Month: October 2017

The Next Appointment Must Ditch Short-Termism

The news broke from the club last night that both Lee Clark and Alan Thompson have belatedly been relieved of their management duties at Bury. In my opinion, this decision has come two months later than it ought to have done for the transfer deadline debacle, as well as his public criticism of Saul Shotton, a promising 16 year-old who made his full debut at centre-back in the 4-0 defeat by local rivals Rochdale in the EFL Trophy, which whilst not exactly the most prestigious competition, still didn’t sit right with me.

His tenure is now in the past though and what’s left of the coaching staff must regroup for the vital game away at National League outfit Woking in the FA Cup first round. Ryan Lowe has been placed in temporary charge whilst chairman Stewart Day seeks an appointment within a fortnight. That in my view is the right decision to make with regards to the timeframe; a repeat of last season’s dalliance whilst waiting for Clark’s contract at Kilmarnock to run down to lower than a year is unacceptable.

The bookies have already set their stalls out with regards to the next manager odds and as per usual, the same tired, familiar faces feature:

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Some of the above ‘favourites’ certainly have merit (particularly Michael Appleton) but the list does not inspire confidence in me; he is almost certain to be beyond the club’s reach in any case

The football managerial circuit is often quite a closed shop, a concept which I will discuss in much more depth in another blogpost. Supporters and the media alike only tend to advocate those who belong to one or more of the following groups: a big name, tried and tested (and largely failed elsewhere), had a playing career at the highest level or ‘a club legend’. Very rarely do boards stray from those criteria and think a little more outside of the box and I don’t expect Day to either. I have the nagging feeling that yet again, it will be someone with a strong connection to Huddersfield Town, regardless of whether they are the best person for the role (cough Chris Powell *cough).

He might also do well to consider a restructure of how the club recruits players. That is not me saying that the current group are not good enough; far from it. However, the manager should be largely left to the day job of looking after their players, working on tactics and appropriate training schedules. A Director of Football is an increasingly popular, albeit still peripheral, role in English professional football. Granted, the previous time it was tried at Gigg Lane didn’t exactly work out well but the 10-year gap has seen big changes in the sport and clubs’ approaches and policies in this area.

I would go a bit left field and look very carefully at the work done by joint bosses Bernard Morley and Anthony Johnson at Salford City; yes, they have been well-backed by chairwoman Karen Baird and the famous owners but they have adapted extremely well to the club becoming fully professional in the close season and maintain a great fondness for Bury. More importantly, they are open to new ideas and are currently guiding the Ammies to a high standing in the National League North whilst playing an attractive, attacking brand of football. The only major caveat is that their contract has more than a year left to run, expiring in March 2019.

Whoever is at the helm when the side travel down to Gillingham in just under a fortnight’s time, below is the brief I would give them were I unlucky enough to be the person making the call:

Short-Term Goals

Pay Little Heed to What Has Happened Before

This relates to players being frozen out by the previous incumbent. For example, Nicky Ajose is fit but has not featured in a first team competitive fixture since August. It is a waste of resources for this to be the case regardless of your opinion on the start he made to his third loan spell in white and royal blue. The Charlton Athletic forward is far from the only player who was maligned by Clark in his eight-month reign but with Jermaine Beckford’s return date from injury unknown at the time of writing and Michael Smith woefully out of form and low on confidence, more options are needed to provide a cutting edge up top.

Accentuate the Strengths, Hide the Weaknesses in the Team

Below is a possible lineup for Sunday:

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What is your immediate gut reaction to it?

The lack of available centre backs inadvertently but immediately makes the setup look more dynamic. Some might look and say “Nicky Ajose can’t play as a lone striker”. In the right system, he can. The current weakest areas are in the left side of defence and the balance in midfield, but Andrew Tutte’s reemergence helps to a certain extent with that. The best three outfield players on paper would all be behind Ajose, so the general idea is to keep the ball as high up the pitch as possible. Revolutionary, I know… but for now at least, that’s the sort of strategy the new person should be employing. Putting the emphasis firmly on defence only works if the collective unit is strong.

Pay More Than Lip Service to Talented Young Players

That doesn’t mean all of a sudden that the likes of Shotton, Callum Hulme and Wealth Da Silva have to feature in every match. It is well-known that the Category 3 academy is currently very productive and there are a large number of the contingent who could make the step up on a more regular basis. Constantly talking them up and subsequently not playing any for large stretches of time as has previously been apparent makes no sense whatsoever, especially when injuries and suspensions bite.

Appoint Scouts to, Y’know, Scout Players

It has come to my attention that there are no scouts for the first team currently! This cannot be allowed to continue. As stated above, the new manager should concentrate on the day-to-day duties and allow specialists to find talent in areas which need strengthening. A more collegiate, informed approach can then be adopted when discussing who to sign. Which leads me onto…

Long-Term Goals

Cease the Ridiculous Churn of Players

There are more than enough on the books as it is already. Terminating unnecessary loan deals is a quick way to reduce the bloated roster but long-term, there should be fewer in and out of the door in any given transfer window. The turnover at Bury is the highest in England and has been ever since Day took over. He must now realise the error of his ways and instruct the new manager to take more care and consideration over each player (de)registration. Only then can the club realistically hope to have a semblance of harmony behind the scenes and a better crack at success on the pitch.

Re-emphasise the Value of Coaching Over ‘Quick Fixes’

This follows on from the above point. Modern tactics have shifted the onus once more from players being specialist in a certain role/position to needing to be multi-faceted. The requirements of any tactical system should reflect this. Only when there is a very specific role no current member can realistically fill in an appropriate timeframe should a new signing be considered. Delegate responsibility to the coaching team to ensure each individual knows what the manager requires of them in a given match. Don’t overcomplicate their duties it but by the same token, they don’t have to be the exact same every time. Respect the opposition’s threats and try to deal with them accordingly.

Stop Young Players Being Sold at the First Possible Opportunity

The function of the academy must now firmly move on from a quick cash-in by Day. Will Ferry could’ve offered something different to any group. That’s not to say he would’ve been necessarily better straight away but we’ll never know because he was sold before tasting a single minute of first team football. His and others’ values will more than likely increase when exposed to regular gametime – it’s quite a simple notion. Having the ability to retain precocious talent for at least a season or two will go a long way to helping the club be self-sufficient. Look at Rochdale’s model.

Prove You Can Adapt and Evolve Your Ideas Over Time

Some Bury managers’ stars have initially shined brightly but then dimmed when they hadn’t devised viable alternative strategies when things don’t go their way or injuries crop up. Having contingencies in place beforehand will curtail the inevitable dips in form. Additionally, when something works, don’t assume it will continue to do so in perpetuity. The sport is rapidly evolving, even at third tier level.

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Will the Last Person to Leave Gigg Lane Please Turn Off the Lights

Apologies to the faint of heart (or, well, any Bury fan at the moment) for the ghoulish image but it seemed apt for the time of year!

Bury’s disastrous, howling shambles of a season lurched to a new level of bleakness on Saturday with perhaps the most lifeless, gutless, spineless performance seen by the hosts at Gigg Lane this century (despite numerous, extremely stiff competition in that regard), especially given the now dire standing in the league table after 16 games. Only Plymouth Argyle are keeping the Shakers from propping up the division and even their results have been more encouraging recently. The players appeared shockingly low on confidence and simply had no clue how to set about the task of overcoming Doncaster Rovers even before Jermaine Beckford’s injury and Eoghan O’Connell’s deserved red card after being utterly bamboozled by John Marquis.

Admittedly, being a man down for an entire half would be a tough ask for any side but thanks to Clark’s lack of tactical nous, they never even laid a glove on Donny and when the inevitable winner came from a set piece, it prompted an exodus from the stadium and belatedly, chants calling for the manager to be removed from his post came from the contingent still present against their better judgement. Supporters have in fact been very patient and are not apt to blithely vent their anger mere games into a new chief’s tenure. 19 matches into 2017/2018 and the current incumbent’s record reads:

Won 4, Drawn 3, Lost 12, For 18, Against 29

Relative to any other manager in my 24 years of following the club, he has been backed in the transfer market more than any of them and yet has led his charges to a lower position than when he was appointed. The squad as a collective must shoulder some of the blame for their predicament but I would hypothetically swap Clark for any other permanent manager during those nearly two and a half decades of support.

  • Mike Walsh made some astute signings but ultimately led Bury to play-off final failure, a match so bad for anyone donning the white and royal blue that a fox running onto the old Wembley pitch was the highlight of the day. He failed to recover from that ‘hangover’ and was sacked after suffering a 5-0 reverse at home against Plymouth.

 

  • His replacement, Stan Ternent, was not exactly welcomed with any pomp and ceremony… but the rest is history.

 

  • Neil Warnock made many, many huge missteps (especially with signings and donning attire of certain other clubs during his time), but his sides were generally hard to beat, if bereft of goals and invention. He resigned to take over at Sheffield United in the least surprising managerial move I can recall.

 

  • Andy Preece had a penchant of throwing himself on whilst player-manager in the dying minutes to ensure he drew the maximum salary from the club. He had a tough job (especially during administration). Ultimately, he was let go because of cost-cutting measures but he came back to haunt his former employers on several occasions with Carlisle United.

 

  • Graham Barrow was exactly what Rochdale fans at the time warned he would be: a long-ball merchant but without the results to back up his tactics and the football served up was generally dour. He did oversee the emergence of talent like David Nugent and Colin Kazim-Richards into the senior setup on a regular basis. A single win in the first 10 of 2005/2006 sealed his fate, however.

 

  • Chris Casper was someone I wanted to do well. Praised for his work with the U18s, he was promoted to stewardship of the first team. A comeback 3-2 victory against now-defunct Darlington ensured Bury’s 114-year league status was preserved but not without a point being deducted for fielding an ineligible player. This ‘feat’ was repeated a season later in the FA Cup, which meant the Shakers were denied a place in the third round. Nobly, he offered to resign but this was rejected by the board at the time. Bizarrely, his contract was extended after a long, winless run in March 2007. In an ironic twist, he was sacked before a replay against Norwich City at Gigg Lane, which shockingly, they won to secure passage to the fourth round.

 

  • Alan Knill did not deliver the success he ought to have done. Given every backing by the board, he rallied his troops upon his appointment to an almost unthinkable 13th place in less than four months, playing an enterprising, attacking 4-4-2 shape in almost every single encounter. The following season, a deviation in the closing stages from his oft-repeated ‘if you can’t win, don’t lose’ maxim might have yielded the points and/or goals necessary to achieve promotion. In the end, they fell short by a goal difference of one when parity would’ve made all the difference. One of the most-one sided play-off semi second legs ended in the most gut-wrenching of penalty shoot-out defeats. A total collapse in form from February 2010 onwards meant the Shakers missed out on the play-offs altogether. He jumped ship the following year at a similar interval to Scunthorpe United.

 

  • Richie Barker is still the most ‘successful’ man in post since Stan Ternent. Doubtlessly with the help of senior players like Efe Sodje and Ryan Lowe, he took the shell-shocked group to at one point within a whisker of the League Two title, securing promotion at eventual champions Chesterfield on their turf. Arguably, he had his legs cut from under him by the transfer deadline day sale of Lowe to Sheffield Wednesday in the subsequent campaign but free agents such as Mike Grella steadied the ship when the goals and points were drying up. A finish of 14th (goal difference from top half) remains the highest placing since relegation from the second tier in 1998/1999. He left to take over the then-cash rich Crawley Town on the eve of the new season.

 

  • Kevin Blackwell was extremely difficult to like when in post, but if Barker had his legs cut off him by the board, he had his hands amputated as well. It was a common sight for the bench to only have two from a possible seven on it and the Shakers were relegated with a winding-up petition against them. This was the point when Stewart Day took over and a whole slew of signings were made in a late close season rush. Many of them were found to be sub-standard and he was relieved of his post. He had roughly the same record as Clark now does…

 

  • David Flitcroft was a bit of a Marmite character. Under him, there were plenty of highs but also some frightening depths. He secured promotion in his first full season but was unable to really kick on despite some of the players he was allowed to sign. His inability to find an effective plan ‘b’ when hampered by injuries was what I believe sealed his fate and the 5-0 drubbing by AFC Wimbledon in the FA Cup made it impossible for Day not to sack him despite the public vote of confidence he received a week prior.

 

All of the above, with the obvious exception of Ternent, had major flaws of at least one sort of another but in spite of that, I would swap him for any of the others on that list. Not even Flitcroft was endorsed so much by Day as Clark has been when it comes to shaping his own squad and backroom staff. That of course makes it harder in some ways for him to be disposed of and I’m sure the injury (and eventual return) of Stephen Dawson will massively help give a stagnant midfield a boost. However, he has not demonstrated whatsoever even an inkling of an ability to get the most out of what I still maintain is the most talented roster since the time of ‘Stan the Man’, nor did he recruit when he had the chance for the contingency of Dawson being unavailable. The conservatism on display betrays where many of the players’ strengths and whilst there are areas of concern (which I’ll touch on in another post), he’s currently making a mockery of what ought to have been the best season in 20 years and it would only have needed a finish of 13th or higher to achieve that. My own pre-season prediction was relatively cautious amongst both the fanbase and pundits at large.

I take no pleasure in wanting someone to lose their job. That said, the time is now for a replacement to be found. Now whilst the likes of Chris Maguire, Jay O’Shea and Harry Bunn are still on the books. Now whilst there’s a decent chance of at least getting to the next round in two cup competitions. Now whilst Bury are not yet hopelessly cut adrift at the bottom of the league. The financial penalties will be large for making the decision but they will be even worse if the current course is continued. When even season ticket holders in large numbers are staying away from Gigg Lane, Day must be keenly aware of the precarious situation he finds himself in.

Bury vs Doncaster Rovers: Preview

Under-fire Lee Clark is somehow still in situ, so the foreboding feeling almost every Bury fan has about any fixture in 2017/2018 is more than apparent. Tomorrow, his woefully underperforming troupe will welcome Darren Ferguson’s Doncaster Rovers to Gigg Lane, with most analysts agreeing that it will take a home victory to delay the issuing of a P45 to him after just eight months in the role. The rousing triumph over Bradford City feels like a very distant memory, particularly after three consecutive losses in fixtures which under competent stewardship would otherwise be eminently winnable.

Donny are faring little better than their hosts and both sides have experienced the false dawn of an opening day win segueing into patchy form at best. Like Bury, there have been one or two impressive-looking victories thus far but they have been largely drowned out by consecutive defeats and some desperate, fruitless spells in front of goal. Confidence is understandably low in both camps and the son of perhaps the greatest modern-day manager of all time is also feeling the heat from his own supporters, although their ambitions for their first season back in the third tier were never quite as lofty as the bullish rhetoric publicly conveyed by the Lancashire outfit in the summer interlude.

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Again, I doubt there’ll be any radical shift in emphasis despite the probable outcome for Clark if this fixture ends in an unthinkable 10th league defeat before the end of October. In goal, it depends on whether Joe Murphy has recovered from his rather graphic illness in time to have trained with the group but I suspect Leo Fasan will continue to deputise. With few alternative options in defence or in the forward line on the bench, the midfield remains the area with the biggest doubts in terms of selection. Andrew Tutte at last made a cameo appearance on Tuesday but I don’t envision him starting just yet (and if you believe some fans, at all under the current regime). Jay O’Shea was one of the few bright sparks in the local derby fixture and he will be tasked with helping unlock a similarly shaky backline in black and green.

Doncaster vs Bury A 1718

Ex-loanee Ian Lawlor is the preferred custodian for the South Yorkshire club and he has at times made costly mistakes, especially from set pieces; however, he has also made some of the scorelines look much more respectable than they would otherwise have been and he is sure to be at his best tomorrow. The central defensive trio are a mirror image of their hosts, with the distinctly right-footed Mathieu Baudry deployed as the left-sided player, ‘middle-man’ Andy Butler holding the shape together and the far from sprightly Joe Wright anchoring the right side, which is something the likes of Greg Leigh and O’Shea should look to use to their advantage.

The overall formation is one of the few that is almost symmetrical to Clark’s current preference; Harry Toffolo, who I highly regard, provides the thrust down the left flank and is also adept from set plays and a useful asset aerially. Many of the chances and goals conceded have come down their right, with no true wing-back in Matty Blair’s absence. Niall Mason is versatile but is perhaps more suited to a conservative role as he lacks the raw pace required for such a demanding position.

In midfield, Rodney Kongolo might get the nod to give the backline a little more protection when Rovers are without the ball. The on-loan Manchester City youngster has a bright future ahead of him and he combines his strength in tackle with an ability to carry the ball out from behind his teammates and into the attacking third. Ben Whiteman has a keen eye for goal, contributing three so far, all of which came in the same game against Southend United earlier in the month and in a variety of ways. His partner Jordan Houghton will stick to his position more rigidly and attempt to win the battle in the middle in both the air and on the ground.

The evergreen James Coppinger could be recalled to the starting XI and asked to link the lines together as he done so exceptionally throughout his storied career. Any fan of the lower leagues is aware of his talent, his low centre of gravity being key to his mazy runs and uncanny knack of finding space to exploit for his teammates to benefit from. Highly-rated John Marquis has notched five in the league thus far and will be the focal point of the visitors’ attacks. He also presses from the front in a way that Clark often says he wants his side to do but without any real evidence to back it up. His supremely high stamina allows him to do this all day long and he will more than a handful for a defence that hates runners and being put under any sustained pressure.

As for a prediction, I’m backing Ferguson to haul his charges out of their rut and condemn Bury to a fourth straight defeat by the narrow margin of 2-1. This is the closest I’ve ever come to wishing for a negative outcome in the hope that the board will wake up from their stupor and realise that even if Clark achieves a win, simply dotting the campaign with them occasionally at this stage is far from sufficient and a relegation battle is more than on the cards with his slippery hands on the steering wheel, which would be criminal with the array of players at his disposal.

 

Oldham Athletic 2-1 Bury: Review

  • The Sword of Damocles must surely be hovering above Lee Clark’s head after last night’s last-gasp 2-1 defeat at local rivals Oldham Athletic, which came as a surprise to almost precisely zero of the long-suffering Bury fans and especially those gathered in thinner numbers than would normally be the case at Boundary Park (a combination of woeful form and enthusiasm waning are two chief reasons for that).

 

  • Leo Fasan has had to face some criticism on these pages and amongst the fanbase as a whole but he was arguably the Shakers’ best performer, repelling the scheming Jack Byrne and Craig Davies on multiple occasions. Illness to Joe Murphy returned him between the sticks and in truth, there was very little he could do with either goal but he did apply himself well in the first 45 minutes when the Latics were looking the much more dangerous going forward. Ousmane Fané kept finding space on the left where he was able to drift into far to frequently without real cost to his side from a defensive standpoint.

 

  • The movement for the opening goal shows what confidence can do to players largely unheralded but still talented. Eoin Doyle reached double digits for 2017/2018 in just his tenth outing in a blue and red shirt, finishing off a move which saw three other teammates involved as they danced around their statuesque opponents, rendering the numbers they had back behind the ball absolutely useless. I’m sure Richie Wellens will be looking to extend the Preston North End striker’s loan deal to the end of the campaign as his top priority.

 

  • Rohan Ince continues to look lethargic and sluggish whenever he plays, particularly with the ball. It’s impossible to know for certain whether it is down to a lack of match fitness, something more abstract or a lack of desire to continue giving his best efforts to a manager on the brink. Either way, the persistent deployment of only two individuals in central midfield is hurting the side’s ability to both retain and regain possession, which in turn affects every single other area of the pitch. It remains the largest on-field issue and the late appearances of Josh Laurent and Andrew Tutte could mean his gametime is further restricted in the coming weeks.

 

  • Tom Aldred’s excellent headed equaliser only serves to re-emphasise the need for goals from people not called Jermaine Beckford. In a rare moment of haste, Callum Reilly took a free-kick and sprayed the ball wide to Jay O’Shea, who was at the time revelling in his advanced role. At the byline, he managed to pick out the former Blackpool skipper and his powerful effort bounced in with the aid of the crossbar. That he achieved this whilst leaning backwards only serves to enhance it and the BL9 outfit will need that creativity from the Irishman to aid their approach play, which has often looked pedestrian.

 

  • Compare and contrast the centre backs from both teams. Granted, neither grouping are bulwarks of solidity judging from the goals against column but Peter Clarke and Kean Bryan both appeared extremely comfortable with their duties, their differing attributes on and off the ball complement each other well. The former loanee at Gigg Lane kept Jermaine Beckford as quiet as he been all season long, which is no small feat. The men in black however are more disparate. Aldred is a complete mismatch for a left-sided role in a three; Eoghan O’Connell, whilst generally doing things in a calm manner, blotted his copy book with the winner at the death. Phil Edwards is a conservative but accomplished full-back masquerading as the right of the trio with neither the height nor the pace to deal with quick, direct balls in behind the line. The unit looks much weaker as a result.

 

  • Michael Smith has looked off-colour for several games now and it is telling that, Chris Maguire aside, there were no forward options on the bench, making Clark’s decision to introduce Tutte for him beyond baffling considering the confidence boost going for broke and winning could have achieved for his charges. That isn’t an indictment of Tutte at all but it points to the manager’s apparent stubborness to reintroduce Nicky Ajose into the fold, which is cutting off the legs of any real Plan B in games. In the channels, he could’ve found some joy against a tiring backline but we probably won’t see him grace the field again with the current man at the helm.

 

  • Yet again, my warnings of what an opposing player can do went unheeded by the coaching staff*. Johny Placide, the Haitian custodian for the hosts, has excellent ability at his feet. Sometimes, he uses them instead of his hands, which can occasionally appear awkward or even prove costly. On the other hand, his stellar save from Beckford and subsequent quick thinking and accurate kicking won his teammates all three points. Aaron Amadi-Holloway was thrown on to do just that and he received the long pass from his goalkeeper with no shortage of good control, holding off O’Connell much too easily and firing past the helpless Fasan to provide a dramatic finish. You could argue the deathblow was cruel on the visitors but they didn’t deserve to win and are paying the price week in, week out for Clark’s hapless management of the talent at his disposal. Wellens has galvanised his struggling side and been a transformative presence in such a short time. Something similar is now required at Bury and immediately. Surely even Stewart Day must now take action?

 

*Obviously, I don’t actually expect them to read it but it’s amazing what a bit of scouting of the opposition can turn up. It doesn’t always stop things happening but it certainly reduces the risk of being caught unaware…

Oldham Athletic vs Bury: Preview

The games don’t stop even if the general level of enthusiasm amongst Bury supporters is dropping like a stone. The Shakers make the short trip eastwards to local rivals Oldham Athletic, where despite a woeful start and money troubles all too familiar to both sets of fans, now-permanent manager Richie Wellens has galvanised his group with a remarkable turnaround in his first six games, remaining unbeaten against stiff opposition and adding a touch of excitement to the Latics play not previously witnessed on a consistent basis for several seasons.

An eight-goal thriller last time out at stadium:mk saw the south-east Lancashire outfit pegged back from winning positions no fewer than three times but the stunning progress made since John Sheridan’s third departure from the dugout cannot be understated and sees them go into tonight’s clash as firm favourites. In complete contrast, the almost inevitable limp, late defeat to Southend United is emblematic of the current mentality at Bury; everyone invested in their fortunes needs a massive lift and certainly sooner rather than later.

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Direct, quick attacks are the order of the day for Oldham now. In Johny Placide, they have an experienced custodian who likes to use his feet and attempts to make up for his relative short stature for a goalkeeper by positively coming for crosses and punching the ball if he feels he cannot make a solid connection. Peter Clarke provides the bulk of the rearguard action who doesn’t like forwards running into space against him but in any close quarters duel, he normally comes out on top and will use any (fair) means at his disposal to prevent goals being conceded. Kean Bryan has grown into the ball-playing centre-back role alongside him and will take a higher line when in possession to distribute wide to Rob Hunt. Both he and Cameron Dummigan like to get forward in support of their respective wingers but are unlikely to create overloads down either side to ensure a balance is struck in terms of numbers in the backline.

Ousmane Fané will starve Jay O’Shea or Chris Maguire of space and remain a steadfast figure protecting the defence. He has excellent strength and stamina and will look to track and contain whichever attacking midfielder gets the nod to help ensure the forwards aren’t reached down the middle. Queensy Menig can operate on either flank in advanced areas. If they are chasing the tie, expect him to push right up alongside Craig Davies and attempt to beat the defensive line for pullbacks to the target man and Eoin Doyle. Dan Gardner will cut inside from the right and support the precociously talented Jack Byrne. The playmaker on loan from the other Latics has been a revelation at Boundary Park, pulling the strings in the middle and underlining the ability he unquestionably has with a more focused application on the pitch.

Davies has also settled in well to his new surroundings, boasting a one-in-two strike rate. He will be the focal point of most forays forward by the hosts and his understanding with Doyle has already reaped rewards. The latter, who has previous with Beckford when they were teammates at Preston North End together last season, is only two goals off the top of the League One goalscoring charts despite only featuring in nine matches! I wouldn’t say he has any particular stand-out attributes but arguably, that plays to his advantage because it means he can be effective in different contexts.

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The smaller than usual contingent arriving through the turnstiles later better hope that Lee Clark has a winning strategy and doesn’t just stick with what largely hasn’t worked… but I have a feeling that even with his tenure on the line, he won’t deviate from the script he has established for himself. The key tasks will be somehow shackling Byrne without an obvious player to do just that and then bypassing Fané. O’Shea is a bit more sprightly than Chris Maguire and has been knocking on the door to get his starting berth. Bury’s best hope is that either one can maintain a steady supply to Beckford and Michael Smith and that they put away presentable chances, especially the latter. As for a prediction, I’m going to go with 3-1 to the freescoring Latics, resulting in Clark’s dismissal. If defeat is how it goes, it will mean the Shakers will have accrued triple the losses as they have wins after 15 games, which would be simply unacceptable. I hope to be proven wrong once more but I just think there are much better candidates out there to reinvigorate the squad in a way that Wellens has…

 

 

 

 

The Damascene Conversion of Stewart Day: Why it Has to Happen Now

This piece is a follow-on of sorts to Bury Football Club Have No Identity, which I wrote back at the start of September.

Even in the space of eight weeks, the general feeling at Bury Football Club has slid even further. The largest online forum, once a hive of vitriolic activity on the frequent occasions the team lost, is now a much more ambivalent place to visit and this is also reflected in the stands at Gigg Lane. In previous years, yet another limp defeat would’ve been the catalyst for a vociferous outcry against the manager. No-one I’ve spoken to wants Lee Clark to remain in post a minute longer but the discontent amongst fans is… muted in how it is manifesting itself.

For me personally, there is an anger at seeing the current squad, which, not without its weaknesses, are being really poorly utilised by the current coaching staff. The difference between the talent within it and actual results is the widest I’ve ever known it to be in 24 seasons of following the club. However, even that emotion isn’t what it could be, nor is it directed at just the man in charge of team selection, tactics and transfers. I am angry that the chairman Stewart Day has allowed things to become so toxic that supporters who have been going many more decades than I have and who still have the means to watch the team week in, week out, are reconsidering that arrangement or have already made the decision to sadly stay away.

Of course, these occurrences arguably happen whenever someone is fed up for a long period of time with performances but I think this time, it’s something deeper and points to a more fundamental disconnect with Bury and arguably, the sport itself. As everyone knows (and those who follow teams who can call on larger fanbases often point out), the third tier side at the northern point of the Manchester conurbation have seldom enjoyed a groundswell of people through the turnstiles, so when it becomes more than a handful of die-hards, it’s very noticeable.

Additionally, I don’t believe that simply dismissing Clark will solve the growing problems at Gigg Lane but it nevertheless is a completely necessary step to take before, not after, tomorrow’s match away at local rivals Oldham Athletic. The perceived reluctance to do so (which many link to the pair’s strong connections to Huddersfield Town) only prolongs the profound sense of disillusionment many now have.

As I’ve said before, it isn’t just with matters on the pitch but how things are off it. There is a big disconnect between most staff and customers and even a cursory perusal through some of the stories online, which even if some were embellished, still paints a damning picture. I confess I readily accepted the idea of football clubs being ‘businesses’ many years ago but to that end, it’s only viable (and even close to solvent) if it retains the current level of customers or ideally, adds to them. Ignoring hand-written letters by people who have supported the club in a timespan of many decades is just soul-destroying.

Once again, mooted talk of a new stadium being built ‘within three years of 2017’ has gone quiet. The implications of such an idea are wide-reaching for the town as a whole but people are still really none the wiser as to if it will ever become a reality, let alone how it will be financed. It’s symptomatic of the current regime, often over-promising and under-delivering on a whole plethora of schemes. Before too long, even well-intentioned announcements in public receive the cold shoulder because just as with how 2017/2018 is going, the gap between expectation and reality is massive.

I am the researcher for Football Manager 2018 (so please direct your bile to me when it releases!). As you can imagine, there is a ridiculous level of detail involved in that, from superfluous things like a player’s skin complexion to the much more pertinent bank balance conundrum. I was asked by my superior how a club with no major revenue streams currently outside of matchdays can possibly afford the likes of Harry Bunn, Jermaine Beckford et al. I have no answer for that and the general confusion around this aspect only serves to further drive a wedge between the board and the only stakeholders who really ultimately matter: the fans.

Whilst this blogpost is not quite as pretentious/pointless as an open letter, if someone with influence in the club does happen to come across these pages, I would like them to consider what I’ve written: the chairman needs to have a radical rethink of where the club is going, how this is communicated and most importantly of all, how to get the small but actually very loyal core support back onside. Clark’s removal is but one piece of the puzzle. A much more open, humbler approach is also required. Few hold Day’s Championship ‘dream’ against him. In these times of mega-money sloshing about the game but only really being distributed amongst a small cabal, Bury cannot afford to lose their best and main source of income. The problems are bigger than just one team in the third tier but there is still much that can be done to eliminate or minimise them now.

I suggested to the club two years ago to conduct detailed research into what exactly the ‘average’ supporter and citizen of the metropolitan borough wants from them. Whilst not a panacea, it would go a long way now to bridging the gap many sorely feel before it becomes irreversible.

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All things considered, the current state of affairs is a drain on my enthusiasm to write reviews of games, not because the Shakers are frequently losing (although that doesn’t help!) but because it just feels like there’s an air of acceptance about it instead. On Saturday, it was a relatively even contest decided by a moment of magic from Southend United’s Ryan Leonard, who I warned about in the strongest terms during my preview. The current system does not play to the squad’s strengths and a change of tack is required tomorrow. Another loss would surely even force Day’s hand in this matter.

Southend United vs Bury: Preview

The two teams clashing at Roots Hall tomorrow could both do with a certain Adam Thompson in their ranks: the former Shrimpers centre-back was one of Phil Brown’s standout players in 2016/2017 and his loan switch from Bury to Bradford City close to deadline day has done little but expose some big problems at the back. Just to emphasise this point even more, between them, they have shipped 46 league goals already this campaign with Southend United almost at the halfway mark of last season’s total but still in mid-October.

The Essex outfit have only kept a solitary clean sheet in League One but similarly to Blackpool, they remain unbeaten on their own patch. The Shakers’ travails on the road are well-documented and it is an issue that urgently needs addressing for both the Lancashire outfit’s immediate fortunes and Lee Clark’s own position as manager. It is perfectly reasonable to suggest the visitors have been underperforming if not in recent displays but the results earned from them but will come up against another talented XI that haven’t really got going as of yet.

Southend vs Bury H 1718

Brown could welcome back several key players into his matchday squad; captain Anton Ferdinand will return from his recent suspension and veterans Michael Kightly and Michael Turner could hand him further boosts. The leaky defence is likely to be tweaked in at least one area, with Ferdinand slotting back in to the right-sided centre back role. He completely froze Tom Pope out during the last encounter and will doubtlessly be tasked with doing the same excellent operation on another target man, Michael Smith. He could persist with yet another Michael (Timlin) at left-back. He is unlikely to be tested much in the air by Harry Bunn unless he tries to tuck inside to help his teammates stifle Jermaine Beckford’s movement.

Ryan Leonard, an individual coveted by other sides, is another player who would probably prefer to be in midfield but could be asked to remain in the back four, which will limit his opportunities to showcase his high level of ability. Blessed with electric pace and power, he is also excellent on the dribble, so if he is at centre back, he can be relied on to bring the ball out and pick his colleagues out with a variety of passes.

Kightly needs little introduction; his skill will keep Bury’s defenders on their toes and he will provide most of Southend’s attacking width and thrust. Anthony Wordsworth dictates the tempo in the middle of the park and is almost as useful on his right foot as his left and there is plenty of scope for getting in between the opponents’ lines with passing triangles. 17 year-old Dru Yearwood could retain his spot and will divide his responsibilities carefully between supporting his partner and ensuring the spaces between the banks of four too don’t become too wide. Josh Wright, controversially let go by Gillingham, will cut inside often and shoot from range, so he will need closing down on a regular basis to prevent too many opportunities coming his way.

The front two are tireless workers and physically imposing. Simon Cox also has a creative edge and will look to play in the runners from midfield. If Marc-Antoine Fortuné gets the nod, he will use his strength and presence to shield the ball away from Eoghan O’Connell. If I were in the home dugout, I’d be tempted to go for the pace of Nile Ranger instead and let him scamper in the half-space and on the last shoulder.

vs Southend A 1718

The only likely change from the latest defeat is Jay O’Shea in place of Chris Maguire, who was carrying a knock and hasn’t been as immediately impressive roving behind the strikers since the international break. Once more, the width will all be on Greg Leigh and Bunn, who must temper their forward forays with helping out their largely one-paced central defensive compatriots. Josh Laurent will have a difficult assignment up against Wordsworth and must at least give the playmaker food for thought in order to prevent it becoming one-way traffic. If O’Shea can draw out Leonard, it will give Beckford the sort of room he enjoys working in.

As for a prediction, it’s hard to see there not being plenty of goals at Roots Hall. I’m backing Bury to come out on top of a 3-2 scoreline but they will pushed all the way. Should proceedings and the result go against Clark’s men, the pressure will well and truly be back on his shoulders to come up with something special in the local derby on Tuesday at Oldham Athletic. Time is already ticking on his chances to string together even two games without defeat.

 

 

Blackpool 2-1 Bury: Review

  • Gary Bowyer’s can count himself slightly fortunate to garner a victory from a match evenly contested in the first period but largely dominated by visitors Bury in the second. That said, I’ve always admired his ability to extract the very maximum from his players, particularly at Blackpool under somewhat testing circumstances given the ownership. He is also a better tactician than his opposite number Lee Clark and must have fancied his chances of three points when he saw the teamsheets. The Seasiders’ pacey front three were always going to cause issues for a more pedestrian Shakers defence and they often had to take a deep line to stop them getting in behind.

 

  • I uttered an audible groan when once again seeing Harry Bunn deployed at right wing-back. His poor start to life at the club might have circumstances beyond what we can glean on the pitch but he certainly is not being helped on it by his manager. The role is increasingly coming back into prominence in the sport and it requires a specific kind of player in order to fulfill it properly; they must have a high level of stamina (Bunn doesn’t at the best of times and looks unfit), track back (definitely not his forté) and have great positional ability (which he does but the role has much more emphasis on defence than suits his playstyle). Jordan Williams is a more obvious choice and his introduction into Tuesday night’s game was rather late into proceedings. If Clark persists with the current shape, he must have individuals on the flanks who are up to the task as they are currently providing all the width and support for a vulnerable defence. Greg Leigh selects himself on the left at the moment as there isn’t anyone else in the first team who can perform to a similar standard…

 

  • Speaking of Leigh, he had a big hand in the hosts’ opener. Granted, he wasn’t helped by Oliver Turton’s off-the-ball challenge going unpunished but unless he was still feeling the effects of it, the way he sauntered back into his own half as Blackpool went on the counter down his flank as they did on several occasions. The home side didn’t even need to go at breakneck speed to cut through the lines (such as they were) and very little resistance was offered, which is a big concern. Kelvin Mellor had the simplest of tasks to tap in the cross the cutback from Sean Longstaff, who looked to be enjoying the space he had to work in for most of the match. Additionally, Callum Reilly apart, there was no-one else in the side with a strong left foot from a defensive point of view. This will continue to be targetted until steps are taken to address the problem, which might as well be painted with a bullseye on it.

 

  • Tom Aldred has failed to convince most supporters just why Clark pursued the former Tangerines captain and player of the season from 2016/2017 almost all summer long, especially when Adam Thompson was sent out on loan to Bradford City (a decision which looks more galling by the day). Sometimes being put on the left of the central defensive three certainly isn’t helping but his lack of pace and much more worryingly, leadership abilities are doing his teammates no favours and how he lost his man for the second goal was criminal. The absence of Thompson and Nathan Cameron ought to mean that he sees it as an opportunity to stake his claim as the person the rest of the back five look to for guidance but if anything, he seems to be in need of it himself. Eoghan O’Connell is the only one right now who is making the position his own with any semblance of confidence.

 

  • Jay O’Shea can count himself unfortunate perhaps not to start in place of Chris Maguire, who looked to be carrying a knock when he joined the bench. As I said in the last review, his more direct style works well within the current shape and he is more of a link-man between midfield and attack. His chance at the death was well deflected onto his post by Ryan Allsop but it was still encouraging to see the positions he can get into with his late runs into the area. Ideally, I’d like to see him, Maguire and a motivated Bunn all in the same XI behind Beckford but that probably won’t happen anytime soon and especially not under Clark.

 

  • Jermaine Beckford has an excellent goal return of eight by mid-October and it’s not difficult to see why. In fairness to Bunn, his run and low cross from the right flank put it on a plate for his compatriot and the striker could afford a second touch to poke the ball home. What we need to see now are others from open play capable of easing the burden on him as a current look through the roster reads as per below. Only the management team can know why Nicky Ajose is still frozen out and whilst the return of O’Shea augurs well, the distinct lack of goals from midfield is a big worry; Josh Laurent missed a sitter with only Allsop to beat and neither him nor Reilly look to be currently capable of chipping in with any real frequency.
Jermaine Beckford - 8
Chris Maguire - 2 (both were penalties)
Nicky Ajose - 1
Josh Laurent - 1
Jay O'Shea - 1
Nathan Cameron - 1
Michael Smith - 1
Harry Bunn - 1

 

  • Leo Fasan has come under more scrutiny in the last couple of matches. I think the one advantage he has over Joe Murphy is that he’s better with his feet. Obviously, that’s not the first thing you normally think of as being important for a goalkeeper but the game is evolving in that direction at present. Otherwise, his reluctance to stray from his line is not instilling confidence in the defenders he’s meant to be organising. Curtis Tilt, who had Michael Smith shackled throughout the night, had a free header from Andy Taylor’s corner. As stated above, some of the blame must be laid at Aldred’s door for that but the rest could be apportioned to the Italian custodian. The prevailing perception is that it is better to come and try to claim the ball and not fully succeed than to remain stoic and give the attacker more control of the situation. The winner was against the run of play but the delivery was of a high standard and Blackpool’s quality from set pieces and in open play should not be dismissed lightly.

 

  • Bury’s away record in the league since Clark took over is beyond abysmal. That I have personally seen half of the wins on the road (so… one out of two between February and October!) is a shocking statistic and will continue to hold back the club from any pretensions of escaping the current malaise. The lack of consistency in general is bad enough and the pressure won’t subside from fans over his job until he can string at least two victories together. Woking manager Anthony Limbrick is right to believe a ‘giant-killing’ can take place in the FA Cup next month, particularly with the current incumbent in post. Two more games away from Gigg Lane await his charges and a poor return could prompt the board to dispense with his services before he even gets the chance to go on a cup run…

Blackpool vs Bury: Mini Preview

Blackpool vs Bury H 1718.PNG

Blackpool boss Gary Bowyer will be looking to preserve the Seasiders’ unbeaten home record in League One this season as his charges welcome fellow Lancastrians Bury to Bloomfield Road. The hosts are sitting comfortably in mid-table and with the astute acquisition of Jay Spearing, they now possess two of the best passing central midfielders in the third tier. The former Bolton Wanderers box-to-box player will look to dovetail his role with captain Jimmy Ryan and provide ammunition for Nathan Delfouneso, nominally starting out wide (and who might swap flanks with Callum Cooke on the odd occasion) and Kyle Vassell. Like the club overall, the striker has made a promising start in League One, notching five goals this term. In the same build as most target men, he actually has the pace to go along with it and through him, they will seek to take the game to the Shakers and former leader Tom Aldred.

vs Blackpool A 1718.PNG

Chris Humphrey’s knock could open the door to Jordan Williams’ reemergence in the starting XI. Jay O’Shea might also be named in favour of Chris Maguire as Lee Clark looks to integrate the talented forward back into a hectic schedule of fixtures. Once more, most of the attacking thrust will come from the wing-backs regardless of who lines up on the right flank. Callum Reilly and Josh Laurent will need to prove that their competent showing as a unit up against Bradford City was no one-off because their opponents this evening are arguably equally blessed in that department. Granted, Spearing is likely to tire in the second half as he himself regains match sharpness but it will be up to the duo to shackle him and Ryan in particular from supplying their quick frontline.

As for a prediction, I’m going to plump for a 2-1 win to the visitors, which will mark their first three points on the road in 2017/2018. Doubtlessly, Bowyer has the tactical nous to hurt his opposite number but I’m optimistically hoping that Clark can start to utilise the numerous cards in his deck and string together a series of results to propel Bury up the standings. We shall see later this evening.

Bury 3-1 Bradford City: Review

  • Now that was the kind of performance and result I and many other Bury fans have been waiting for. Few openly dispute the level and variety of talent in the squad but whether through mismanagement, injury or other less obvious factors, it hasn’t really happened yet with the possible exception of a portion of the encounter against Oxford United last month. It could have been markedly different if the Shakers hadn’t recovered from an early setback, engineered primarily from a foul throw by Nicky Law. However, that doesn’t excuse two white shirts going for the same man from the deflected cross. The flick-on by Dominic Poleon allowed Bradford City hitman Charlie Wyke the simplest of finishes and his poor connection might’ve actually served him better under the circumstances, leaving Leo Fasan no chance of saving it. Rarely in the past few seasons regardless of who’s in the dugout have the Lancashire outfit rallied to recover from a losing position against undeniably quality opposition. I actually think foul throws are a big unaddressed issue with how the game is played… but that’s a topic for another time.

 

  • It’s also difficult to dispute how much of an influence the soft penalty awarded for a foul on Jermaine Beckford had in helping them do just that. Again, the passage of play came about from another ricochet, this time off the face of Callum Reilly, who was quietly impressive for the vast majority of proceedings. The botched clearance fell kindly to the striker and under minimal contact from right-back Luke Hendrie, he went down in the area and a few long seconds later, the referee pointed to the spot. Chris Maguire dispatched it with aplomb in front of the throng of Bantams followers, despite their best efforts to put him off behind the goal. He has a well-earned reputation for goading supporters of the opposition and certainly milked it…

 

  • Unbelievably, Bury were in front less than a minute later. An excellent early cross from wing-back Chris Humphrey found its mark; target man Michael Smith, who is game by game enhancing his reputation (at least for his teamplay if not exactly prolific himself currently) as an integral component of Lee Clark’s side, won the header and it hit the bar; custodian Colin Doyle and centre back Matthew Kilgallon could only bear witness to Beckford’s striking instinct as he hit the rebound from point-blank range against their helpless bodies and in. Once more, the claret and amber army were wound up to high heaven by zealous celebrations and it won’t have escaped their attention that he used to be a prominent figure at local rivals Leeds United.

 

  • It was pleasing to see the (re)introduction of Jay O’Shea into the fold after a 10-week lay-off. Perhaps a little more direct in his work than Maguire, he kept the Shakers on the front foot in an open contest and rounded off the victory in the final minutes. The industrious Greg Leigh, perhaps with a point to prove to his former employers, made it for him, winning possession high up the pitch from Hendrie. The right-back was then drawn to the ball rather than watching his direct opponent’s marauding, unchecked run. O’Shea laid it back out to Leigh, whose shot was saved by Doyle but once more, the loose ball was bundled home for the forward’s first goal since joining in the close season. His presence versatility will be key in providing different options to Clark and keep the scouting teams sent to Bury games guessing as to who will be in the first XI (but in a positive sense!).

 

  • Harry Bunn, on for Humphrey after the Jamaican sustained a knock, was utterly wasted and poorly utilised in a wing-back role. I expected a shuffling of the pack and a reversion to a flat-back four, especially given Jordan Williams’ absence from the substitutes’ bench. He is still more than capable of being a large contributor to the campaign but in the current shape, it seems as though the opportunities for him to impress are going to be severely limited.

 

  • Eoghan O’Connell came through the game unscathed and turned in a good display, largely dealing with Wyke, Poleon and the numerous other threats Stuart McCall possesses in his ranks. The two-time gaffer at Valley Parade can take heart from much of the visitors’ work. Profligacy in front of goal and a failure to target Fasan’s reluctance to stray too far from his line put paid to their chances of a share of the spoils but the margins were fine and I’m sure it won’t serve to knock their confidence too much.