Close to a fortnight’s break from competitive action will come to an end on Saturday for Lee Clark’s Bury. They will be hosts to Bradford City and their massive supporting entourage; unsurprisingly, the Bantams are flying high in the early standings with roughly a quarter of matches played. Their ruthlessness in winning 4-1 away at 10-man MK Dons, the Shakers’ last conquerors, put them up to third and demonstrated the added quality required to finally take that step into automatic promotion at the denouement of this campaign.
As for the home side, the interlude period has at least ensured the successful returns from the treatment tables of Jay O’Shea and Eoghan O’Connell, the latter of whom had his first taste of real action at his current club in the narrow EFL Trophy victory over Blackburn Rovers at Ewood Park. Much less welcome news (but not shocking in the slightest) was yet another soft tissue injury to Craig Jones, which he sustained in the first half of the Premier League Cup on Monday. I’ve written extensively regarding my disquiet at both he and Andrew Tutte being kept on in the close season, given their extensive and numerous absences and this latest incident only adds more fuel to the fire.
O’Connell will almost certainly start, especially considering Tom Aldred being forced off in the previous league game. Less clear is who will line up alongside him in the back three; Joe Skarz could take the left-sided berth, which would push the former Celtic man into the middle. Additionally, Alex Whitmore, who doesn’t appear to be in favour at present, could shift to the right in place of Phil Edwards, particularly given the substantial dual threat of Dominic Poleon and Charlie Wyke.
Chris Humphrey should retain his berth at wing-back to provide ammunition for Jermaine Beckford and Michael Smith in an otherwise unchanged XI. O’Shea and Tutte are likely to have to be content at least initially with a cameo role from the substitutes’ bench. I’m looking forward to seeing just how much of a boost O’Shea’s integration back into the squad can provide.
Even a cursory glance at Bradford’s likely lineup immediately informs you as to why they are so strong. Colin Doyle is one of the most reliable, consistent custodians in the third tier and his presence gives his teammates huge confidence. Adam Chicksen has experienced a stop-start 2017/2018 but generally, his performances have befitted the reputation he forged earlier in his career. Matthew Kilgallon and Nathaniel Knight-Percival take no prisoners and will relish the battle with Beckford and Smith. Captain Romain Vincelot’s excellent aerial ability could come to the fore if the Lancashire outfit attempt to find their target man early and often. Equally, the men in white will have to be extremely watchful of the damage he can do in the opposition penalty box and the four goals he has accrued are testament to that.
Much-coveted right-back Tony McMahon already has six assists to his name in League One and whilst he doesn’t have the raw pace of most in that role possess in today’s sport, he more than makes up for it with his distribution and tellingly, his final ball, especially to Wyke. (Edit: Luke Hendrie will take McMahon’s place after Stuart McCall confirmed a scan has revealed a small tear in his hamstring. The Burnley loanee will provide a steady if less dynamic presence than his more experienced teammate and must be careful not to be put on the back foot by Greg Leigh’s forward forays).
Nicky Law provides his boss with an excellent option tucked in on the left. His ability to aggressively but fairly regain possession for his side, coupled with his late runs to the edge of the area for shooting opportunities are both indicative of his quality. Alex Gilliead ensures that the midfield isn’t overly narrow and he is a willing outlet if the claret and amber army need to relive pressure and he can gallop up the field with no shortage of stamina. Jake Reeves has started brightly for his new side and will principally be the link man between his teammates and the forward line, probing for gaps in the defence with no shortage of effectiveness.
Poleon needs little introduction to Bury fans but his pace, power and dribbling to pull players out of position has been enhanced this season, adding consistency to his already apparent ability. He will be licking his lips if he is put up against Whitmore or Edwards. Wyke has notched half a dozen goals of his own and the air war will have a big part in deciding the outcome of the match.
As for a prediction, I’m going with 3-1 to Bradford. The combination of the two forwards worries me greatly and that’s without even taking into account the supporting cast from all over midfield and full-back. You could form an argument that McCall’s charges are more vulnerable in defensive situations than previous stoic back-four incarnations but they have traded that for more varied and nuanced approach play. Omari Patrick and Paul Taylor could do the business for them if their compatriots falter. I just hope O’Connell and O’Shea remain unscathed as keeping them fit will be crucial to Clark’s short-term future at the club and the season not already being filed under the term ‘complete write-off’ at best.