Despite recent abysmal ‘form’, it felt good to be back at Gigg Lane for the first time in several years. It’s the only thing I miss about not living up north anymore…
- The first 12 minutes were reasonably encouraging for the hosts and the only period the game in which they can claim to have been better than Blackburn Rovers with any validity. The bustle of Neil Danns (who later went off injured) was ill-received by Richard Smallwood and Peter Whittingham and the Shakers found some joy on the flanks; Chris Humphrey drew a good, low stop from visiting goalkeeper David Raya and Greg Leigh screwed narrowly wide with the custodian sprawling across the face of his goal. It was whilst they were in the ascendancy that I felt Bury had a chance of getting something from the match if they could only notch first. That quickly all changed…
- Marcus Antonsson, deployed narrowly on the left of an attacking trio behind Joe Nuttall (the latter of whom was making his first league start for the central Lancashire outfit), crushed any fleeting confidence the home supporters and most of the players had in clinical fashion. A long punt forward wasn’t effectively dealt with by Tom Aldred; Nuttall was able to shield the ball well and lay it off to Bradley Dack and his toe managed to take it away from the retreating Andrew Tutte. His delicious diagonal through pass in behind exposed Aldred and Phil Edwards’ slowness on the turn and he finished smartly over Leo Fasan, who had probably anticipated a low shot at his near post.
- Dack was, as ever, a huge thorn in Bury’s wounded side and once again turned provider for Tony Mowbray’s charges before the half-time whistle sounded. Under no pressure from Leigh or anyone else in a white shirt, he was able to curl in a wicked ball from the right the right flank to the unmarked Antonsson, who gave Fasan no chance with a powerful header, bouncing off the underside of the bar for his second. To give someone of his talent free rein in the six yard box was just criminal and it was Edwards’ task to stick with him.
- Speaking of Edwards, I thought he was abject all game long. Granted, being bizarrely persisted with by caretaker manager Ryan Lowe in a central role is certainly not playing to his strengths but the stand-in skipper has looked utterly lacklustre in that position and things didn’t improve much when the back five became a four. Otherwise decent balls were played to him on the overlap but he just doesn’t possess the requisite speed for anything other than a more conservative task and it continued to be an area Antonsson and Derrick Williams had by the far the upper hand in.
- Equally as terrible was Tom Aldred. At times, the hosts were playing a fairly high line, which made no sense purely because of how slow two of the three centre backs are, especially on the turn. With his back to his own goal and the ball in the air, the former Blackpool captain looks reasonably competent. In any other defensive context, I’m immediately worried as he looks bereft of confidence when things aren’t going completely his way. If asked to play deeper and in a two with someone quicker alongside him, it could work. As things stand, I wouldn’t be continually putting him in the XI, even with Nathan Cameron on the sidelines once more.
- There were two players who could their heads up high after that performance: one of them was Eoghan O’Connell. I’d heard mixed things about him previously from those fans (un)lucky enough to attend week in, week out but I was amazed by how assured he looked. He looked every inch the ‘ball-playing defender’ he was presented as upon signing in the summer; when you take into consideration the lack of movement ahead of him, the quality of opposition and the generally riskier passes that someone with his ability would make, that I only counted one misplaced all game was astonishing. He had the promising Nuttall well-shackled and had no culpability in any of the three goals conceded. His calmness in possession was in stark contrast to most of his teammates and whilst he isn’t rapid off the ball either, I’d like to see how he could perform in a two with Cameron or perhaps Saul Shotton for company if the fan favourite continues to be out for the foreseeable future.
- Dack made sure the points headed back to Ewood Park with a typical run and long-range effort from midfield into Fasan’s far corner. He easily held off the anonymous attentions of Callum Reilly to send the hordes of away fans into raptures. He epitomised everything absent for the home team in midfield at present – a certain swagger, strength, determination and creativity. The Shakers didn’t really look like conjuring much in central areas for scoring opportunities all game and Harry Bunn’s scuffed effort when free in the penalty area rather summed proceedings up.
- Greg Leigh can also be happy yet again with his efforts. Whilst his crossing doesn’t show much in the way of improvement, his effort, endeavour and no shortage of skill help massively in retaining the affections of an increasingly depressed and angry fanbase. He gave Nyambe cause for concern throughout and his forays forward weren’t as costly (in isolation) as previous matches. He and O’Connell would be the only two from those who started on Saturday who I would guarantee to be in the XI for tomorrow evening were I in charge of selection (in contrast to some, I don’t think Fasan generally does anything wrong in particular but his presence doesn’t inspire confidence).
- Nicky Ajose was on the periphery for much of the match but in his defence, I don’t think he was at fault for the most part. It must be utterly disheartening to witness two of the three centre backs (and even Andrew Tutte at times) just pump it long when they know he’s unlikely to win many aerial battles. His game is based primarily on receiving and dribbling in the channels and taking shots from angles. At least four or five times in the second half when the shape had changed and Rovers were happy to sit back, there were openings for him if he received the right pass. He never did. The closest he came was when substitute Chris Maguire angled in a cross from the right but he just failed to connect. He needs that sort of service much more often.
- Yet again, Lowe intimated in his post-match interview that some of the players he selected didn’t make the most of their selections and it’s hard to disagree; I’ve already mentioned Aldred and Edwards ad nauseam, neither Tutte nor Reilly laid a glove on Smallwood or Whittingham (and neither were at their best) in the engine room and Bunn was not in the game at all. Contrast their performances to the U18s, through to the third round of the FA Youth Cup after another impressive display and you start to wonder whether more changes will occur for tomorrow’s crucial game at home to Shrewsbury Town regardless of who is in the hotseat. With every passing match, things look to be getting worse and they are now five points from safety. Three weeks have elapsed since Lee Clark was relieved of his duties and if anything, the atmosphere is even bleaker. Blackburn, whilst far from spectacular, didn’t need to break too much of a sweat to run out comfortable winners… that’s when you know you’re in trouble.