When you’re desperate for any kind of result in League Two, a trip to Sincil Bank to face Lincoln City would be way down the list of preferred destinations. Danny Mayor was thankfully fit enough to be named in the first XI, with Stephen Dawson having to settle for a place on the bench on the advice of my coaching staff.
Once more, things started brightly. Nicky Maynard finally grabbed his first goal for the Shakers, burying a header in the fourth minute, connecting with a pinpoint, deep cross on the right flank by Nicky Adams.
Sadly, the advantage lasted barely 120 seconds. Bruno Andrade, one of the exceptional talents in the division, was already tormenting Tom Miller, beating him for pace and centring the ball low for Kellan Gordon to stroke into the net.
The Imps were well on top for the remainder of the first half, and took the lead on 35 minutes. Andrade was the architect once more, and with the air raid siren blaring (in my mind at least), he could easily find the ominous, ever-present aerial threat of Jason Shackell, who makes winning the ball anywhere above head height look ridiculously simple. 2-1 to the hosts.
Bury were being dominated in possession and on clear-cut opportunities. My only option was to bring on Dawson in place of Jamie Barjonas, and hope that he was up to the physical demands placed upon him, both by the opposition and having only really just resumed full training. Similarly, Nicky Adams was being pushed back by Andrade, so I exchanged him for his namesake Joe, opting to keep him up there to provide another out-ball.
It was the other flank that saw an immediate benefit. Danny Mayor collected a hopeful punt by Adam Thompson (on the volley!), and in his classic style, ran at the home side’s backline, before checking onto his right foot and arrowing the ball into the far corner. Game on.
Yet again, it wouldn’t last. John Akinde had been relatively quiet up to this point, but he pounced on a half-cleared corner by Miller, squaring it for Lee Frecklington who, under pressure, laid it back off to Andrade. Joe Murphy was unsighted, and the game was lost, but not before one further chance for the visitors. Mayor made a darting run to be in the right place for an Eoghan O’Connell long diagonal pass, and watched in despair as his shot was saved by the strong, outstretched hand of Sam Slocombe. Four games, four defeats…
Chris Sang, ninth choice out of eight in the striking department, opted to join Ashton United on loan until the end of the season, and only a miracle will see his contract renewed when it expires upon his return.
So, to Crawley in the pouring rain four days later. Two chances went begging in the early exchanges for the beleaguered Lancashire outfit. Callum Styles, not known for his scoring prowess at senior level, drilled just wide whilst atop the on penalty spot. Minutes later, Thompson had a header cleared off the line, conspiring to do the same in his own area to ensure parity was kept… for moments more. The subsequent corner was tossed in by Luke Gambin, and Murphy raced through a crowd of players… only to miss it completely. Ollie Palmer lit a cigar and had a read of the local paper before remembering that he still had to ensure the ball crossed the line to make it 1-0 to the Red Devils.
Shot accuracy was a concern in the first period, not chance creation. 10 efforts came and went, but only one was on goal. Styles rattled the crossbar from a Mayor pullback, but that was the most trouble Glenn Morris had to deal with after the early let-off.
A slither prior to the hour mark, Maynard levelled the score. Styles released Mayor to his left, and with a low cross on his weaker foot, found the journeyman forward at the near post, glancing the ball in from all of two yards. Dawson again made a cameo from the bench at that juncture, and he was joined by Callum Hulme and Caolan Lavery in a switch of shape and emphasis to a more positive 4-4-2.
1-1 Maynard 59 mins, Styles releases Mayor, low cross on weak foot byline glanced in at near post; Dawson, Hulme and Lavery on 4-4-2. The Sheffield United loanee showed some good understanding with Maynard, with the former spotting Nicky Adams’ run off the ball in the half-space, and with his penetration left unchecked, the ball was eased into his path and finished with aplomb into the far corner.
All I wanted at that point was some calm from the team, taking no needless chances in defence especially. No such luck. O’Connell, with time and space, was robbed out wide by Dom Poleon. The Irish centre back was given a temporary reprieve by the versatile forward’s poor shot when one-on-one, but he did force a corner…
George Francomb took it from the left, and in a move clearly practiced on the training ground, Bondz N’Gala, with his back to goal, cushioned a header for Josh Payne to slam into the net. Matters got worse when Jimmy Smith was allowed freedom of right flank and the county of Essex, crossing in for Ashley Nathaniel-George to pile on the misery. 19 shots on the road, two more goals… and yet another 3-2 loss. Argh.
The perfect tonic for the malaise in the league is often a cup competition, evoking all the clichés about form going out of the window. Marco Silva’s Everton sat 10th in the Premier League with a symmetrical record from their opening three fixtures, and, likely because they’re in that first clutch of teams outside the ‘Big Six’, were taking their encounter with Bury very seriously indeed. They fancied their chances too, lining up in a decidedly attacking 4-2-4 and with an intimidating lineup, sporting Bernard and Theo Walcott on the wings. Yikes.
Tom Davies was tasked with pulling the strings in the two-man midfield. Not known for his aerial prowess, he nevertheless latched onto a Walcott set piece, producing a smart save from Murphy. The Irish goalkeeper quickly threw the ball long, and it eventually found Mayor 25 yards out, who hit it first time, crashing against the bar. Further opportunities weren’t at as much of a premium as I’d have anticipated prior to the match, probably as a result of the Toffees’ cavalier approach. In a carbon copy move from the last game, Maynard profited once more from an accurate centre by Nicky Adams, giving the basement club a shock lead… lasting less than a minute.
If you can imagine this scenario, Walcott’s pace and trickery were too much for Chris Stokes, and the intelligent positioning of Cenk Tosun allowed him to find himself goalside but not offside, muscling in front of Thompson to equalise.
Tosun turned provider for strike partner Dominic Calvert-Lewin, drawing Miller out of his conservative proclivities, and in doing so, Thompson had to at least attempt to cover, but was stuck in no man’s lad, unable to prevent the cross, unable to prevent the finish. 2-1 to Everton.
In terms of clear-cut chances however, the two teams were equal. Barjonas released Maynard over the top, breaking their offside trap. England’s #1 Jordan Pickford dived superbly to keep out his effort, and in a similar move minutes later, could only hit the side netting. The whistle for half-time below, and despite now being behind, I was encouraged by the overall display, having outshot a top-tier side on their own turf. Unsurprisingly though, both full backs had been given the runaround and were heavily fatigued, prompting a triple substitution to freshen things up.
For a fourth time in the game, Maynard had got the better of their star-studded backline, taking a superb long pass from Saul Shotton into his stride, kissing the post with his attempt. Then, Thompson showed his credentials at the other end, blocking Calvert-Lewin’s goalbound effort with an outstandingly timed block. That was as good as it was going to get, sadly, as the hosts’ vastly superior quality was beginning to tell.
Bernard made it 3-1, prodding home a rebound after his initial effort had been saved. The fourth had a touch of fortune, as the much-maligned Phil Edwards, on as a sub, actually stopped Cenk Tosun in his tracks… but the ball bobbled inadvertently to an unmarked Walcott, lashing home to put the tie to bed.
The rout was complete when Dawson cheaply surrendered possession in the middle of the park, leading to yet another breakway. Oumar Niasse’s close control broke the line, and fellow sub Gylfi Sigurðsson made the most of the gift.
Three international call-ups in the fourth tier can let you request a postponement, and I decided to do just that. I couldn’t countenance being our players light with potentially no points on the board at home to Grimsby Town. Most notable of that group was Styles being drafted into the England U20s setup.
On the eve of a vital clash with Morecambe, ex-boss Chris Lucketti had the temerity to question the current management and form. Given that he chalked up one point in nine league matches, he should’ve kept his thoughts to himself, and it only hardened my resolve to go ‘two better’ than him immediately.
For this one, I reverted back to a 4-3-3; Stokes needed rest after suffering a knock midweek, leaving me a choice between not playing to Callum McFadzean’s strengths… or handing out another debut to a more naturally suitable candidate. I went with the latter despite the inherent risk, and Jack Hatton became the latest to emerge from the academy’s production line.
The Shrimps went on the attack from the off and were sucked in. The Shakers didn’t have any blisteringly speedy players in their side, but were still fleet of foot enough on the counter to open the scoring, Mayor using his instep to roll the ball in from a Nicky Adams’ pass. The ‘League Two Eden Hazard’ doubled his tally and his side’s lead, turning on the style with his classic dribble, cut inside and finish.
Two became three in no time at all. It was all-too apparent that Jim Bentley’s charges were terrified of Mayor’s forays forward, and this time he was the instigator, switching the ball to Nicky Adams on the right, and he kept up the pace, whipping in a wicked cross for Maynard to ease in.
Even three up, I wasn’t confident of gaining victory. If there’s one sure way to score against Bury, it’s from a corner. Andrew Tutte’s delivery came back to haunt his previous employers, Joe Piggott taking full advantage of Josef Yarney’s clever flick into his path. Barjonas had a shot that kissed the post before the break, and I made the conscious decision to keep attacking in the second period, having more belief in the likelihood that the Shakers could add to their tally over preventing their county rivals not staging a comeback.
Dawson is not renowned for his potency in front of goal, but he showed good intelligence to react to a chested pass inside the six yard box from Adams after another well-executed free-kick routine, notching his first of the season in the process. Maynard followed Barjonas in striking the woodwork, his angled shot coming after some good work by the Glasgow Rangers loanee to keep the chance alive.
With little left to lose, Bentley was encouraging almost everyone in a red and black shirt to press forward. Upon seeing this change of emphasis, I drafted in Cameron Hill for his bow on the league stage, placing him as an anchor man to rove between the defensive lines and snuff out the danger. This just made Morecambe look wider when transitioning, and they cut the deficit to two from another corner. On this occasion, Yarney was the scorer, nodding home from Carlos Mendes Gomes’ set piece.
They then conspired to reduce the lead to a single goal, Piggott hitting his shot across the ‘keeper. Fortunately, that was as far as they went, and the game finished as an eight-goal thriller when Maynard was fouled in the area by Yarney, tucking away the penalty himself. At last, a win in the league and off the foot of the EFL in the process. Still, conceding 16 goals in only six matches needs addressing by hook or by crook.
This resulted in three players being named in Team of the Week, including Murphy, batting away a slew of chances for the Seasiders at critical junctures.
A 1-0 loss to Carlisle in EFL Trophy inspired few talking points. In truth, it was a poor performance by both sides, hampered from my perspective by a lot of fatigue in the U18s I chose to put out there.
Hopefully, the win and week off from first team action will allow some time to devise and implement some better strategies when defending corners, and restore to full fitness the vast majority of the squad. Be sure to look out for Part 4, which rounds off September’s games!