The final few minutes have decided the outcome of all four matches in Bury’s season to date, and manager Ryan Lowe will possibly be hoping it doesn’t come to that once more, as he prepares to take his charges east for the trip to joint-top Lincoln City. No side in League Two has a perfect record after three games, but Danny Cowley’s men have perhaps come the closest, earning an excellent opening day victory against Northampton Town, and following it up in even more impressive fashion against Swindon Town. The derby encounter with Grimsby Town was always likely to be a close affair, and the mood around the cathedral city remains buoyant, as evidenced by the swell in support the club have received since the management team arrived in May 2016.
The Shakers have had one win, one draw and one defeat in their first set of fixtures, with the main pluses being a much more resolute look to the defence, which had hitherto been on the porous side, and a greater collective harmony and effort on the pitch.
The hosts must contend with several injury concerns at present; custodian Josh Vickers did play on Saturday, but doesn’t look to be fit enough to keep his place. Scott Wharton might also miss the cut, and the swashbuckling style of Shay McCartan will be absent from the gaze of Sincil Bank’s floodlights, too.
The positional and tactical flexibility they possess throughout the predicted XI are chief reasons for their ability to adapt their style to both venue and opposition. At home, they’ll revert to a flat back four and neither Harry Toffolo or Neal Eardley are likely to be pressed in their own defensive third with regularity. The full-backs can flit between more advanced roles at will, and should have the freedom to get forward and provide outside options for the wider attacking midfielders.
Vickers and Wharton will be missed in goal and the heart of defence respectively, and most of Jason Shackell’s time will be spent trying to contain Gold Omotayo, or at least reduce the instances and effectiveness of the Swiss giant’s flick-ons and movement. Michael Bostwick will need to be watchful of him or Dom Telford’s runs in behind, as two other sides have already found to their cost this campaign by means of a red card. The former Peterborough United stalwart is extremely aggressive in the tackle and poses a massive danger in the opposition penalty area to boot.
Lee Frecklington uses every bit of his experience to dictate the tempo of a game from deep areas. He has an eye for goal from range if given the time and space by the opposition to saunter up the pitch unchecked. Similarly, Michael O’Connor might provide a double pivot option to help out his teammates and soak up the pressure. Watch out for his direct free-kicks and positional flexibility – the latter is a coveted commodity in a tight-knit squad that already has a few unavailable.
McCartan could be replaced by moving Tom Pett higher up, and he should be able to perform well with plenty of space to work in. Very agile and a technical dribbler, he’ll make one of the Shakers’ back three step out perhaps more than they’d want to, which could create gaps down the sides in the half-spaces.
Harry Anderson can operate on either flank, but will start on the right. He’ll have the beating of Chris Stokes for pace all day long, and is also deceptively strong for a player of his stature. Bruno Andrade’s signature was desperately wanted by a plethora of teams in the EFL’s lower leagues and for good reason. 22 goals from attacking midfield was an astonishing return for Boreham Wood in 2017/2018, and all the evidence to date suggests he has made the step up without breaking a sweat. It helps that he has John Akinde (or Matt Green from the bench) to aim for, and he likes nothing more than bursting into the area and checking back on his right foot for a clipped cross to the far post. All three goals Bury have conceded to date have come from a lack of closing down the spare man on their left.
Akinde is very strong and loves nothing more than using that to back into his marker to shield the ball, but it’s his anticipation and movement which elevates him in comparison to other strikers of similar stature. Both of his strikes have been from the spot in the league, but you’d be a fool to discount his threat in open play – the calm way he stole the ball in the EFL Cup from Nathan Smith and finished into the bottom corner might make Eoghan O’Connell a bit more wary of the time he has on the ball to start a move.
Assuming Tom Miller and Chris Dagnall are still out, I can only foresee one change from the draw against Forest Green Rovers. Lowe must be cognizant of the numbers Lincoln will have in midfield, so he could either revert to one up top or, more likely, bring back Stephen Dawson into the XI. Stokes will have his work cut out from a defensive point of view, and given Nicky Adams’ unnatural fit for his current role, the width in attack, such as it is, will probably only come from Danny Mayor.
As for a prediction, I’m going for a keenly fought, narrow 2-1 win for Lincoln. The middle three in dark blue, no matter how they’re made up, must press as a team to ensure the likes of Frecklington and Pett are not allowed sufficient thinking time to look up and spot runners down the channels. The onus will be on the home side to set the tempo, and a repeat of the dogged performance away at Nottingham Forest will be required to glean even a single point from this match. It’s far from impossible, but given the dearth so far of clear-cut chances and goals, they might have to rely once more on the defence to restrict the opposition, more than on their own ability in attack.