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.
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.
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.