Fix the Roof in the Autumnal Sunshine

You can find my summary of August here.

September has ‘traditionally’ been a very productive month on the pitch for Bury in recent seasons, and 2018’s iteration proved to be no different in this regard. From a slightly underwhelming opening to the campaign, manager Ryan Lowe has guided The Shakers to four wins from five in League Two, sitting a mere place outside the play-offs in a division where the old clichés about freak results and any side being able to beat any other have largely rung true, the most prominent example coming from Yeovil Town’s thumping 6-0 win on the road at Newport County, the latter of which currently (and deservedly) sit second.

It’s extremely rare even 10 matches in to see this level of bunching in a 24-team division; Port Vale in 16th are probably just as happy with their overall start as Colchester United in 5th, with a large gap already forming after the Burslem outfit in the standings

It is immediately apparent that many other sides have had decent returns in September, but there are perhaps more causes for cheer at Gigg Lane than for the rest of the rank and file in the data thus far, which the ever-brilliant Ben Mayhew superbly illustrates. I always possess a healthy dose of scepticism when interpreting such visualisations, but they remarkably parallel what I have observed myself without their aid: Bury tend to take more shots than their opponents (regardless of relative strength and/or venue), have more shots on target than their opponents, don’t allow many shots on their own goal… but when they do, they tend to be quite close, hence the high number of goals conceded as a proportion.

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The methods of the goals conceded are consistent with the first five matches; defensive set pieces are still a tactical weakpoint for the coaching staff to work on. Obviously, it isn’t realistic to expect them or the players to cut them out completely, but the fact remains that more than half of the 12 conceded to date have been from a dead ball. Only against Morecambe did a goal come from open play, and it was a pretty special effort from outside the area by Liam Mandeville, too.

On that subject, I can’t recall more than just a handful of shots from the opposition that have been taken from further away then 18 yards, and it is a testament to the efforts of the back three, who have largely been the same and have delivered good performances. None of the starting trio are fleet of foot, however, and that will be an aspect that scouts and head coaches continue to pinpoint when devising ways of unlocking the defence. This is especially noticeable on the turn, which Lowe has cleverly tried to disguise by getting them to press the attacker as a unit, often as a duo. By and large, this has worked well thus far, but it might become a predictable ploy as time goes by.

The acquisition of free agent Nicky Maynard, putting the merits or otherwise to one side for a moment, the age profile of the roster is once more on the increase, and this phenomenon is magnified when you look at the most used individuals in the maiden 10 matches. Five of the XI are 30 or over, with likes of Jermaine Beckford (34) and the former Aberdeen striker named on Saturday’s bench against Colchester United. In many respects, the experience that these players bring to the dressing room and out on the field are huge positives, but the demanding fixture list in hand with cooling temperatures will test their resolve, just as much as the skills of their contemporaries in the fourth tier. Maynard’s signature until January is a welcome, low-risk move by Lee Dykes; he should cover amiably for the enforced absence of Caolan Lavery, with half an eye on featuring alongside Beckford when rotation of the myriad forwards is required.

Lowe should use the opportunity the second midweek fixture of October represents in the EFL Trophy to do what he seemed a little reluctant to against Rochdale’s kids and name a lineup with more of his own. The football club are now in a place where Joe Adams is regularly called up to the Wales national team in an age category above his current status, and Femi Seriki, an exciting, even younger right-sided forward, is first choice on merit in the U18s. Of course, that doesn’t mean you needlessly throw too many of them in at once, but the exposure to a level approaching the first team will stand their careers in good stead, and serve as groundwork for the FA Youth Cup, which they are due to enter in November. A very brief cameo by Callum Hulme aside, his namesake Styles remains the only outfield player under 21 to feature in the league. The manager recently stated that by sending several of the roster out on loan, spaces have appeared in training that some of them can fill, but we are yet to see that translated on the pitch in a meaningful way.

The two most impressive performers for me in September were both wingers, but ironically, neither of them spent much time on the flank at all. Danny Mayor seems to have shaken off persistent injury problems, and delivered a virtuoso display in the 4-0 thrashing of Grimsby Town. The second of his brace was a textbook dribble, cut inside and finish into the far corner. He and Byron Moore notched three goals, and the latter took up a role as an auxiliary striker whilst Lavery and Dom Telford were on the treatment table, and has since made it very difficult for anyone else to dislodge him. What has been especially pleasing is the power he has behind his efforts, and these are matched by his pace and work rate. He has not been known throughout his career for his potency in the penalty area, but alongside Chris Dagnall, he has combined that newly found threat with an ability to defend from the front.

The unexpected triumph at the weekend rendered my own poll void, but it was encouraging to see that the bulk of respondents would’ve considered a haul of 13 points from 10 ‘an indifferent start’, rather than a bad one. There has noticeably been a more humble tone in the club’s communications, regardless of whether they directly relate to football matters. The disaster of 2017/2018 will stay in the collective memory for decades to come, and these two factors have in my view conspired to mute initial expectations.

As I said above, the stats suggest Bury should probably have more than the 16 points they already possess, and that augurs well for the coming weeks. It’s almost inevitable that Lowe will have to utilise more of his squad in October, and there are some tough matches on paper. Having already visited the homes of three of the four main contenders I predicted to be in the hunt for the title, his charges will play host to the fourth, Notts County, on the 20th. Harry Kewell seems to have got his feet under the table, and results are slowly turning a corner, with the ridiculously frequent defensive lapses that dogged them previously noticeably slowing down, if not yet completely erraidcated. The Australian got the better of the Liverpudlian in his final game in the Crawley Town dugout, and it will be intriguing to see how much both men’s strategies will change.

Tomorrow’s evening’s opponents Northampton Town have moved swiftly to replace the sacked Dean Austin with Keith Curle; the latter was heavily linked with the Bury managerial post in the close season, and he has just a single day to instil some discipline and commitment into a Cobblers squad hitherteo bereft of both, and drawing the ire of many fans as a result

Before that, this coming Saturday, former boss David Flitcroft’s Mansfield Town, who have blown hot and cold thus far, will rock up at Gigg Lane, in what’s sure to be an open affair. It will be the first time the Stags’ current incumbent has faced the BL9 since his sacking almost two years ago, and there is almost certainly going to be some vitriol from the stands aimed in his direction that day. Lowe can use these encounters to demonstrate his budding tactical nous, as well as the togetherness of the players. Few will expect or demand a maximum haul of points, but Bury have yet to be blown away in any fixture to date, and should have enough to go toe-to-toe with both teams with no fear, and have the confidence to take the game to their opponents. It ought to be another fascinating month.