Bury were extremely fortunate to leave the PTS Academy Stadium with a share of the spoils on Tuesday night. Ryan Lowe’s charges looked uncharacteristically jittery for large swathes of the match, which was particularly noticeable in defence. The Cobblers had been hitherto harangued by their own supporters for a lack of effort, but with Keith Curle confirmed as Dean Austin’s replacement a day prior, none of that was on show.
The Shakers set the tempo for perhaps the opening quarter of an hour; Will Aimson’s header cannoned back off the crossbar from an inswinging Nicky Adams free kick, with custodian David Cornell rooted to his line. After that period, the hosts came into proceedings more and more, with five or six bodies joining every single attack they could muster. As poor as the visitors might have been in cheaply giving up possession time and again, their adversaries were a constant threat, strangling the spaces in midfield for passing options.
The major difference between the two sides on the night was the care the home defence had on the ball. In a shift of shape, the strugglers reverted to a back three, and whilst none of them are especially renowned for their ability to pick out teammates intelligently, they did much better in that regard than their counterparts. However, their best scoring chances came mainly from the opposition’s errors, and I still have no idea how they didn’t profit from any of the numerous gilt-edged opportunities.
All of Curle’s substitutions in the second half were positive, rightly sensing that the tie was there for the taking. The leniency of the referee became prominent just as the challenges were flying in, but ultimately, neither team could capitalise on these situations in a frenetic encounter. The new incumbent will doubtlessly be the happier of the two bosses going into the weekend’s fixtures, and whilst there’s little doubt of the talent within their ranks, it must be harnessed quickly if they’re to make up ground on the top half of the standings.
As for Bury, the performance in the stalemate should serve as a timely reminder that no player can be allowed to rest on their laurels, but also that the results on the road are rapidly improving from an extremely low base, too. With Eoghan O’Connell injured once more and Saul Shotton seldom making the matchday XVIII, the centre backs must display a greater level of consistency. I felt from my vantage point that they all played as though there was no pressure whatsoever on their places, and it’s important to nip that in the bud before it causes more damage. David Flitcroft’s Mansfield Town are likely to be much more ruthless, and they cannot be allowed as many sights of goal as Northampton had.
Northampton Town (5-2-1-1-1)
David Cornell – Initially distributed the ball poorly, but his superior rapport on the night with the back three prevented a good amount of goalscoring opportunities for the visitors.
Shay Facey – Swapped wings with Daniel Powell, and afterwards, largely had the better of Nicky Adams. Showed excellent awareness to block a goalbound Nicky Maynard shot on 70 minutes; deserved his yellow for persistent fouling.
Leon Barnett – Able to mask his poor technique by regularly having the better of Maynard in the air; the gap between Bury’s forwards and midfield let him stride forward on plenty of occasions.
Ash Taylor – Communication with Cornell several times was key to alleviating any pressure; the calmest of the back three in possession, he beat his marker all ends up on one corner, but headed narrowly wide.
Aaron Pierre – Had the beating of Byron Moore in the air all night long, as you’d expect. Displayed good ability on throw-ins deep in the opposition half.
Daniel Powell – Begun brightly but faded as the first half wore on. Pushed back Callum McFadzean on all but one occasion; subbed off for Billy Waters – Had some good touches, but nothing too penetrative in a comparatively pedestrian second half.
Sam Foley – Did the basics well, and his diligent work perhaps went under the radar. He timed his forays forward with aplomb, but was understandably beaten on the dribble several times by Danny Mayor.
Matt Crooks – The most prominent midfielder for Northampton, and it was obvious why his return to fitness was desirable; kept finding pockets of space in the channels, and linked together almost every attack the Cobblers were able to muster.
John-Joe O’Toole – A deeper role than I’m used to seeing him in, only a desperate goal-line clearance denied him his maiden goal of 2018/2019. Not as considered in possession as I would’ve expected; subbed off for Dean Bowditch – Not the nemesis to Bury as he has been in previous years. Most notable ‘contribution’ was receiving a quick yellow, and then almost being sent off minutes later.
Sam Hoskins – His partnership with Powell restricted McFazdean severely, as he tended to favour the right half-spaces. His superb low diagonal cross on 23 should’ve been rewarded with a finishing touch of any kind.
Andy Williams – Hugely impressive as the focal point of the attack. Used his frame and good first touch to have the Shakers’ back three, and led the line superbly, constantly bringing others into play: subbed off for Kevin van Veen – No time to make an impression.
Joe Murphy – Saved his defenders’ blushes too many times to count in the opening 45 minutes. Berated them constantly, but the message didn’t seem to get through.
Nicky Adams – Always a danger from set pieces, and produced an outstanding cross to Maynard. Have to give credit to his markers for largely subduing him.
Will Aimson – Oh dear. Caught out of position on a handful of occasions, he doesn’t seem to suit being deployed as the right-sided centre back of a triumvirate when faced with numbers and any sort of pace. His passing selection was truly woeful. There was one passage of play where the ball came straight back to him three times, and not a single time did he find a dark blue shirt, which characterised his performance.
Adam Thompson – Ran Aimson close in the insipid stakes. Caught in two minds twice in 1st half, and was uncharacteristically jittery throughout. His lack of awareness should’ve been punished.
Chris Stokes – The problem with playing three at the back in the modern era without a screen is that ideally, at least one of them needs to be confident that they can hit passes to a teammate. Once more, he didn’t show that, and was guilty of some horribly shaky clearances when not necessarily being closed down too quickly.
Callum McFazdean – Strange decision making throughout, and guilty of two foul throws. Managed to get forward with any note just once, and the ball was played in behind him too often for comfort.
Jay O’Shea – Far from his best outing for The Shakers. Didn’t make intelligent use of the space he was afforded often enough, and let the ball run twice in key moments that could’ve cost Bury dearly. Unlucky with a direct free kick in the second half.
Neil Danns – Anonymous. Can’t think of one time where he was able to affect the tempo, and the match largely passed him by. Needed much better balls from the defence, and more support in midfield.
Danny Mayor – Tried his level best to take the game by the scruff of its metaphorical neck. Not found on the deck as much as I’d like, but is the only senior player with the possible exception of Moore who can reliably beat his man on the dribble. Could easily have scored on another day.
Byron Moore – His excellent work rate helped to extend the turnover time in the game. Not really presented with any chances to score however, and was somewhat fortunate to get away with blatant foul on O’Toole in front of the referee.
Nicky Maynard – Understandably rusty, and constantly beaten in air. Starved of proper service in the main, and is not suited for a target man role whatsoever; subbed off for Dom Telford – Should’ve been brought on earlier. Displayed typical striker’s selfishness when through, with two teammates better placed to finish from less acute angles.