As the nights start to really draw in, the board have put me on a C+ grade, which always felt at school like a bit of a mickey-take whenever I got it (which was frequently in most subjects). I’m hoping the holiday season will be bringing very good tidings for my young squad as I seek to at least meet the minimum requirements in the league of gate-crashing the expanded play-off picture.
(1885 Bury score first):
Bradford (Park Avenue) (a): 3-2
Brad Dockerty put the willies up the youthful Shakers early doors by powering in a header, only to be deemed very marginally offside. Dan Mooney then rattled the bar with a similar effort, and both of these were against the general flow of the first half. Leading scorer James Morris, back in for the transfer-listed Joe Thompson, showed his budding skills in front of goal once more, latching onto a loose ball in the area to toe-poke home. That seemed to put the tie beyond Bradford, but a superb solo run and finish from Joe Hawkes levelled things up. Despite the paucity in the ‘goals for’ column, the tactic seemed to be coming together. Some intricate approach play between the attack-minded four resulted in a close-range tap-in by Ellis Hudson to regain the lead. It didn’t last. Oli Johnson notched a very similar strike to Morris, but the latter was not done. One poor backpass went unpunished, but not a second one. A calm finish made it 3-2 deep into injury time.
Kidlington (a) <FA Trophy 1st Round>: 1-0
The Oxfordshire-based Southern League Division One Central outfit were the next opposition, and a win in this game was paramount to meeting the club vision. Despite the gulf in divisions, I felt it necessary to name a strong XI for the encounter. Territorial and shot dominance in the opening period didn’t yield a goal, and Morris was guilty of missing two sitters just after the restart. He then conspired to hit the woodwork from three yards out, and I was beginning to wonder if a replay would be required (one of the quirks of the FA Trophy is that both teams have to agree whether to hold extra time – Kidlington did not agree prior to the fixture taking place). Centre-back Cameron Taylor finally broke the deadlock in the 71st minute from a Hudson free-kick – that proved to be sufficient to squeak by.
The second round draw meant a third away trip in a row in the competition, this time against higher tier opposition – struggling Hartlepool United in the National League. The game will be a real test of the team’s (improving) credentials.
Brackley Town (h): 2-2
A cagey affair in the first quarter came to a close with an own goal by Gareth Dean for the visitors, who was under no pressure at all when he guided Dylon Meredith’s cross beyond his despairing goalkeeper. The ex-Burnley prospect then got in on the act himself, turning in a square ball by Ross Woodcock. Lewis Landers preserved the rare two-goal advantage with a smart save from a direct free-kick after the break. Lee Ndlovu halved the deficit with a strike out of nowhere, and unfortunately, it was merely the precursor for the equaliser from Matt Lowe, ensuring the Shakers were back out of play-off contention.
That was the trigger point for the squad being unhappy with my management, but I think I bought some time with an admission that things hadn’t been up to scratch (even though results and performances have improved recently).
Blyth Spartans (a): 3-0
The first of three festive fixtures saw some great switching between the wingers, but it was Morris who bagged his 14th from a long punt forward from Alex Honeyball. Jacob Fletcher added another with a volley from outside the box in the second half. Hudson should’ve sealed it, but only conspired to find the inside of the post. Blyth offered nothing whatsoever, and Morris did get the vital third to prevent any sniff of a comeback as had been witnessed in the game prior, although Tom Devitt did get a consolation in the fifth minute of three minutes of injury time.
Gateshead (h): 2-1
The Heed started in earnest, having the lion’s share of the early shots on goal but without profit. Turning the season in general on its head, 1885 Bury took advantage of that profligacy, Hudson and Meredith combining once more to great effect. Cameron Sangster ensured that lead was short-lived, bundling in an ugly fashion from a corner. Morris ballooned over in the six-yard area. Landers kept the Shakers in the tie with a save from a similar chance. Ex-Bury centre back Michael Nelson smashed the bar with the resultant set piece. A ding-dong affair went the distance… until Morris made amends for his earlier gaffe, heading home from a Cameron Esien cross.
Spennymoor Town (h): 2-1
A few changes were required to keep some players refreshed. Francis McAughtrie’s reintroduction could’ve gone better straightaway, but missed a gilt-edged opportunity. Michael Collins opened the scoring for Spennymoor instead, and only a late comback courtesy of Simeon Oure and Morris once more kept the engine of recovery ticking over.
(N.B. The game didn’t save properly after the first result, which was 1-0, hence the change in scoreline/scorers).
Now firmly entrenched in the play-offs, but 14 points off the sole automatic spot. Can the good form continue into the new year? Check back tomorrow in Chapter 7!