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.