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.
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.
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…