leigh is better operating in a wing-back role than as a full-back unless the emphasis is more on defence in general or there is a left-sided centre back who can cover ably for his forays forward. He seemed omnipresent as a third option in the box whenever a cross from Maguire or Chris Humphrey came in and the standard of the balls was high almost without exception. You can still see the ‘striker’ from his academy days there at times. Continuing to work on his final ball could see him attract clubs in the tier above if he continues to develop his game.

 

  • Jermaine Beckford had the beating of an off-colour Mike Williamson for the vast bulk of the match. His change of pace had him in behind on a frequent basis and he even managed to aerially dominate his marker, which is no mean feat. The captain led by example and with Michael Smith ‘claiming’ his first goal in a white shirt, it could mean their partnership will blossom that little bit quicker. His sixth time on the scoresheet already in 2017/2018 augurs well and equally, his understanding with Humphrey out on the right from their days together at Preston North End should be something that Lee Clark looks to exploit.

 

  • Neil Danns’ introduction cannot be discounted in helping the tie swing in the hosts’ favour. His commitment has been publicly questioned previously but his two cameos from the bench in the last week have been warmly received by both management and supporters and are proof that he still has a part to play, especially with Stephen Dawson’s return not coming until 2018. He took the midfield by the scruff of the neck and his dynamism upset Ryan Ledson and Josh Ruffles’ rhythm. Doubtlessly, he will be called on again for Saturday for the visit of MK Dons and it will be interesting to see whether his recent displays merit a starting berth.

 

  • I’m sure I wasn’t the only Shakers fan fearing the worst when seeing Joe Murphy’s name not in the matchday squad. The veteran shot-stopper has arguably been the best performer up until now and his command of the area ranks highly in League One. Leo Fasan looked assured however, dealing with crosses decisively, punching well when he elected to do so and made two or three good saves. The extension of his deal until January was a necessary measure given the rules around emergency loans and it’s now up to him to continue in a similar vein for at least another month.

 

  • On this blog, I have been justifiably critical of Alex Whitmore on several occasions. However, you have to admire the truly superb tackle he made on Agon Mehmeti when the Albanian debutant was certain to claim a consolation goal. It preserved Bury’s fourth clean sheet from 10 league matches, which is actually a respectable return, all things considered. Goal-saving challenges don’t always get the recognition and plaudits they deserve, especially considering the timing has to be so precise given the varied dire consequences of it not being.

 

  • That being said, the scoreline goes a long way to masking how much Oxford were in the game right up until the home side got their soft penalty. The U’s caused problems for their opponents, principally from through balls in the middle, looking to utilise Robert Hall and Gino van Kessel’s pace. The Curaçaoan international had the pick of the opportunities but couldn’t convert, leaving the travelling support pining for Jonathan Obika or Wes Thomas to be in his position in the same context, whose absences were keenly felt. I have seen many calls online for Pep Clotet to be sacked, which is a stark contrast to the mood only three weeks ago. I think the calls are extremely premature even if they come on the back of a trio of straight defeats. He needs time to fully implement his philosophy and whilst 15th place is disappointing, it is still recoverable, given the talent in the group and the players missing at present.

Bury vs Oxford United: Preview

Visiting manager Pep Clotet will be looking to bounce back from a slightly surprising 2-1 home defeat by Walsall when he takes his charges to Gigg Lane tonight. Lee Clark will be sat in the stands once again, serving the second of his two-game touchline ban. Without him in the dugout, Bury managed to come away from The Valley with a point and for that, they were chiefly indebted to the reactions of goalkeeper Joe Murphy after Charlton Athletic laid siege to his area in the second half. The general consensus seems to be that whilst the draw itself was credible that Clark has to at least earn one win from this week’s home double-header to remain in post.

vs Oxford H 1718.png

With Nathan Cameron out with a pulled hamstring, expect the shape to revert to a central defensive three, regardless of whether the available personnel are suited to playing in that. Tom Aldred will be tasked with keeping the unit together against an outfit renowned for quick transitions. Phil Edwards’ lack of height and speed could be exposed more brutally than in most other League One outings in the inside channel and he will require loanee Jordan Williams to exert considerable positional discipline to help defend against crossing opportunities.

On the other flank, Greg Leigh will be engaged in a ding-dong battle against the pairing of Robert Hall and John Mousinho. The former Bradford City player has recaptured his form from late last season and like Hall, is no slouch when it comes to producing a turn of pace and a bit of skill.

Rohan Ince was surprisingly left out of the roster on Saturday (at least in my opinion). In his place will be Callum Reilly, who returned to the fray and acquitted himself reasonably well against strong opposition; he will be nominally the most deep of the three. Alongside him will be either Josh Laurent or amazingly, Neil Danns. I don’t envision Chris Maguire being left out of the XI as he will drift between midfield and the strikers to link the units and has a certain propensity for winding up the other side Oxford fans are all too familiar with. Danns likes to pick up the ball and get forward with it, often making late runs into the box. If the Shakers are clever and can withstand the inevitable waves from the black and silver shirts, they could have opportunities through the likes of the Grenadian to hit them on the break.

I have no doubt Clotet will have drawn plenty of attention to the damage Jermaine Beckford can do with a yard of space even outside the area. Michael Smith will give Mike Williamson plenty of cause for concern, leaving his strike partner to target any gaps in between the centre backs or the inside channel.

Oxford vs Bury A 1718

The likely back four for the U’s are a mish-mash of very different individuals. Ricardinho is a short full-back but a bit like Craig Jones, has a knack of winning headers you just wouldn’t expect him to. He also has a proclivity for making early crosses, is fairly quick in a foot race and impressive composure on the ball. Williamson is a static but highly experienced centre back with the addition of having previously plied his trade with Newcastle United for six years, mostly in the Premier League. He is a considerable threat from set pieces in an attacking sense and as already mentioned, his tussle with Smith could be key. If anything, Curtis Nelson is even more dominant in the air and is a lot quicker, which is why he’ll be asked to man-mark Beckford.

Mousinho spent most of his career until very recently in midfield and has always been a player I’ve admired. At right back, he probably won’t bomb forward and will keep close to Nelson, wary of the defenders being outnumbered on the counter. Joe Rothwell is an all-rounder in midfield, not especially excelling in any facet (including defensively) but with the way the Yellows play, he is normally on the front foot. Ryan Ledson remains an exciting prospect at 20 and can comfortably operate anywhere in midfield; his short passing can open up tight defences and he is handy from dead balls in the absence of James Henry.

Robert Hall loves cutting in from out wide on his left foot but his right is not weak by any means. His blistering pace and direct running have seen him contribute four goals (including two assists) thus far. Gino van Kessel looks more comfortable when not operating centrally and is one of the quickest players in the entire league; he continually looks to use his pace to beat the defensive line but might that the men in white sit far back, especially without Cameron. The last member of the exciting trio behind the striker is Jack Payne, on loan from Huddersfield Town. Unlike former Terrier Harry Bunn, he has hit the ground running in the third tier, already notching five assists. He has a low centre of gravity that helps maintain excellent balance in the face of challenges from the opposition and the playmaker has an array of options to choose from when looking for a teammate.

The big question is who will be the lone striker. Jonathan Obika is not fully fit and Wes Thomas is not yet in contention. Nevertheless, I expect Obika to at least start the game. He has yet to score in the league this season but shouldn’t be discounted entirely as someone who could give Alex Whitmore jitters. Agon Mehmeti, a free agent signed by Clotet after a brief sojourn at Turkish outfit Gençlerbirliği, could be drafted in despite only being at the club for three weeks.

Recent form for the visitors has been patchy at best but make no mistake, they have the capability of heaping the misery on Bury. Looking at their dynamic midfield, it’s hard to imagine how they’re all going to be kept quiet. For that reason, I have to go with an away win… and it might be another hammering: 4-1. They can be ‘got at’ but opportunities might be few and far between. I think Clark will remain in post no matter what the scoreline is tonight but even the maximum haul of nine points from the first 10 matches would be below my very conservative expectations.

Charlton Athletic 1-1 Bury: Review

  • Let’s take a moment to appreciate Jermaine Beckford’s fifth of the season. Of the strikers currently on the roster at Bury, he is the most capable of doing something out of nothing in open play with the end result being a goal. Chris Maguire could win that ‘argument’ from free kicks (although not yet in a white shirt) but in most contexts, it’s the former Preston North End hitman. The pass from Josh Laurent on the counter was excellent; even so, Beckford still had a lot to do to score but he did brilliantly to bend his shot into the far corner beyond the despairing dive of Charlton Athletic custodian Ben Amos. What’s perhaps been missing before now from the 33 year-old is the ability to demonstrate that he has no shortage of skill with the ball at his feet and on the dribble. He’s often had to perform more of a target man role but with Michael Smith now present to do that, there is much less onus on him in that respect. His teammates further back need to ensure almost regardless of instructions from the sidelines stand that he has those opportunities.

 

  • The early hamstring injury to Nathan Cameron prompted a change of shape which changed the course of the match. There is clearly a perception amongst the management team that a centre back pairing without the fan favourite just doesn’t currently possess the correct combination of skills and strengths for a flat four to work, rightly or wrongly. Alex Whitmore is an able albeit relatively inexperienced replacement; neither he nor Tom Aldred have the dynamism or pace of Cameron and with the addition of Phil Edwards as the right-sided of the trio, it had the effect of pushing their line deeper and giving the hosts more time and space in possession. With Eoghan O’Connell still recovering from his own spell on the sidelines, it will be intriguing to see if Lee Clark persists with that shape.

 

  • Josh Magennis is in a decent run of form similar to Beckford. His equalising header was expertly taken and he had other good chances to add to his tally but found his match in goalkeeper Joe Murphy. On Saturday’s evidence, he appeared to be well-supported by the attacking triumvirate around him. He has a tendency to position himself in the right areas but also be a link man in more than a single phase of play. There is the potential to ‘rotate’ with Billy Clarke to offer some greater unpredictability if Karl Robinson chooses to utilise it, a tactic that is likely to be at its best when the Addicks are pressed by the opposition as a collective.

 

  • Speaking of individuals at the peak of their powers, Jake Forster-Caskey is at last showing more than mere glimpses his considerable ability. He arrived at the Valley with a high reputation in January but it is only in the current campaign that he has produced. His whipped cross for Magennis’ header was his just reward for a showing full of industry and endeavour. Granted, he did at times have significant areas to work in but it doesn’t always follow that a player excels in that context. He grew into things as the contest wore on and even had a chance of his own to snatch all three points for the hosts…

 

  • It’s easy to look at the overall number of goals conceded by the Shakers on paper and lay some of the blame on the goalkeeper. I can honestly say that Joe Murphy has not been at fault for a single one; he was well-beaten by Magennis but was more than equal to the other clear-cut chances Charlton were able to create. His outstanding save at the death deserves a second (and third) viewing. He gives confidence to the ever-changing defence in front of him and perhaps needlessly, I can’t help but wonder who will succeed him once he’s no longer at the club as he is fast becoming one of the best I’ve seen between the sticks for Bury.

 

  • I can’t see Clark being sacked on the back of the draw even though it wasn’t what he had ‘promised’ fans. However, the concerns I have despite the two draws in the league are growing. Robinson was always going to want to grab the lion’s share of possession and dictate the tempo and his opposite number was only too happy to oblige both in team selection and subsequent tweaks after Cameron’s early substitution. The squad available to him is the best at the club for 20 years and yet it has still not been shaped into a unit that looks like it can control a game and keep a lead. Additionally, I don’t buy his spiel about Nicky Ajose’s continued absence; he cited that a maximum of five loan players can be named in a matchday and whilst true, there have been occasions when the full complement haven’t been used. I’d rather he just be honest about the real reason(s) for his exclusion.

Charlton Athletic vs Bury: Preview

The previous two matches haven’t gone to the plan Charlton Athletic manager Karl Robinson devised. Bested by Wigan Athletic emphatically on home turf, they then couldn’t turn their dominance in Kent away at Gillingham into a result, succumbing to a surprise 1-0 reverse to a previously winless outfit. Nevertheless, the first eight games have yielded 15 points for the Addicks and they remain within reach of second-placed Wigan Athletic in the early table.

What better way for them to get back to winning ways than the visit of Bury; a side that haven’t won on the road in any competition since February… at the Valley. A side currently without a victory since the opening day of the season. A side that have shipped 19 goals in 10 across league and cups. A side ‘managed’ in what has sadly become the loosest possible sense by Lee Clark, who, fresh from the heaviest defeat in the club’s history to local rivals Rochdale on Tuesday, boldly claimed without any justification whatsoever that he “knows we’ll beat Charlton on Saturday”. You don’t have to be an expert at interpreting body language and the words that poured forth from his mouth to understand that tomorrow’s encounter is a must-win to keep him in post. If it somehow wasn’t that before, his rhetoric made it become as such.

Charlton vs Bury H 1718.PNG

In stark contrast to his opposite number in the dugout high in the stands, you can be pretty confident when predicting both how the men in red and white will set up in terms of shape and the personnel that will be in the starting XI fulfilling those rigid roles. It is a team that will look to dominate possession and frequently shoot on sight; there will be overloads on the outside channels with Jay Dasilva and captain Lewis Solly being common sights in the final third to keep their opponents penned in to their penalty area.

Patrick Bauer is a massive threat from set plays and an imposing figure to come up against in open play for any forward. Together with Jason Pearce, they will look at all times to spread the ball wide to the full-backs to either initiate a swift counter or a slower, more deliberate approach aimed at maintaining a tempo designed to wear the Shakers out and create gaps. Ahmed Kashi will act as the pivot and the protector of the central two if the wide men are caught high up the pitch. Jake Forster-Caskey has started this campaign well and is someone to watch out for from deep if the hosts can win the majority of 50/50s and second balls in enemy territory.

Ricky Holmes needs little extra fanfare; he has already notched three goals in League One and five yellow cards, the latter figure being the joint most of anyone in the third tier. He will lead even the experienced Phil Edwards a merry dance if not closed down quickly enough but his potency from free-kicks is not to be dismissed lightly, either. Tarique Fosu plays more like a conventional winger and will stretch the play, crossing from the byline to target man Josh Magennis or the support striker Billy Clarke. Magennis will be the focal point of the attacks and retains a burst of speed. He will relish the air war with Nathan Cameron and Tom Aldred.

vs Charlton A 1718.PNG

All of the Shakers with the exception of Mihai Dobre and Greg Leigh didn’t feature in the EFL Trophy hammering, so there are no excuses for them not being as fresh as their opponents from the capital. The centre backs will be pressed by Magennis and Clarke, so they won’t be able to dwell on the ball. Edwards might tuck in a little to combat the menace of Holmes whilst Greg Leigh will use his pace to both join the attack and cover the gaps left by Dobre.

Rohan Ince and Josh Laurent will have their work cut out to win the midfield battle; both will need to be at their best to prevent one-way traffic. Dobre was one of a paltry few to emerge with any credit on Tuesday and his direct running will worry Solly, so Kashi might double up on him. Chris Maguire will be tasked with supplying Michael Smith and Jermaine Beckford, assuming the latter recovers from his knock in time. The front four have the tools to be an excellent unit if they can be grouped together consistently – the worry of course remains immediately behind them.

As for a prediction, I’m going with a never-before-seen 3-2 loss. In recent weeks, the Addicks have proved they can be ‘got at’ if left short in defence. On the other hand, with the likes of former Bury loanee Joe Dodoo on the bench for the home side, Robinson’s charges have the ability to outscore their opposition and will doubtlessly be buoyed by Clark already giving them their ‘team talk’. I hope it proves to be his last charge and whilst I will always want the club I support to win, I will not shed a tear if it means he loses his job because he has ruined what could’ve been a very different picture under more savvy leadership. Even a draw is unlikely to be sufficient to keep him in situ and he only can really blame himself if that is what transpires.

Buryball: Football Manager 2018 with a Twist

Trying my best to divorce myself from the omnipresent shambles on and off the pitch in reality at least in part, I decided in anticipation of the next installment of the long-running Football Manager video game series to see if I could surpass the current very low bar set by Lee Clark and do a better job of guiding Bury to the ‘promised land’ of the Championship and to further glories down the road. Of course, the game doesn’t come out until early November but I already have a very specific idea of how to make it both more interesting than a standard story that has been around for at least 20 years and more crucially, is interactive in its creation.

Some of you will be familar with the ‘Moneyball’ concept, whether you have seen the film starring Brad Pitt, read the original text or ‘Soccernomics‘ by Simon Kuper & Stefan Szymanski. If you’re not au fait with it, the central premise on which it is based is that by using statistical analysis, smaller teams can compete with larger ones by buying/acquiring players that are undervalued by other teams and in turn, selling ones that are overvalued by their competitors. Or to put it another way, polishing rough diamonds previously overlooked for one reason or another and selling them at a higher price.

You could argue that many clubs already do this but few do it successfully and fewer still have it at the core of their infrastructure. The closest real-life example in the English pyramid are Brentford (although it must be pointed out that they reject the ‘Moneyball’ label). Like Bury, they are situated in a hot-bed of professional football and are surrounded by larger, world-famous neighbours. Unlike the Shakers, their calculated and clinical approach to recrutiment, by heavily investing in analytics, has reaped rewards and helps to keep the club afloat and competitive.

I want to take the ‘Moneyball’ concept and make it unique to the club I support in an entertaining way, hence the highly original term: ‘Buryball‘. The rules I will be guided by during my playthrough are as follows and are taken from passages in Soccernomics:

1. Net wage spend is more important than net transfer spend.

The first criterion is unlikely to be that much of a factor (in the first season at least). What it means in practice is that I could sign a player for a high fee as long as their salary was relatively low as that is what will affect the bottom line in the long run

2. Don’t needlessly splash out on new players or sell old ones when you take over a club – the ‘New Manager Syndrome’.

Suffice it to say that I won’t be falling into that particular trap, especially given the huge turnover of players at Bury in the last four years. Most fans agree that the talent in the squad is there in real life and given how accurate the stats in Football Manager are these days, it’s bound to be reflected on the game. Given that the aim will be to guide the Lancashire outfit to success, the notion of applying for another position is off the table.

3. Don’t buy players who impressed at international tournaments: they’re likely to be overvalued and past performance is no indication of future performance, especially when they’re playing with a different team – there are different incentives and a different tactical set-up at tournaments and it’s a super small sample size.

Again, this is unlikely to affect my management of Bury in the short to medium term but it is an important point to note. Long-term tracking of players decreases the need to scout tournaments, which are often a seller’s market.

4. Some nationalities are overrated, like Holland, Brazil and England.

I believe this comes from historic performances and styles of play of the national sides throughout the second half of the 20th century and the conflation of that archetype to any player representing that country on the game regardless of their ability level. There might now be a bit of a shift towards Belgium and France in contemporary terms. On the face of it, this won’t affect the recruitment of the Shakers but you might be surprised how many players in the lower leagues are from places with a reputation (current or otherwise) for playing eye-catching football. With English players, it’s hard to avoid them coming through the academy (more on that below) but is something to keep in mind where it doesn’t conflict with other criteria. Another factor that will play out early in proceedings is Brexit, which could affect the ability to recruit from the EU.

5. Sell your players at the right time: when they’re around 30 years old, goalkeepers aside.

This will be absolutely fundamental to making it a success. Bury will start the game in significant debt and need to make significant returns on the roster in lieu of having much in the way of generating income on non-matchdays. Of the 40 first-team players (defined as those with a squad number and/or on a professional contract), seven outfield members are 30 or over at the time of writing with a further seven between 25 and 29 who are contracted to the club. This means the bulk are not yet at their ‘peak’, so it will be something that I have to keep an eye on, particularly early on in the game.

6. Use the wisdom of crowds: ask all your scouts and a Director of Football if you have one about players.

This is where in real life it is alleged AFC Bournemouth, the ‘smallest’ club in the Premier League by some distance, are not making the best use of their analytics resources; most of the transfer sway still rests with Eddie Howe. Some collegiate approaches have been tried to varying degrees of success. The Shakers are not blessed with vast resources in terms of scouting, nor do they have a Director of Football. However, this is one of the first areas which I will address within the confines of geography and finances.

7. Buy players in their early twenties, which avoids the problems with not developing properly and means previous statistics have greater value.

Contingent to a certain extent either on having a productive academy or ‘sacrificing’ it to leverage more financial resources into recruiting players at an older age. It’s one of the easier points on this list to ‘buy’ into and in truth, it’s probably what Bury should be doing in real life even more as a proportion than has been the case recently.

8. Centre-forwards cost more than they should.

Typically, the most highly valued players are the ones primarily tasked with putting the ball into the net frequently. That goes almost without saying. However, if all the other pieces in the jigsaw are there, it should mean that goals are more evenly distributed throughout the team and for that reason, less emphasis is placed on spending every penny on a ‘guaranteed 20-goal striker’. It also means finding value in players where in the most difficult part of the market by picking up transfer-listed individuals or those who have been overlooked, which is central to this philosophy.

 
9. Sell any player if a club offers more than they are worth and try to replace them before they are sold.

This applies at any stage of their career and is what Lee Clark thought he had done with Nicky Ajose coming in on loan very shortly after the sale of James Vaughan to Sunderland. It hasn’t quite worked out that way thus far. It’s also contingent on a desperate competitor not snatching your want-away star player in the dying embers of the transfer window but there should be a degree of foresight in those cases. It can also be a hard sell to fans in the short-term but again, it’s one of the pillars of ‘Moneyball’.

10. Don’t buy players if you don’t need to: develop a youth network and try to develop your own players.

To expand on above, this also means putting much more resources and stock into coaching than a ‘quick fix’ transfer. Let’s say for example you’ve identified that the weakest area of the pitch is in defensive midfield but other than Rohan Ince (who will return to Brighton & Hove Albion at the end of 2017/2018 in any case), there isn’t anyone who immediately has that listed as one of their positions. In which case, there exists the option to retrain an existing player into that role, which might be the only option when finances are very tight.

11. The best way to improve a team is by identifying and replacing the weakest links, rather than by splashing out on making the best links even better.

The old adage about a chain only being as strong as its weakest link is certainly true in football; savvy opposing managers will instruct their charges to ruthlessly exploit weakness and uncertainty (see Ryan Cooney playing at right-sided centre-back against Rochdale on Tuesday night as a prime example – that’s not singling him out, it’s simply calling into question Lee Clark’s decision to put him there in the first place). With the ‘correct’ age demographics already mostly in place at the club, the existing group should improve on an individual and collective basis anyway. It’s then a case of gradually uplifting the slightly worse links.

All of the above are existing maxims in ‘Moneyball’ (and the latter two are from Soccernomics). The twist I want to put on it requires input from the readers of this blog: I wish to add three more principles as well as the two below by asking the simple question: when you think of a ‘perfect’ Bury player, what attributes do they have? It can be something about their personality, how ambitious they are in their footballing careers, if they should come from the local area where possible, anything. Your feedback is important in making this series a success, so please let me know!

These are both ‘traits’ I’ve generally found supporters say:

12. Bury fans value work rate in a player above all other attributes.
13. Bury fans value seeing players come through the youth academy system over other 16-20 year old signings, especially those who are on loan.

I will be collating your opinions and they directly affect my approach to the game and it should help to keep it interesting for you beyond the first few installments on this blog.

Bury 0-0 Plymouth Argyle: Review

  • Luke McCormick must be commended for his display between the sticks for visitors Plymouth Argyle. The Pilgrims were on the back foot for the majority of proceedings in the battle of the bottom four but the custodian was magnificent when called upon (particularly the triple save) and gave his teammates a much-needed boost by way of both a point and a clean sheet.

 

  • Nadir Çiftçi, spearheading the attack for the visitors, wasn’t really able to worry a backline that had conceded two per game up until Saturday’s match. He has a reputation for quick feet and no shortage of skill but little of that was on show just when the need for it is at its peak. His best effort came with an admittedly innovative piece of thinking in the first half, looking to catch Joe Murphy unawares by aiming for the top corner after recovering from a slip.

 

  • Chris Maguire had a day to forget by his lofty standards. Deployed in a more supportive role to target man Michael Smith in the absence of top goalscorer Jermaine Beckford, he wasn’t really able to influence the game as much as manager Lee Clark would like. I still have a suspicion he’s feeling his way back into the fray after a stop-start season. In truth, he was upstaged a little by the industry of veteran substitute Ryan Lowe who has since celebrated his 39th birthday!

 

  • Equally high expectations were held for Harry Bunn. If you watch the footage back, you can see the ideas are there but they just aren’t being applied often enough to really hurt the opposition and some fans are already questioning his signing and his current physical condition. Given the investment in him, it’s unlikely he’ll be removed from the picture completely but with Mihai Dobre adept on either flank (and the return of Jay O’Shea on the horizon), he needs to convince supporters he’s worth the fee and a continued place in the first XI. The Romanian loanee on the other hand was much more direct and used his pace to constantly threaten Gary Miller and should’ve scored when clean through on goal in the final few minutes.

 

  • Smith was certainly guilty of missing several gilt-edged opportunities but the important thing to remember about that is that you have to take up the correct positions and anticipate the chances being created in the first instance, so I am loath to criticise him too heavily, even though they were a large contributory factor in Bury not claiming only their second triumph of 2017/2018 in all competitions. With sufficient support (as he received from most areas on Saturday), he is bound to have the ability to make amends. His overall performance is a small ‘plus’ in a column with little company.

 

  • Defensive solidity after back-to-back 3-2 losses was key to Clark’s gameplan; he selected a back four that probably represents most Shakers’ first choices given current availability and with Nathan Cameron offering a dominant figure at centre back and a starting point for attacks at the other end, expect to see it continue for at least the next few league games with bigger tests on the horizon.

 

  • A stalemate at home/away to another outfit bereft of confidence will only ramp up the pressure on Clark (and arguably opposite number Derek Adams, too). You could say that his charges were unlucky not to come out with all three points but the overall team performance was still a few rungs down from where they should ideally be by the eighth match (and let’s not even get into the league position). With the likes of Charlton Athletic, MK Dons and Oxford United to come in the next three third tier fixtures, it’s not going to get any easier for him. Somehow, he must show that he is up to the task or he might find himself high up in the stands permanently…

Bury vs Plymouth Argyle: Preview

I certainly wouldn’t have expected either of the sides facing each other tomorrow afternoon to be in the bottom four at this stage. Bury’s travails are well-documented on these pages with the majority of the responsibility for the current woes squarely resting on Lee Clark’s shoulders. For his part, he’ll be looking to relieve a modicum of the non-existent pressure on his position as manager with a badly needed victory against fellow early strugglers Plymouth Argyle.

Since their excellent 2-0 triumph at Home Park over Charlton Athletic back in mid-August, the League Two promotion winners have shipped goals at an alarming rate and have only mustered a single point in the matches after the victory. Derek Adams has bemoaned the effect of a spate of red cards in recent games and talismanic Graham Carey has not lived up to his billing; indeed, he is suspended for the next three and on current form, it’s not being perceived as the blow you might have expected it to be.

vs Plymouth H 1718.PNG

It’s probably wishful thinking to hope that Clark will have learned some lessons from Tuesday’s defeat to Fleetwood Town, so expect to see him persist with Phil Edwards in an unfamiliar role despite him looking very uncomfortable both in defensive midfield and at centre back of all places. Joe Skarz experienced a torrid time during his first minutes in his second spell at the club but could retain his place. The centre back pairing are likely to be reverted back to the Jekyll and Hyde duo at Rotherham United a week ago.

Thinly veiled criticism of Harry Bunn, coupled with being hooked after just half an hour in the previous match might mean he has to make do with a place amongst the substitutes. Mihail Dobre and Chris Maguire will look to exploit the gaps behind the wider men in the attacking midfield three the Pilgrims will almost certainly employ and feed captain Jermaine Beckford and the quietly impressive Michael Smith; the latter’s influence on the strategy and rapport with the four-goal striker in particular was a crumb of comfort for the travelling fans that the support Beckford receives could increase to a more consistently threatening level, especially with Smith’s presence from set plays.

Plymouth vs Bury A 1718.PNG

The back four in front of custodian Luke McCormick will stay deep in an effort to stem the flow of chances created (and goals conceded) at all times. The double pivot of deep-lying playmaker Jamie Ness and his experienced teammate David Fox will  shield the defence and also supply the front four mainly by playing raking long passes both along the ground and in the air to a lesser degree. The return of Antoni Sarcevic, a constant thorn against the Shakers in whatever colours he’s been in, will be a filip for Adams without Carey’s match-winning potential. Look for him to go beyond Nadir Çiftçi on a regular basis. Neither Jake Jervis nor Joel Grant are likely to be burdened with too much tracking back responsibilities and the home dugout will have to ensure that a better balance is struck between pragmatism and an attacking onslaught than witnessed thus far in 2017/2018.

As for a prediction, I’m going to go for a 2-1 victory to the Devon outfit. I have zero confidence whatsoever in Clark’s ability to arrest the slump both on and off the pitch. Adams’ charges have equally been the architects of their own downfall in the last month as much as that can be apportioned to their opponents. They are likely to have three or four green shirts perpetually buzzing in and around the penalty area and are almost certain as a result to find some joy against a similarly porous backline. Whether yet another setback in this ‘six-pointer’ will cost Clark his job remains to be seen but in Adams’ case, a win could just kickstart their campaign once more as like with their hosts, the talent in their squad is undoubtedly there but they look to be in much better hands regardless of their early position in the table.

Fleetwood Town 3-2 Bury: Review

I’m going to do this one a little differently by using excerpts from a frankly incredible post-match interview with Bury manager Lee Clark after the latest failure to avoid another defeat in the league, plunging the Shakers into 22nd after last-gasp winners for near neighbours Oldham Athletic and Rochdale…

“You don’t get a lot of luck where we are (in the league). You have to create your own luck.”

Luck is a completely arbitrary concept that is impossible to prove or disprove. There was no misfortune last night; Fleetwood Town were the better side, missed a penalty of their own and had further clear-cut chances to add to their tally of three. Equally, Jermaine Beckford’s missed penalty in injury time wasn’t bad luck. He didn’t slip in his run-up or when striking the ball. He simply got underneath it too much and hit it to hard. As a consequence, the chance went begging for an end to the losing streak.

“In the second half, there was only one team who were going to win it.”

Utterly untrue. Even before the Cod Army’s decisive third goal through the menacing Ash Hunter, it was an even contest and Aidem O’Neill’s excellent headed effort came back the Shakers, it would be egregious to claim that the hosts were ever really under the cosh for any extended period of time and always appeared to be at least on par.

“Not a great night again for us… but we’ve done lots of good things.”

Yes, more chances were at last created. The dual-pronged threat of Mihai Dobre and Chris Maguire (thankfully restored to the lineup), coupled with two strikers in the box to aim for, helped immeasurably and it would be a mischaracterisation to suggest that there was only one strategy to penetrate the back three in red and white. That said, there were still basic errors in defence (and midfield) that keep costing goals and points…

“The shape of the team wasn’t right. We became too easy to play against.”

And whose fault was that? I took one look at the XI when it was announced and struggled to picture in my mind what the shape would be. Deploying Rohan Ince behind a trio of Harry Bunn, Dobre and Maguire and two strikers in Beckford and Michael Smith is as unbalanced as it gets. Clark thought the all-out attack formation would mean that the men in black would dominate the ball but he completely failed to take into account how Uwe Rösler would set his stall out.

The Fleetwood boss did exactly what I thought he would do in my preview (which the coaching staff could’ve read to be clued up in lieu of scouting their opponents). Amari’i Bell and Lewie Coyle bombed on from wing-back at any given opportunity and used their pace to excellent effect. O’Neill and Kyle Dempsey only had Ince to worry about and overwhelmed him in the opening half an hour. The decision to take off Bunn and put Josh Laurent in his place was the belatedly correct one to make, but by that stage, the visitors were trailing 2-0 yet again. The Wigan Athletic loanee’s back-header for the second goal was also demonstrative of excellent awareness and perhaps he’ll grow into the side in his preferred position.

I have often come to the defence of Clark when it comes to changing shape from game to game. It’s true that can make gelling more difficult but whilst he continues to freeze almost every player who can play a role in central midfield comfortably out, these are the consequences. Having only one there last night was tantamount to suicide and, coupled with an extremely rusty looking Joe Skarz on the left and Phil Edwards inexplicably playing at centre back against the speed of Jordi Hiwula-Mayifuila and Devante Cole, it was just nonsensical overall.

“We do need more from certain players as well who we’ve brought through the doors to give us an attacking impetus.”

I can only think he means Bunn, having frozen out Nicky Ajose. The former Huddersfield Town inside forward has mostly flattered to deceive and became the fall guy last night for Clark’s naïvety. I’d like to see him in a role without the ‘shackles’ of defensive responsbilities, but that means having a much more solid central midfield behind him.

“Michael Smith has been excellent since he signed (and without a pre-season behind him).”

It’s hard to disagree with that assessment on the limited evidence thus far. Smith demonstrated some good touches (which usually goes against the archetypal target man that springs to mind for most fans) and has forged an embryonic understanding with Beckford. If he recovers in time for Saturday, expect to see him line up alongside the captain for some time to come.

“It was a ridiculous decision (from Tom Aldred) to give the penalty away.”

It was. It was similar to Adam Thompson’s rash challenge in the Wigan game in how blatant a penalty it was. Thankfully, Hiwula-Mayifuila missed on that occasion but the lead-up to it had already demonstrated how Bell was giving Jordan Williams the runaround. Aldred later redeemed himself with a goal-saving tackle, but it will be interesting to see whether he retains his place for Saturday’s bottom four clash with Plymouth Argyle.

“Everyone has to take responsibility (for the current situation).”

In a way, he’s correct… but not once during that interview or any previous one that I can recall has he shouldered any of the ‘blame’ for it himself. Contrast this with AFC Wimbledon’s Neal Ardley in his take on their failure to overcome a woeful 10-man Gillingham outfit and, keeping in mind the level of expectations at Kingsmeadow are much lower than at Gigg Lane, his reaction is much more humble. Few supporters will expect Clark to fall on his sword for the situation he has largely created of his accord but you very rarely hear the personal pronoun ‘I’ anywhere close to the word ‘responsibility’, which is galling.

“(Beckford’s goal) was terrific. Four goals in seven games is better than a one-in-two ratio.”

It was indeed. Very few players in Bury colours in my lifetime have been capable of executing an overhead kick that results in a goal and it’s a shame that such a strike will be forgotten about in no time at all. I have seen some fans heavily criticising him for his displays but I think he has been mostly been on a hiding to nothing apart from last night and the opening game of the season; he simply hasn’t had the support from his teammates and his propensity to get involved with opponents off-the-ball doesn’t help. That said, his efforts so far indicate that there could be plenty more to come from him if the supply lines are (kept) open.

“You see the real men. You see the ones who are sticking their chests out and ready to fight… the dressing room is full of good characters.”

It’s hard to know what to believe anymore. This is the same person who so publicly tried to offload eight players on or close to the summer transfer window deadline and only ‘succeeded’ with two (not including Chris Sang at Southport as that is obviously more of a developmental opportunity at 18 years of age to experience first-team football on a regular basis). Does he mean who he now includes in matchday squads are good characters? You have a situation where members of the roster not chosen are sat in the stands or at home, stating things at odds with the united front Clark is trying to portray. I have gone on record to say that I wouldn’t have kept Andrew Tutte (or Neil Danns to a lesser extent) but whilst they and others are fit and contracted/registered to the club, they have to be considered. If results were in line with the lofty expectations both he and chairman Stewart Day had set, the current rift would be easier to accept… but it’s not the case.

“You (Mikael McKenzie, Bury Times journalist) might feel I’m under pressure because you’ve asked the question and I thought your article in the programme was nonsense as well, so… not a problem. I speak to the owner every day. We know what the job in hand is… but if you want us to go down the ‘de Boer route’, you keep pushing for that.”

I don’t know what Mikael wrote but as he’s not employed by the club, he can ask what he likes. It is up to the manager or whoever else is the subject of his questions to answer (or not) as they see fit. For the record, he asked if Clark was feeling under pressure as a result of last night’s defeat leaving Bury in the relegation zone and the above text in bold is the manager’s verbatim reaction. It was an uncalled for response and tells you everything you need to comprehend about the pressure and his current conduct, which I think in this case is actually unacceptable and to me, it represents the final straw.

Clark has to look in the mirror for the reasons for the current malaise and if he has the decency he thinks he does, he should resign his position as manager of Bury Football Club now. It is one thing to alienate players he brought to Carrington just months ago; it is quite another to launch a thinly-veiled rebuke to a journalist who asked a simple, unloaded question. I will always think him for galvanising a similarly disparate collective back in February to ensure third tier status was retained. However, he no longer has my support in any capacity.

 

Fleetwood Town vs Bury: Preview

It would be remiss to state that Bury supporters’ confidence is at an all-time nadir as they have suffered on many recent occasions but perhaps never has the gap between expectations, talent in the squad and latterly, the results and performances ever been so wide. Speculation continues to mount regarding Lee Clark’s future as manager at the football club. A likely defeat to coastal Lancashire outfit Fleetwood Town might spell the end of his tenure and would almost certainly plunge the Shakers into an early bottom four position.

Another late winner for their opponents on Saturday was the least both sides deserved; the current group look unmotivated for reasons that you don’t have to be a private investigator to uncover but which only further decrease the chances of a badly needed positive performance and result tonight. They face Uwe Rösler’s side who sit 10 places higher in the nascent table and with a game in hand on most other teams because of the international break’s effect a fortnight ago.

The Trawlermen have uncharacteristically shipped five during their last two matches against an erratic Bristol Rovers and a far from free-scoring Oldham Athletic, which must concern Rösler to some extent. However, they came back from behind on Saturday against the Latics to claim a share of the spoils from the penalty spot and are unlikely to give up the chase in any match, even when behind by more than one.

Fleetwood vs Bury H 1718

Even without my tip for top goalscorer in League One, Conor McAleny, the threats they possess are not to be dismissed lightly. The triumvirate of Devante Cole, Jordi Hiwula-Mayifuila and Bobby Grant all have distinctive individual abilities to worry even the most rampart-like of defences in the third tier. Cole and Grant are likely to sit in the inside channels without the ball and not let their opponents pass across their backline without any qualms. Cole can comfortably play anywhere across the front and Hiwula-Mayifuila has the pace and nous to time his runs to make deploying a high line tantamount to waving a white flag. Grant adds both creativity and physicality to the trio and will shuttle between the forwards and midfield in order to receive the ball from Aiden O’Neill or Lewie Coyle on the right flank.

Both Coyle and the opposite wing-back Amari’i Bell are adept in either a high-press 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 (which they reverted to in the Oldham game after the hour mark). Either way, they will patrol their territory and endeavour to keep their positional discipline in an extremely demanding role. O’Neill will offer some protection for the back three, who are almost certain to play a very high line and in doing so, keep the ball in the visitors’ territory for prolonged exchanges. Naturally, that particular tactic, as with all others, is a double-edged sword…

vs Fleetwood A 1718.PNG

Nathan Cameron will not be involved in the matchday squad, so Tom Aldred will deputise and need to demonstrate similar leadership to help the concentration of a young back four. Greg Leigh and Jordan Williams are going to have their hands full against the wide players and must be careful not to get caught out of position, particularly if those areas are overloaded with red and white shirts. Alex Whitmore has to shake off a woeful display against Rotherham. Whilst he won’t be coming up against any target men in this encounter, the raw speed of the front three will keep him on the back foot.

Further upfield, expect to see Josh Laurent partnered with Rohan Ince now that Mihai Dobre made a reasonably successful cameo on the right wing. The combination with Phil Edwards on Saturday simply conceded too much space and time to the Millers and this will need some sort of reaction in order to stave off what feels inevitable at the time of writing. Dobre and Harry Bunn could swap wings at regular intervals and will need to ensure that their link-ups between the central two and Jermaine Beckford in particular are consistent. The key will be getting in behind Bell and Coyle and running at the defence, who aren’t the quickest unit.

Beckford could have some of the donkey work taken off him if Michael Smith makes his full debut. The former Portsmouth striker also turned in an above-par display from the bench and if he can occupy Cian Bolger, the main physical threat to Beckford and any other player in black will be effectively eliminated.

As for a prediction, I’m going to go for a repeat of Saturday’s scoreline in South Yorkshire: 3-2 to Fleetwood. Rösler’s charges are not short of goals and, whilst not exactly watertight in defence at the time of writing, are likely to again restrict the Shakers to a handful of chances at best unless something improves on that side of things under Clark. This could easily be his last game in the dugout. I want him to succeed but he appears to be his own worst enemy and without the players on-board to help get Bury out of their rut, it looks ominous.