Half-Term Report Cards: Assessing Every Bury Player – 2018/2019

Before the 2-1 triumph over play-off rivals Tranmere Rovers, I canvassed the opinions of fellow Bury supporters, as well as a few knowledgeable neutrals, as to the performances of every Shaker to have been given first team minutes in 2018/2019 across any of the four competitions. In some select cases, there has been scant chance to make a judgement of any kind, but I have included them for the sake of ‘completion’, for want of a better phrase.

I grouped the grades as Twitter only allows four options in its polling messages. A-B are good, C-D are okay, and E-F are poor:

HTRC

Please note: none of the stats or judgements below include the 2-1 defeat to Mansfield Town on Boxing Day, as that was the first match of the second half of the league season.

1. Joe Murphy

Total Games / Total Minutes: 26 / 2,340

Goals Conceded: 28

Clean Sheets: 7

Assessment: One of the most difficult for me to classify. On the one hand, he has been ever-present outside of the EFL Trophy, which is not something I’d expected on the eve of the campaign. The reason I thought that is because of his injury record as Bury’s #1 custodian, more than any damning of his talents. I can recall two big errors that have directly led to goals for the opposition – rushing out needlessly against Lincoln City with the scores level at 1-1, and being unaware of Danny Rose’s presence in the box when he didn’t have the ball in both hands during the home fixture with Mansfield Town.

The xCG (expected conceded goals) is not in his favour. You can see above he has allowed a touch more than one a game against him, whereas that specific metric is 0.9, meaning it ought to be the other way around. I’m not really sure what to make of that, especially when you couple that stat with having faced the fewest total shots on target. To me, it’s likely to be indicative of when the backline are penetrated, it tends to be quite close to the 18 yard box, if not actually in it.

I also can’t think of many situations where he ought to have done better when he has conceded. There will always be a sizeable contingent that bemoan his tendency to stay close to his line when crosses come in, particularly from dead balls. However, he’s not the tallest of guardians, and I’d rather see him stay in situ than appear hesitant. He constantly communicates with his back three, and seems to have established a good understanding, owing to the same names lining up in front of him the vast majority of the time.

What Next: Almost certain to see out the season as the shot-stopper of choice, he will continue to study for his badges and learn from Brian Jensen, the current goalkeeper coach. At 37, and with his contract up for renewal in the summer, he certainly still has the ability to perform on a full-time basis, but I wonder if manager Ryan Lowe will opt either to move him on ahead of 2019/2020; I can see him choosing someone with more physical presence in the six yard area who can then combine that with quick distribution to set up counter attacks.

 

2. Tom Miller

Total Games / Total Minutes:  12 / 627

Goals Scored: 0

Goals Assisted: 0

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: 

Miller

Assessment: The injury he sustained way back in August against Milton Keynes Dons has affected much more than his own loss of place and lack of minutes in the XI. Initially brought in as a conventional right back (i.e. ‘defence first’), the shape of the backline changed in pre-season after successful experiments against Premier League opposition to accommodate wing backs. There’s no doubt he can play that role, but lacks the raw speed and positive mentality to make that berth his own. Instead, he has had to play second fiddle to Nicky Adams in the league, replacing his teammate late on in games to preserve the latter’s fitness or to shore up the flank a little more.

During EFL Trophy games, of which account for nearly half of his starts, he has filled in more centrally, which can partly be explained by a combination of the competition’s rules concerning the number of changes a manager can make from one match to the next, the sheer abundance of right-sided defenders in the squad, and the absence owing to injury of highly-rated youngsters Saul Shotton and Morgan Sadler.

A steady but unremarkable presence in a white shirt thus far, he’ll be hoping for some more minutes over a hectic Christmas schedule, and is still first in the queue to pounce if Adams faces a spell on the sidelines.

What Next: On a two-year deal, he would be my first pick from the current crop if the shape reverted to a flat back four, but for the time being, Lowe seems wedded to a formation that has brought the club no small amount of success, chiefly at Gigg Lane. Expect to see him remain on the bench for the time being, with the exception of the EFL Trophy game at Lancashire neighbours Accrington Stanley shortly into the New Year.

 

3. Chris Stokes

Total Games / Total Minutes: 27 / 2,222

Goals Scored: 1

Goals Assisted: 0

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles:

Stokes

Assessment: Much like Miller, he was brought to the club in the prime of his career to make up an important part of a backline of four, all of similar ages. Unlike his compatriot however, he has not suffered as a result of a change of emphasis, and has largely been successful in shifting inside to become the left-sided centre back of the trio. His understanding with Callum McFadzean could still use some work; the latter’s propensity to bomb forward, coupled with the former Coventry City man’s slowness, has often resulted in that flank being exposed, which cost the Shakers dearly in the derby with Oldham Athletic, and ought to have done last time out, were it not for a rare off day for James Norwood in front of goal.

Tends to get higher up the pitch in possession than Will Aimson, and has more to contribute in that sense, but isn’t that much of a threat from set pieces. His only goal to date was a tap-in from less than a yard out at home to Cheltenham Town. His shorter passes hit their mark three quarters of the time, but predictably, that ratio drops off badly when hitting it longer down the channel, connecting just 39% of the time. This can hold the attacking efforts back, as well as bring about unwanted pressure in games Bury have been leading away from home.

What Next: Culpable against the Latics, he has nevertheless been a mostly reliable presence in a back three that whilst far from screams ‘we are a formidable unit’, they’re not pushovers, either. The deepness of the unit has not caused as many issues with passing into midfield as I’d have expected, partly because the wider centre back on the ball has been given some licence to come forward with it. His experiences in the Sky Blues’ successful bid to regain promotion through the play-offs to the third tier at the first time of asking in 2017/2018 could yet prove crucial to his current side in the months ahead.

 

4. Will Aimson

Total Games / Total Minutes: 26 / 2,227

Goals Scored: 3

Goals Assisted: 2

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles:

Aimson

Assessment: Another drafted in over the close season, he has usually been the go-to option to cover Nicky Adams’ charges forward on the right flank, so much so that you’d be forgiven for thinking he himself was deployed as an auxiliary full back. I was surprised to learn when compiling this blog that his long passing has actually been more accurate than Stokes’, as the punt down the channel, normally to Byron Moore, has failed so often as to almost become a running joke.

His principal attribute is in covering spaces, not just for Adams but for the rest of the defence, too. Before his arguably harsh sending off against Lincoln, he’d had the better of their deadly forward line, which is no small feat. He has also chipped in with important goals, providing the equaliser at home to Forest Green Rovers and the second in slightly comical fashion last month at Cambridge United.

What Next: The most susceptible of the current three to being dropped (which is not an assessment shared by fellow supporters if the poll is indicative!), he performs an important role in the setup; just like Stokes though, you wonder if a more reliable passer might not be a better bet in the medium term. From closely watching him, I think he could become a leader on the field in the next few years.

 

5. Adam Thompson

Total Games / Total Minutes: 30 / 2,557

Goals Scored: 1

Goals Assisted: 2

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles:

Thompson

Assessment: The pick of the main three centre backs to date. Having endured a horrendous campaign both at Bury and inexplicably on loan at then-division rivals Bradford City last time out, he has most often been the ‘check and balance’ in front of the goalkeeper, and is the only individual on this list to have featured in all 30 matches (at the time of writing). Whilst not necessarily the most imposing or dominant of stoppers, he nevertheless gives as good as he receives, and can be found sweeping up after his teammates across the field. A more accurate passer than either Aimson or Stokes, nearly half of his punts find a teammate, and his style of winning the ball in 50/50 challenges lends itself to leniency from referees.

What Next: He will surely be hoping his generally assured performances can catch the eye of Northern Ireland head coach Michael O’Neill in the not-too distant future, although being in the fourth tier might hinder his chances, at least temporarily. The consistency of his defensive partners in crime has helped him play with more of a smile on his face than had hitherto been apparent. He will probably remain the first name on the teamsheet in defence for a good while yet.

 

6. Eoghan O’Connell

Total Games / Total Minutes: 14 / 843

Goals Scored: 3

Goals Assisted: 0

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles:

O'Connell

Assessment: A bit of an enigma amongst the fanbase. Some think him too slow, or disparagingly refer to him as a wannabe Franz Beckenbauer because of his propensity to play out from the back and opt for risky passes. There’s certainly some merit in the suggestion that he dwells on the ball in order to decrease the risk of giving possession away cheaply, and has been found wanting for pace on several occasions. That said, when fit, he’s the most intimidating of the centre backs in both areas, and has accrued three goals in all competitions in around a third of the time on the pitch as the other mainstays. His curling effort outside the area in the dying embers of the Stevenage game will live long in the memory; Lowe has experimented by utilising him from the bench in a defensive midfield role in several games recently, with the dual purpose of cleaning up any second balls from aerial challenges, as well as to offer a calmness on the ball others can lack under pressure.

What Next: Staying fit should be his short-term aim. His time at the club has been beset by several sustained lay-offs, and this term has been little different. Personally speaking, he’d by my pick to line up alongside Thompson in a pairing, but there’s always that lingering feeling that his injury proneness will betray him at any moment. He has to shake that off somehow to continue developing.

 

7. Nicky Adams

Total Games / Total Minutes: 28 / 2,279

Goals Scored: 2

Goals Assisted: 7

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles:

N. Adams

Assessment: Far from a stranger to BL9, his third permanent stint has seen him take on a role alien to him at Gigg Lane – wing-back. Thrust in at the deep end at Stadium:MK, he hasn’t looked back since. No-one, including him, would pretend that tracking back and staying tight to his man to prevent crosses are his forté. What you do always get from him though is an undying desire to work hard for the shirt, but much more importantly, an end product. This is evidenced by averaging a touch under eight crosses per game in 2018/2019, by far the most numerous of any player in League Two when taken in totality. Also the chief set piece taker from indirect situations, this responsibility has helped him to nudge in front in terms of assists in the past two matches.

What Next: More of the same, with any luck. Sensibly only handed a one-year deal in the summer, owing at least partly to his age and recent injury record, he has barely missed a kick. His presence in the team reduces the reliance on Danny Mayor and the left flank in general to produce something, which spreads the threats in the arsenal to multiple fronts, both from open play and dead balls.

 

8. Stephen Dawson

Total Games / Total Minutes: 6 / 399

Goals Scored: 0

Goals Assisted: 0

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles:

Dawson

Assessment: What to make of him rarely featuring, even when available for selection? Stupidly handed a three-year deal in 2017 when already well into his thirties, he’s not had a single performance this season where he’s really appeared to assert himself on proceedings. A rash tackle in the most recent EFL Trophy game ensures he’s unlikely to feature in the competition again, unless the club make the final at Wembley for the first time in their history. There have been more than several occasions when the ebb and flow of a match has cried out for his combativeness, but he’s rarely even been amongst the substitutes.

What Next: Rumours of an impending move elsewhere refuse to disappear, and you’d think that it would be mutually beneficial if one was to transpire. The Dawson fans remember from a decade ago has not returned, even though someone of his mould (with time on their side) would be an ideal fit in a central midfield duo.

 

9. Jermaine Beckford

Total Games / Total Minutes: 1 / 13

Goals Scored: 0

Goals Assisted: 0

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles:

Beckford

Assessment: Hmm. After a year out injured, the veteran striker made an aborted comeback in the Carlisle defeat. It would be churlish to make any judgement based on 13 minutes, and even if he was fully fit with the undoubted ability he has, he wouldn’t be assured of a starting berth. The current state of affairs is in stark contrast to the sense of doom that surrounded his first prolonged absence.

What Next: Should you believe the rumour mill, he is out for the season (again) after a significant setback during his rehabilitation. His contract is up in the summer, and, coupled with the abundance of forwards on the books, he might be persuaded to mutually terminate his arrangement with the club.

 

10. Danny Mayor

Total Games / Total Minutes: 24 / 2,031

Goals Scored: 5

Goals Assisted: 5

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles:

Mayor

Assessment: Put simply, his confidence is back. Free of injury and with a full pre-season programme behind him, he has flourished in the setup offered to him by Lowe, aided in no small part by the amount of freedom he’s allowed to play with. Nominally in the left half-space, he can almost as often be found in central areas, creating space for the likes of McFadzean and Nicky Adams to run into. Some of his goals have had fans running out of superlatives to throw at him, and his presence on the teamsheet almost always strikes fear into the opposition. Whilst he can’t be expected to maintain an extremely high level of performance every game, the danger he can give the side cannot be overstated, nor can his close control on the dribble to beat players. Successful four times out of five, his thrusts deep into the final third help no end in ensuring myriad chances are created.

What Next: The burning question. His contract expires at the end of the season, and he’s now firmly in his prime years. The financial position of the club has been extremely well documented as of late, and despite the change in ownership, Bury need to reduce their outgoings. Interest in him is high as you’d expect, and as good as he is, I don’t think it would be a disaster if he left. If there was a way to engineer it so that he could agree an extension on the proviso that the first serious offer that came the board’s way was put to him, that would be ideal. But football rarely dabbles in scenarios like that. January could be a long, anxious month for fans.

 

11. Chris Dagnall

Total Games / Total Minutes: 18 / 1,046

Goals Scored: 3

Goals Assisted: 1

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles:

Dagnall

Assessment: As a pressing forward, you’re unlikely to be prolific in front of goal; instead, the focus is on keeping the ball as far away from your own goal for as sustained a period of time as possible. Dagnall was recruited by Lowe, having played alongside each other at Crewe Alexandra. The veteran striker began the season as the lone man up front, a role that it’s fair to say didn’t yield the best results.

The switch to a pairing has actually seen him begin most matches on the bench, and he’s often brought on to make a lead more secure with his unselfish style, accurate short passing, good first touch, and willing running. His vital goal away at promotion rivals Colchester United demonstrated his finishing technique, often opting for placement over power.

What Next: With loanee Caolan Lavery back to fitness (and form) ahead of schedule, there’s an argument to be made that he’s now fifth choice. That said, if Bury are to maintain their tilt at least third place in the league, they will need to call upon his wealth of experience and game management, as matches are likely to get more tense and much tighter the closer to the conclusion they get. His contributions thus far cannot be discounted, and is a good option to have in the squad.

 

12. Callum Styles

Total Games / Total Minutes: 17 / 892

Goals Scored: 0

Goals Assisted: 0

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles:

Styles

Assessment: One of the hardest to gauge on this list. As a self-described #8, any Barnsley fans reading his entry might look at the zero goals and assists (coupled with a lack of regular starts), and wonder whether their side has made a mistake in both signing him in the summer and entrusting at least the first half of the campaign to his old side. Whether by instruction or personal choice, he’s not a player that will attempt to beat others on the dribble, normally opting to pass short to a teammate. He’s certainly good at retaining possession and using the outside of his left foot to play chipped through balls down the channels, and has actually attempted 18 shots without reward, including a couple of extremely close efforts from outside the area.

Whilst not his strongest area, he has noticeably become much less easy to prise off the ball, and his lack of height actually helps make his centre of gravity comparatively low. Inevitably, that also means he’s apt to win few aerial challenges, and I’ve even witnessed the ball simply bounce over his head on more than once occasion.

What Next: Daniel Stendel has a lot to ponder: is Styles likely to be immediately useful to the Tykes’ promotion bid back to the Championship? Is his current arrangement with Bury working out as either he or the player in question would’ve anticipated? His loan deal is due to expire in the New Year, and I have a funny feeling he’ll be recalled by the South Yorkshire outfit to be sent elsewhere. Some Bury fans question just how much he’s grown as a player since his debut at an extremely young age, but I would simply say that his… style (pardon the pun) doesn’t lend itself to easy analysis, and he still has plenty of opportunities to develop further.

 

13. Mathew Hudson

Total Games / Total Minutes: 4 / 360

Goals Conceded: 4

Assessment: Did little to convince a sizeable portion of fanbase often extremely quick to judge goalkeepers, having witnessed far too many don the jersey in the past five years. Whilst that ‘roulette’ is at its end, the Preston North End custodian’s lethargic outings in pre-season friendlies and away at Rochdale in the EFL Trophy still colour perceptions. Exclusively used thus far in the derided cup competition, he has since been perfectly adequate, making some important stops at key times to aid progress to the Northern Section Quarter Final stage.

What Next: Like Styles, his parent club might have anticipated that he’d be more heavily used, but the life of an understudy goalkeeper is vastly different to their outfield counterparts. Alex Neil will need to carefully weigh whether the exposure to date has been sufficient for Hudson’s fledgling career, as there are bound to be other sides that would make him their #1 immediately for the concluding half of 2018/2019.

 

14. Phil Edwards

Total Games / Total Minutes: 3 / 225

Goals Scored: 0

Goals Assisted: 0

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles:

Edwards

Assessment: A poster boy for all that went wrong defensively last season, his continued presence at the club has almost been forgotten outside of the EFL Trophy. I recall Lowe very early in the campaign claiming he was an option at centre back, which was enough to make many supporters shudder in fear. To date, that’s where he’s been played exclusively, with much quicker teammates getting the nod at right wing-back. Received the inevitable roasting from Zach Clough in the derby against Rochdale, but has looked serviceable since.

What Next: Not going to trouble the starting XI for league matches, his future surely lies away from Gigg Lane, and he might be able to use the upcoming encounter with Accrington Stanley to demonstrate his ability to prospective buyers. At 33, and already a ponderously slow right-back, you have to wonder just who would take a gamble on him now, rather than wait until the expiry of his contract in the summer.

 

15. Byron Moore

Total Games / Total Minutes: 21 / 1,243

Goals Scored: 7

Goals Assisted: 0

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles:

Moore

Assessment: Upon his signature, I questioned just what he would bring to the squad, other than pace on the wing. Thankfully, he has contributed much more than that, albeit mostly as a striker. Launched into the unfamiliar role away at Swindon Town from the outset, he surprised many (including me) with his excellent first goal in that game, cutting in from the right flank and finishing emphatically from a long solo dribble, and the second of his brace showed the anticipation of a poacher. Since that turning point, he’s been used as a foil for the likes of Nicky Maynard and Dom Telford, asked to cover plenty of ground up top to successfully press the opposition’s defence, capitalising on the smallest of hesitancy.

A composed finisher, he’s probably the best in the side at recovering the ball in advanced areas, but is apt to go down easily in and around the penalty area, which can draw the ire of both sets of fans.

What Next: Not at his stellar best as of late, his contribution cannot be ignored. I wouldn’t have expected him to be one of the top scorers at the club so far into the campaign, amassing seven in five months from a position not familiar to him, as well as starting 2018/2019 from the bench.

 

16. Ryan Cooney

Total Games / Total Minutes: 3 / 270

Goals Scored: 0

Goals Assisted: 1

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles:

Cooney

Assessment: Handed his first pro contract during 2017/2018, only 10 minutes of his gametime to date over the course of the current term has come outside the EFL Trophy. He progressed through the academy system as a playmaker, but since breaking through to the senior setup, has almost exclusively been utilised as a wing back, usually on the right flank.

Every single dribble he has attempted in his four matches has come off, and he showed dogged determination to set up Dom Telford against Leicester City U23s.

What Next: Third in the pecking order for every position he has been picked as, and with over a year remaining on his contract  I’d be asking the manager for a loan move in his shoes. There’s little doubt that he has both sufficient ability and the correct mentality to progress as a footballer, but there’s only so much that can be refined on the training ground. A five month spell elsewhere could do him the world of good.

 

18. Dom Telford

Total Games / Total Minutes: 25 / 1,116

Goals Scored: 8

Goals Assisted: 4

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles:

Telford

Assessment: Has largely had to be content with appearances from the bench, as the minutes to games ratio above attests to. One of the few predominantly left-footed attack-minded players in the squad, it would be harsh to label him as a cup specialist, as over half of his haul has come from outside the league.

When he does get on the pitch, he usually starts as the right-sided striker of the pair, which actually helps when using your left to dribble directly towards goal. Generally, he’s made the most of his opportunities, and to have 43% of your shots on target along with eight goals at this stage of the season augurs very well indeed.

Despite his short stature, he’s no pushover in the air or on the ground, and his contribution to the side has been evidenced in more than just goals, laying on four for others, and building good relationships with an array of strike partners at the club. Most notably of all, the xG when he’s on the pitch is 0.5 higher than when he’s not.

What Next: Might have to be content with continued rotation for time up front, with at least four other serious competitors in the building until the end of the season. I think his efforts have gone a tad unnoticed and unheralded outside Bury, but that is a state of affairs that is unlikely to continue for too long. One of the major successes in Lee Dykes’ recruitment to date, and I see little reason why that will change from hereon in.

 

19. Jamie Barjonas

Total Games / Total Minutes: 8 / 359

Goals Scored: 0

Goals Assisted: 0

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles:

Barjonas

Assessment: One of the rare instances on this list that has been publicly criticised by Lowe, usually along the lines of “he’s not yet up to the speed of our attacking play”. When he has featured, the closest comparison I can think of is with Styles, and the stats bear that out. Rarely gives the ball away in any area of the pitch, but it hasn’t always been clear other than that what he’s been able to bring to the table.

What Next: Like Styles, his loan agreement ends shortly. With Steven Gerrard in situ at Glasgow Rangers, the relationship between the two clubs looks set to grow from the seeds planted during the pre-season friendly. However, the Liverpool legend must be a little disappointed with Barjonas’ gametime, almost regardless of the reasons for it. I don’t envisage it being extended.

 

20. Joe Adams

Total Games / Total Minutes: 3 / 107

Goals Scored: 0

Goals Assisted: 1

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles:

J. Adams

Assessment: Not had many opportunities just yet to impress in the first team, but he did make the most of his first senior start of his career in the EFL Trophy against Leicester U23s, laying on a superb hanging cross for Telford of all people to head in. Still only 17, he’s becoming a more important component of Wales U19s, and he’s been recognised by the LFE as recently as November for his achievements on and off the field of play. A genuinely two-footed inside forward, he’s the leading scorer for the youth side in the absence of a prolific main striker, reaching double figures from out wide already.

What Next: Should Mayor leave next month, he’s the closest approximation to him in the squad. Of course, that doesn’t mean he can be compared to the best inside forward (perhaps player) in League Two just yet, but he could be a very exciting member of the first team more regularly within 12 months. This is underlined by the club handing him professional terms just after Steve Dale’s takeover; he’s now the only player at the time of writing to have a deal until the end of 2020/2021, and this surely signals a shift in thinking with regards to how to develop promising academy players, retaining them as assets to the club for longer in order to hopefully maximise their eventual fee rather than hastily selling them to the first bidder.

 

21. Callum McFadzean

Total Games / Total Minutes: 27 / 2,088

Goals Scored: 0

Goals Assisted: 5

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles:

McFadzean

Assessment: An enforced change in transfer policy following relegation, along with the appointment of Dykes as Sporting Director, had Bury looking for players in areas they’d hitherto left untouched for years; McFadzean was one of a triumvirate of additions in the close season who had been plying his trade in non-league. He had to be patient to earn himself a six-month contract, having been on trial for a number of weeks over pre-season. The deal marked a new era of relative prudence, and it’s reasonable to suggest few fans expected the remarkable ascent he has undergone in such a short period of time.

Starting the campaign on the bench, injuries to O’Connell and Miller meant that the back five underwent a significant early reshuffle, and the self-confessed ‘better winger than defender’ was brought into the fold, and hasn’t looked back since. There are still aspects of his game to improve, most prominently staying tight to his man to prevent crosses in dangerous areas coming in, but he must rank as one of the highest performers on the roster after an adjustment period.

He has linked up particularly well with Mayor down the left channel in a relationship that often evokes memories of the one the latter held with Chris Hussey. Though his crosses haven’t been deadly accurate on a reliable basis, it would be wrong to take the threat he offers lightly, as his five assists to date illustrate.

What Next: Suitably impressed enough to earn an extension on his deal to the end of the season, he will probably be in a strong position to renegotiate once the campaign is done and dusted. He has completely ousted Stokes from the role, and is much more suited for what I believe is now the most important position on the pitch in modern football.

 

26. Jay O’Shea

Total Games / Total Minutes: 24 / 2,024

Goals Scored: 7

Goals Assisted: 3

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles:

O'Shea

Assessment: A player I was so excited to see join the club at the start of 2017/2018, but then promptly got injured in the very first game. He did make a return during the annus horriblis, but often looked a shadow of the dangerous, versatile attacking midfielder seen in both Chesterfield’s and Sheffield United’s colours. In his wisdom, Lowe shoehorned him into a deeper role in a midfield two in the 3-4-1-2, which I didn’t think he was really cut out for. With Danns for company, he has forged an effective partnership that occasionally borders on brilliance.

Moreover, he has rediscovered his scoring touch from a variety of situations: penalties, direct free kicks, and long shots in open play. He has won almost half of his duels in midfield, which when you consider tough tackling and aerial prowess are far from his top attributes, is nothing to be sniffed at. The assist he laid on for Maynard to complete the scoring against Cheltenham Town might rank as the best I’ve ever seen a Bury player make live – with a chipped through ball, he completely bamboozled the Robins defenders. It has to be watched to be fully appreciated. Deservedly won Player of the Month in November after heavily weighing in with both goals and assists.

What Next: He has belatedly gained the affections of supporters, having perhaps been a little unfairly lumped in with other under-performing, expensive signings under Lee Clark’s insipid management. There are clamours for his deal to be extended, but that will probably at least partly depend on which division the club find themselves in for 2019/2020.

 

27. Gold Omotayo

Total Games / Total Minutes: 9 / 433

Goals Scored: 1

Goals Assisted: 0

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles:

Omotayo

Assessment: Another who’s on the trickier side to properly assess. The Nigerian-born Swiss target man popped up with the injury time winner on opening day to finally break nine man Yeovil Town’s resistance, but has not since added to that tally for Bury. Acquired from Whitehawk in the summer, he has all the physical attributes to be a success, but not yet the close control to be an effective fulcrum of the team. His movement off the ball has demonstrated flashes of quality, and he performed reasonably during his loan spell at Maidstone United, a step above where he’d been successfully plying his trade last term.

What Next: Probably going to be restricted to bit-part appearances in the EFL Trophy whilst the coaching staff help him to work on the weaker aspects of his game. Another period in the National League with a patient manager could yield results for him, and I don’t believe Bury fans should discount what he could potentially offer the side in the future just yet, especially if the playing budget is cut.

 

29. Callum Hulme

Total Games / Total Minutes: 3 / 91

Goals Scored: 0

Goals Assisted: 0

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles:

Hulme

Assessment: Given his first start against Leicester City U23s in the EFL Trophy, his rapport with Joe Adams was immediately apparent, as was his propensity to try some passes rarely attempted by more seasoned pros (in the best possible sense). One of these directly led to Bury’s opener, splitting the young Foxes defence apart. Inevitably, he’s not going to be regularly receiving gametime for the senior side at barely 18 and a playmaker to boot, but has had another fruitful year with the youth side, proving to be very dangerous from both open play and with his array of set pieces. Loves attempting shots from long range, and makes extensive use of his weaker foot.

What Next: Will hopefully follow in Joe Adams’ footsteps and sign his first pro deal at the club. His talents are currently best used as the spearhead of a central midfield three, which is not a shape Lowe is likely to adopt whilst Mayor is at the club. That said, the competition for places could be about to get somewhat thinner for him – it’s far from unlikely that Styles and Barjonas could be recalled by their parent clubs, and Dawson seeks pastures new. Definitely something (and someone) to keep an eye on.

 

31. Neil Danns

Total Games / Total Minutes: 25 / 2,091

Goals Scored: 2

Goals Assisted: 3

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles:

Danns

Assessment: Completed one of the most remarkable turnarounds last season, being one of the few experienced pros to consistently appear to be putting 100% effort into every game. Under Lowe, he was rewarded for this with the captaincy and an extension on his deal, having pondered retirement earlier in 2017/2018. This season, he’s been near ever-present, and his form has earned him more caps with Guyana. Notched an excellent brace away at Macclesfield Town, and his accurate passing and ability to offer an option in the right half-space during attacks has helped Bury get good numbers forward in most passages of play.

Nominally deeper than O’Shea, he’s the more dynamic with his runs of the duo, and covers a lot of ground considering his advanced years. His lack of height can occasionally hinder his efforts to win second balls in midfield, but other than that, you have to look quite hard for any more negatives.

What Next: An integral part of the XI, he’s bound to be sorely missed in March (when he’s next scheduled to be on international duty), just as the season enters the home straight. You’d like to believe there’s a plan in place for his absence already; at the time of writing, there are plenty of reasons to suggest the midfield contingent will be much slimmer by then. Should Bury gain promotion, he might decide to hang up his boots on a high, but the way he can still help to dictate the tempo of a match makes me seriously consider that he could just have one more campaign left in his legs.

 

32. Caolan Lavery

Total Games / Total Minutes: 7 / 250

Goals Scored: 4

Goals Assisted: 0

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles:

Lavery

Assessment: Almost completely forgotten about during his prolonged spell on the sidelines (such was the potency in front of goal from his teammates), the Sheffield United loanee arguably ‘announced’ his return in one of the worst ways imaginable by arguing with Telford as to who would take the spot kick in the EFL Trophy at Mansfield Town… and then seeing his effort saved. Since then though, he’s added three goals in as many games; even if his brace in the 4-2 reverse against Oldham eventually counted for little, his efforts in the second half made some fans argue that he should be starting in place of Moore or Maynard. The winner over Tranmere Rovers demonstrated a cool head under pressure and no shortage of skill to fake a shot, creating the space for a low finish into the far corner.

What Next: Offers a little more physicality than most of the other strikers in the group. An xG of nearly 0.9, albeit from a limited sample size, lends credence to the belief that he can be yet another effective member of the squad in an attack-minded setup. There are bound to be further peaks and troughs in form amongst all five main centre forwards, and he looks to have all the ingredients to make his loan spell a success.

 

36. Nicky Maynard

Total Games / Total Minutes: 16 / 1,275

Goals Scored: 9

Goals Assisted: 4

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles:

Maynard

Assessment: Seemingly the latest in a line of one-time big star strikers that have found their feet at Bury after barren spells in front of goal; once upon a time, the opposite was often the case. Oxford United weren’t quick enough to offer him a deal after his release by Aberdeen in the summer, and was drafted in by Lowe at the end of September. Understandably, it took a couple of games for him to get up to speed, but in Nicky Adams’ own words, he then became the ‘missing piece of the jigsaw’. An outstanding brace in an end-to-end encounter with Mansfield Town was massive – the first being an overhead kick, and the second being a remarkably cool finish in injury time to snatch a draw.

That initiated a scoring streak, and he was nominated for Player of the Month in October. Poor in the air by his own admission, almost every other aspect of his game demonstrates his class, from his first touch to his consistent knack of finding avenues to slip in teammates. His glaring miss against Cambridge United did prove costly in the end, but the main thing is that his services were secured until the end of the season around the same time as McFadzean’s were. He is now a big cog in the machine.

What Next: Maintaining his fitness is imperative to any success Bury can achieve this campaign. His take and finish from O’Shea’s dreamlike assist ranks as my goal of the season (if not ever), and to already be troubling the top end of the scorers’ chart with far fewer minutes played than contemporaries at other sides battling for promotion. Even if he does falter, the lack of reliance on any one striker to produce the goods stands the club in good stead for the new year.

 

37. Dougie Nyaupembe

Total Games / Total Minutes: 1 / 90

Goals Scored: 0

Goals Assisted: 0

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles:

Nyaupembe

Assessment: In a bit of limbo during his first year as a pro, the right wing-back has only had a solitary first team match thus far. McFadzean’s dismissal on that game meant Lowe had to shuffle his pack, and he acquitted himself well by covering the left side.

What Next: The paciest of all the full/wing-back options at the club, but just like Cooney, his chances are going to continue to be severely limited in 2018/2019. A month loan at Hyde United only yielded one more match under his belt at senior level. Tactically, the style of play should suit someone with his attributes, but whether he’s still in situ after June remains in the balance.

 

40. Aaron Brown

Total Games / Total Minutes: 1 / 22

Goals Scored: 0

Goals Assisted: 0

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles:

Brown

Assessment: Surprisingly given minutes in the EFL Trophy, the Northern Ireland U19 international has some fierce competition to contend with to gain any more during this campaign. Didn’t look out-of-place during his brief cameo, but has not weighed in heavily with the goals at U18s level, which is one of the few things that Ryan Kidd’s group don’t have – an out-and-out potent striker.

What Next: Still in the first year of his scholarship, plenty of work is required to develop him into a player capable of cutting it with senior pros. By this time next year, we’ll have a clearer picture of his future, and he’ll have had more opportunities to improve physically, as well as a footballer.

Out on loan

17. Jordan Archer

The second of the two striker ‘gambles’ from non-league, he found goals desperately hard to come by with Maidenhead United in the fifth tier, but has had a much better time of it at struggling Southport back in the National League North, particularly in cup games. Just like Omotayo, it’s difficult to foresee him featuring for Bury in 2018/2019. His loan agreement with the Soundgrounders comes to an end next month, but I’m sure Liam Watson will be keen to extend it to aid the Lancashire outfit in their fight to avoid the drop.

22. Chris Sang

Embarking on the third loan spell during his 18 months with the club, it’s fair to say he’s not had the best of times at either Southport last term or with Marine this, notching just once for both sides. The competition is far too stiff at home for him to feature, and although he signed from Wigan Athletic on Lowe’s own recommendation on his release on the expiry of his scholarship, he has not progressed enough to be in the first team picture, despite being the only player on the roster to link midfield and attack without being a target man. With Altrincham for the short-term, I’d be amazed if he was still at Bury after the end of the season.

23. Joe Skarz

The sentiments above can be echoed with Skarz. Brought back for a second permanent spell at Gigg Lane last season, he badly lagged behind Greg Leigh for a left back berth even when fit, and his year-long loan with FC Halifax Town has been less than stellar. He has been utilised in three different positions with the Shaymen when named in the XI, including central midfield. Fans of the West Yorkshire outfit have told me that it appears as though his legs have gone, which is a sad state of affairs at just 29, and points more to a career recently beset with sustained periods watching on from the stands.

24. Tom Aldred

Certainly has a niche at the heart of Motherwell’s defence, even though the SPFL find themselves in a disappointing position. A favourite of their fans and one of the first names on Steve Robinson’s teamsheet, which only makes his disappointing displays in white and royal blue during 2017/2018 all the more puzzling. I could envisage a deal being arranged to make his switch north of the border permanent next month, such is the appetite with all three parties (including the player) to see it happen sooner rather than later.

33. Harry Bunn

Actually featured twice from the bench in the famous white and royal blue, the inside forward has since been an important part of Chris Powell’s Southend United in the tier above, even if the campaign has been an odd one for both the club and him. Playing off Simon Cox or cutting in from the left flank, he has made a decent fist of things, scoring three times for the Shrimpers and being a good option to call upon when fit. Depressingly, he still has 18 months left on his Bury deal, and the investment in him has not had the desired results. Another deal could be brokered to cut that short, with his salary almost certainly in the top bracket at the club.

Yet to Feature

28. Saul Shotton

Another U18s centre back that has had to contend with a lengthy spell on the sidelines this term. Judging from his numerous first team appearances during 2017/2018’s shambles, the main deficiencies in his game are aspects that can be worked on during training. Closest in style to O’Connell, he has the passing range of a centre-back that is becoming increasingly important from a tactical point of view. Comfortably fifth choice at present, don’t be surprised to see him feature during the run-in when injuries and suspensions are likely to bite.

35. Scott Burgess

What has happened here? A vital cog out on loan during Macclesfield Town’s unexpected National League title win, he was left out in the cold twice in quick succession – firstly, Lowe cast doubt on his readiness to feature during pre-season, and secondly, he was largely overlooked by then-Wrexham boss Sam Ricketts – so much so, his agreement was cut short. With his deal up at the end of June, another spell away from Gigg Lane is surely on the cards, with the stakes being raised to a fight to secure his professional future somewhere in England.

38. Sam Allardyce

In his second year with the U18s, the grandson of his more famous namesake is well thought of at the club, and is now an important part of a centre back trio alongside Bobby Copping and Shotton, a shift made to speed up the squad’s transition into the first team picture. He’ll have to contend with a bevy of others to be offered pro terms, which could hinge on how much new owner Steve Dale values the academy, just as much as it does on his own ability.

39. Aaron Skinner

A dynamic full back that can operate on either side, he has proven himself to be a capable member of the FA Youth Cup run to date, and possesses a good rapport with Femi Seriki and Oliver Patrick down the right most notably. Could be slightly hamstrung by the litany of others with his role ahead of him, but still has another season and a half left to continue enhancing his reputation.

41. Cameron Hill

A deep-lying playmaker, he was badly missed by the U18s during the four months he was out injured because of his versatility in midfield. Whilst normally playing behind the other two in the centre of the park, he’s effective at attacking the second ball from corners outside the area, as well as being accurate from his long-range shots. Could yet be pushed back to prominence if the numbers are thinned out in the first team, as none of them are a natural fit to sit in front of the defence.

42. Femi Seriki

I remember hearing his name three years ago within the walls of the club… and he’s only 15 now. Principally operating on the right side of a front three for the U18s, he has amassed five goals and seven assists during the course of the current campaign, and made the bench in the EFL Trophy at Fleetwood Town. Lends good support to Brown or Cedric Ondoa up top, often positioning himself fairly narrowly to accommodate the runs of Skinner or Edward Jones. Capable in the air, quick on the dribble, and skillful on the turn, his best attribute is finding space in the area, which goes some way to conveying why he’s held in such high esteem.

43. Scott Moloney

Shipped out to Skelmersdale United to gain valuable experience in a first team environment (if not the minutes), he remains a long way off troubling Murphy or Hudson. Has had to battle Mark Edwards-Williams for the U18s, and neither have been convincing. This is illustrated by the fact that the academy held open trials for all of the age groups (including theirs) only last week. Both are in the last few months of their scholarships, and I’d be surprised if either will be offered terms based on the evidence I’ve seen.

 

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