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.
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.
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.