End of Term Report Cards: Assessing Every Bury Player – 2018/2019

As at Christmas, I canvassed opinion on social media, grouping the grades as follows: A-B are good, C-D are okay, and E-F are poor. The grades are only a reflection of every player’s on-pitch performance, rather than their heroic stoicism off to it to continue performing without full pay since the end of February:

RCE1819

 

**IMPORTANT NOTE**: The ‘What Next’ for every player makes the assumption that a resolution of some kind will be found to the current shambles off the pitch with regard to finances and the immediate future of the football club… otherwise, there wouldn’t be much point including those sections!

1. Joe Murphy

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Credit for all photos: Andy Whitehead

Total Games / Total Minutes: 52 / 5,074

Goals Conceded: 65

Clean Sheets: 13

Assessment: Surprisingly voted by his peers in the PFA League Two Team of the Season, the veteran custodian didn’t miss a minute of league action, brushing off his injury problems from the previous term. The emphasis on quick and short distribution out from the back suited his style very well indeed. He made the odd glaring error as you’d expect from any guardian – allowing former Shaker Danny Rose to rob him of the ball in the home encounter with Mansfield Town to tap into the empty net sticks out in particular. That mishap has to be balanced with often being the very last line of defence in one-on-one situations, and he performed admirably in those cases, saving brilliantly from James Norwood at Prenton Park to ensure parity was kept and promotion was sealed.

Not the tallest or most aerially confident, coming for floated crosses and dead balls into the area were his weaker aspects throughout the campaign, and he conceded more than many other members of the ‘union’, hence a large contingent of fans’ shock at his award. Solid but often unspectacular, his presence on and off the pitch as the oldest individual in the dressing room proved to be a steady influence over the course of 2018/2019.

What Next: He’s harboured ambitions of going into goalkeeper coaching for a couple of years now. At 37, he probably still has at least another season of playing should he be offered another deal. Whether that’s in BL9 or with his #1 spot quite so assured I’m much less certain of.

 

2. Tom Miller

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Total Games / Total Minutes:  15 / 936

Goals Scored: 0

Goals Assisted: 0

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Right wing-back / Right-sided centre back in a three / Right-back

Assessment: Started the season as the right-back of choice in a conservative 4-3-2-1, but an early injury likely hastened Lowe’s plans to adopt a more attacking posture. Frequently spotted on the bench thereafter, he had good cameos in the EFL Trophy in a number of roles that ably demonstrated his versatility. At wing-back, his style was in stark contrast to Nicky Adams when rarely afforded the chance, joining in less often in the sweeping moves forward. Additionally, he won plenty of headers down his flank when direct balls were lobbed in search of a nippy winger.

What Next: Still has a year left to run on his contract. Being pushed to a definitive third place in the pecking order by Adams and Ryan Cooney (a decade his junior) must have rankled him somewhat, but if so, there were never any public signs of it. More at ease in a flat back four, he’s an ill fit for a swashbuckling ‘score one more than the opposition’ mentality, but equally, his versatility is important. If the numbers on the roster are cut as expected, he might want to make the most of guaranteed first team football elsewhere as part of the group heading for the exit door.

 

3. Chris Stokes

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Total Games / Total Minutes: 43 / 3,697

Goals Scored: 4

Goals Assisted: 0

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Left-sided centre back in a three / Left wing-back / Left-back

Assessment: The former Coventry City defender had quite the arc in his maiden campaign in white and royal blue. Like Miller, he started out at full-back before being pushed forward briefly. The emergence of Callum McFadzean saw him take up a less familiar left-sided centre back with mixed results. His lack of raw speed and physicality saw him beaten often in the air and on the turn when the opposition looked to press the Shakers in their own half to prevent an easy out-ball from their own third. His nadir came in the breathtaking comeback win over Milton Keynes Dons, having a big hand in all three strikes for the visitors (including an unfortunate own goal).

The loan signing of Scott Wharton late in the winter transfer window seemed to have put paid to his season, but he had an amazing renaissance in April, bagging a brace against Carlisle United and another goal with a superb volley at the far post to start the fightback versus Northampton Town, demonstrating a different sort of threat at left-wing back to McFadzean.

What Next: In his prime and with one more year at the club, I can see him staying and being at the very least a good candidate from the bench to call upon to either shore things up at the back or to give something different down the left.

 

4. Will Aimson

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Total Games / Total Minutes: 43 / 3,940

Goals Scored: 4

Goals Assisted: 3

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Right-sided centre back in a three / Middle centre back in a three

Assessment: From the get-go, he was instructed to stay wider than most conventional centre backs do in a three-man backline, covering in behind Adams’ many bursts forward up the right flank. This was both a blessing and a curse for the former Blackpool stopper; it gave his teammates the reassurance to push onward, but made his distribution suffer somewhat, restricted in some ways to clipping passes down the channel for the strikers to run onto. Aerial prowess was on show in both boxes, scoring four times from set pieces, none more emphatically than the third equaliser at home to Lincoln City, gaining some small measure of ‘revenge’ for his harsh red card in the reverse fixture.

In the run-in, he took injections in his groin to get through the hectic schedule, which resulted in several early withdrawals from games and time on the sidelines. An unheralded member of the squad relatively speaking, his contributions didn’t go unnoticed by the more discerning observers.

What Next: His appearance makes you think he’s much older than just 25, but, with a year on his contract to run, he’s one of the best assets likely to remain at Gigg Lane into 2019/2020. Can only improve with time, and might be a more central figure in the defence to boot.

 

5. Adam Thompson

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Total Games / Total Minutes: 54 / 5,102

Goals Scored: 2

Goals Assisted: 2

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Middle centre back in a three / Left-sided centre back in a three / Right-sided centre back in a three

Assessment: The pick of the bunch from a defensive point of view. Thompson’s travails last season are well-known, and he alluded to them during a Q&A for this blog. Almost immediately asked to be the all-important middleman in a backline often matched in terms of numbers on the counter, he had few truly poor outings in a year where he played the most of any Bury player. Not the most adept at combatting target men (a problem he shared with his cohorts), he nevertheless always gave as good as he got, being sometimes the only assured presence in front of Murphy. An accurate passer, he might be a tad disappointed not to have got more goals with his intelligent runs in dead ball situations, but showed great composure in the snow against Oxford United in the EFL Trophy to rifle home on the volley.

He was rewarded for his displays by occasionally receiving the captain’s armband, and he really was the glue that held together the defence far more than the goals conceded stat might suggest.

What Next: A swift return to third tier football and one of the more well-regarded centre backs this season in the league, a recall to the Northern Ireland national team setup is not beyond the realms of possibility. It wouldn’t surprise if that happened, and by the same token, if other sides were interested in his services, being at a good age and entering the final year of his contract.

 

6. Eoghan O’Connell

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Total Games / Total Minutes: 35 / 2,278

Goals Scored: 3

Goals Assisted: 2

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Middle centre back in a three / Right-sided centre back in a three / Defensive midfielder in a three

Assessment: The mixed grading by fellow fans above signify that the Irishman had an up and down campaign. Physically, he’s the closest the club have to a dominating defender, and would certainly be the top candidate for isolating a lone striker in the air. On the ground is a different matter entirely, however, which is where the mixed results are borne out; when faced with speed, he can look more than a touch cumbersome, especially on the turn. On the other hand, when the team needs to take the initiative, which they almost always did by default under Lowe, his quality on the ball is there for all to see, with his often surgical through passes helping the whole backline advance up to 10 yards. There’s even an argument that he’s the best passer in the squad on his day, such is the difference he can and has made on numerous occasions.

All three of his goals came early in the season, and the third of the triumvirate was rightly voted the campaign’s very best from the ones selected.

What Next: Subject of serious interest from Coventry City in the winter transfer window, his prime is still some way off. Used in defensive midfield because of the aforementioned passing range, the biggest conundrum he faces is where he should be consider his go-to role, lacking the speed required for a two-man central defence, or to plow a lone furrow as an anchor in front of the back three/four in a counter-attacking outfit, as that could expose the shortcomings in his game.

 

7. Nicky Adams

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Total Games / Total Minutes: 53 / 4,553

Goals Scored: 3

Goals Assisted: 15

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Right wing-back / Right-wing in a four

Assessment: I’ll be the first to admit I was a bit sceptical about his return to the club for a third spell, given the lengthy injury spell caused by a damaged anterior cruciate ligament at Carlisle United… and was then utterly perplexed when Lowe shifted him backwards to be a right wing-back after Miller’s own time on the treatment table began. However, it soon became abundantly clear that there was method to the apparent madness, and under the manager he also calls a dear friend, the mutual faith and trust was rewarded, being tasked with playing more like a conventional winger than anything. Putting in the most crosses of anyone in the division yielded the highest assist total in the EFL. Injuries have curtailed a bit of his speed, but he has found ways to combat that, adding probing corners and free-kicks to his repertoire over the last few years.

Stellar displays were always likely to peter out at some stage in the term, but he could never be accused of lacking effort when things weren’t working out as he’d planned.

What Next: It can’t be underestimated how much the vice-captain did for the cause, nor will it have gone unnoticed that he appeared in the second most number of matches in total. His consistently high number of assists will always have other outfits interested in a transfer, but he’s only likely to leave if events off the field conspire to offer him little alternative.

 

10. Danny Mayor

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Total Games / Total Minutes: 44 / 4,143

Goals Scored: 12

Goals Assisted: 9

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Left-sided central midfielder in a three / Attacking midfielder in a four / Left-wing in a four

Assessment: Another to silence the doubters, lower league fans were treated to the sorts of displays that reminded them precisely why he’s such a joy to watch. The inside forward took a few matches (like the rest of the squad) to truly get motoring, but once he did, he was unplayable for large swathes of the season in a narrower, deeper position than he’s occupied previously as the nominal left-sided central midfielder. His dribbles from deep always gave his teammates hope that he could conjure something from nothing, which he conspired to do with pleasing regularity, whether benefitting from his own superb close control or by laying off the ball to a free man after dragging his marker horizontally across the pitch.

With such a special talent, the team will inevitably be weaker when he’s not in the lineup, as his needless, costly dismissal at home to Swindon Town proved, making him miss three matches with the worst disciplinary record in the side (some of which, like that incident, can be reasoned away by the number of fouls he suffered). His predictability in his movements on the ball did not necessarily translate into making him any easier to stop, and he was nominated for League Two Player of the Season again, losing out to Norwood, but can console himself by his inclusions in both official team selections.

What Next: Out of contract and almost certainly off elsewhere, which, after six seasons in south Lancashire, you could hardly begrudge him for. The key for him will be finding another manager like Lowe who will treat him in much the same way. Individuals have different needs in terms of support, and my hope for him is he can be a central component of another team’s plans whilst receiving the same sort of attention he’s experienced at Bury.

 

11. Jordan Rossiter

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Total Games / Total Minutes: 16 / 1,593

Goals Scored: 1

Goals Assisted: 1

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Defensive midfielder in a three / Right-sided central midfielder in a three / Left-sided central midfielder in a three

Assessment: Another to assuage fears of breaking down on the pitch and in some style, too. The Glasgow Rangers regista was a ‘massive coup’ according to Lowe when he signed on loan during the winter transfer window, and once more, the gamble was vindicated. His start on the half-frozen pitch against Crawley Town wasn’t the most auspicious, from then on, he hardly erred, being precisely what was missing in defensive situations – someone who could intercept loose passes, win second balls, and redistribute with purpose.

Plying your trade in defensive midfield is probably the best way of going unheralded in the modern game, but it was his vision that stood out most about him, a perception shared by anyone who bore witness to his exploits for the Shakers. He’s never going to be relied upon for what he can do in the final third – that’s not his forté; that said, he capped off his temporary arrangement with a peach of a goal on final day, bending in a stunning effort from outside the area.

What Next: Steven Gerrard will be delighted with how he performed, and must surely have wormed his way back into contention for the Old Firm outfit. A return next season looks unlikely for several reasons, and if he is loaned out once more, expect it to be to a side in the Championship.

 

15. Byron Moore

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Total Games / Total Minutes: 44 / 2,758

Goals Scored: 8

Goals Assisted: 3

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Right-sided striker in a two / Left wing-back / Right wing-back

Assessment: A surprise package in the sense that Lowe found an elegant solution to the absence of conventional wingers. Moore, hitherto almost always found on the right flank, carved a very specific niche of his own up top, which came to the fore before the signature of Maynard when there were fewer options to choose from. Important strikes in tricky away fixtures at Swindon Town and Colchester United respectively set the tone for having an important say in the course of the campaign. The nature of his playstyle and unfamiliarity with the requirements of a striker did at times mean he cut a frustrated figure, not always in sync with his partner.

The Plan B for him was to come on in place of McFadzean at left wing-back in an even bolder strategy based on camping in the opposition’s third and working the space in tandem with Mayor to get in behind. It didn’t always come off because it sometimes appeared as though they were occupying the exact same area, but it did signify a greater degree of tactical flexibility on Lowe’s part than any recent predecessor to his post.

What Next: Should stick around for a second season, and might have more consistent starts if the likes of Mayor and Maynard do move on. Positional versatility will be of even greater importance in a trimmed down roster.

 

16. Ryan Cooney

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Total Games / Total Minutes: 14 / 809

Goals Scored: 0

Goals Assisted: 1

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Right wing-back / Right-sided centre back in a three / Right-back / Left wing-back

Assessment: Slowly but surely made his way into the frame over the nine months, eventually having the honour of being one of the youngest captains in the club’s 134-year history bestowed upon him for the last fixture of the campaign. Cooney’s rise is built upon a solid work ethic and a willingness to follow instructions and play where asked to. Better in the air than would probably appear, his stand-out performance came at right wing-back in the narrow EFL Trophy triumph over Mansfield Town, thwarting almost every sojourn down the channel. Steady performances ensured more minutes were afforded to him in the run-in, and he strikes a good balance between defence and attack when out wide.

What Next: Will probably be another mainstay on the bench from the get-go, having proven his worth in the difficult transition from U18s regular to the fringes of the first team over the course of the past year and a half. Intrigued to see how he will grasp his second full campaign as a professional in 2019/2020.

 

18. Dom Telford

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Total Games / Total Minutes: 48 / 2,444

Goals Scored: 14

Goals Assisted: 5

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Right-sided striker in a two / Attacking midfielder in a four

Assessment: Finishing top scorer in the EFL Trophy was a double-edged sword for the striker, who gleaned half of his haul from the unpopular competition, as was the regular rotation in league games he was prone to being a victim of. Lowe showed more tactical nous in having him usually on the right side of the two, despite very much being a left-footed player. This gave Adams free rein to get forward unhindered, as well as frequently giving Telford’s marker pause for thought as he had the pace to dribble into central areas from a starting position well before the 18 yard line.

Described as a ‘fox in the box’ by his manager upon signing, he showed there was more than one bow on his strong with his diligence outside of it, possessing a low centre of gravity to compensate for his lack of height. This was seen before Maynard arrived, and the pair formed a good understanding, knowing in which context to stay close to one another and when to split to create openings.

What Next: 14 goals is an impressive number for any forward, especially for a player whose ratio was better than one in two. Could be the main man in attack next season if not subject to strong interest from elsewhere in the EFL. A major success story of 2018/2019 without question.

 

19. Scott Wharton

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Total Games / Total Minutes: 15 / 1,266

Goals Scored: 2

Goals Assisted: 1

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Left-sided centre back in a three / Middle centre back in a three

Assessment: Parent club Blackburn Rovers recalled him from his season-long deal with Lincoln, disappointed that he wasn’t able to cement a first team place (it should be said he had extremely stiff rivals for a berth). Cian Bolger’s permanent arrival at Sincil Bank compounded matters, so Wharton was instead farmed out to fellow promotion candidates Bury. His 15-game stint has divided opinion somewhat – he, like the rest of team, looked utterly bereft of confidence in that three match losing streak during April, giving the ball away ridiculously cheaply. In other instances, he’s appeared a calmer, taller replacement for Stokes as left-sided centre back.

Goals in successive fixtures signalled his ability to be on the receiving end of dead balls, and when he was at his best, he shut down plenty of attacks in the half-space.

What Next: Reasonably successful seasons in the fourth tier should persuade Tony Mowbray to offer him to established League One clubs. I don’t foresee one of them being the Shakers.

 

21. Callum McFadzean

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Total Games / Total Minutes: 50 / 4,213

Goals Scored: 0

Goals Assisted: 7

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Left wing-back / Left-sided centre back in a three / Left-back

Assessment: Like Moore, he performed way above my modest expectations. Didn’t arrive at the club with the best of reputations, and ‘released from Guiseley’, rightly or wrongly, did colour many supporters’ perceptions. Had a slightly shaky introduction at left wing-back, but then made the role his own with increasingly consistent showings, being almost as reliable with his low crosses as his counterpart Adams on the opposite flank with floated ones. No mean feat!

Might be slightly disappointed to be the only regular outfielder not to trouble the scoresheet – he certainly went close on a number of occasions. The self-confessed ‘better at attacking than defending’ belied his own statement throughout the campaign, and his goal-saving tackle at Forest Green Rovers after his own error was a sight to behold, running at full pelt to make amends. Formed an on-pitch rapport with Mayor not too dissimilar to the one the latter enjoyed with Chris Hussey.

What Next: One of the few out of contract individuals that under normal circumstances, the club would be desperate to keep hold of. Initially only came on a six-month basis, and had it deservedly extended. The hope is that history repeats itself, as he is yet another key figure in the squad who proved their worth and then some, appearing in three discrete left-sided roles.

 

26. Jay O’Shea

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Total Games / Total Minutes: 47 / 4,589

Goals Scored: 16

Goals Assisted: 6

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Right-sided central midfielder in a three / Left-sided central midfielder in a three / Attacking midfielder in a four

Assessment: Everything I thought he’d be in his first year with the club he turned out to be in his second. Like several others, he was tasked with a different role than he was used to, playing as a right-sided central midfielder rather than off the striker or as an inside forward. The adjustment took time, and given that he forged a reputation as a goalscoring attack-minded player over a creative one, it’s truly astonishing he racked up 16 goals from such a withdrawn position. Even excluding penalties and direct free-kicks, the total would still be in double figures. All of this means he’s the best by that metric at the club in over half a century.

The relationship with Mayor was particularly key to getting so many; regardless of whether his teammate provided the final ball, the pair’s movement in tandem created gaping holes for the other to rush into to full effect. His utterly arrogant assist for Bury’s fourth in their rout of Cheltenham Town at home is one of my personal favourites of all time watching football by any player.

The goals did dry up by the end of February, but his contributions in those five months of white-hot form were extraordinary, earning him multiple Player of the Month awards, nominated for Player of the Season, and even a place in the EFL Overall Team of the Season. Whilst defending is never going to be his strongest suit, he had to do his fair share of tracking back and sitting in to protect leads, intercepting plenty of potentially dangerous passes into his own third.

What Next: Extended his contract on the quiet in January, for all that that’s currently worth. Like Mayor, there’ll be a queue of teams wanting his services, and as much as I’d love him to stay, I can’t realistically conceive of a way in which that will happen.

 

27. Gold Omotayo

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Total Games / Total Minutes: 17 / 617

Goals Scored: 1

Goals Assisted: 0

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Left-sided striker in a two / Right-sided striker in a two

Assessment: Along with McFadzean and Jordan Archer, the giant Swiss-Nigerian target man made up one of the trio drafted in from non-league by then Sporting Director Lee Dykes. Initial signs were promising, scoring an injury-time winner on his debut from the bench against a depleted Yeovil Town. Since then, he was given a loan spell at National League side Maidstone Town, notching once during a 35-day arrangement. Eked his way back into contention in March, most often used as a battering ram when chasing the game to divert attention away from Maynard.

What Next: He possesses all the physical attributes to make something from a pro career. Usually in a good position to shoot but rarely able to for one reason or another, I think it’s reasonable to suggest he’ll be elsewhere next season.

 

31. Neil Danns

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Total Games / Total Minutes: 39 / 2,931

Goals Scored: 2

Goals Assisted: 4

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Defensive midfielder in a three / Right-sided central midfielder in a three / Left-sided central midfielder in a three

Assessment: An instrumental presence on and off the pitch, the club captain didn’t have a stellar year in terms of his own form, but that won’t be what fans remember about him. Nominally the most defensive-minded midfielder before the arrival of Rossiter, the 36 year-old wasn’t especially cut out for the task. That said, few could accuse him of lacking the effort needed for such a demanding position. At Moss Rose, he rolled back the years with a brace of highest quality, providing a timely reminder of his talents further forward.

Rossiter’s signing all but relegated him to the bench for the last four months, but he was more than up to the task when coming on, with accurate passes into the channels a staple of his game.

What Next: He wants to continue playing for a couple more years yet, and will have a chance few Guyanese internationals would’ve dreamt possible this summer, being a big influence behind the small country’s qualification for the Gold Cup, their first ever major tournament. A massive motivator behind the scenes, he could be afforded the chance for one final season at Bury.

 

32. Caolan Lavery

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Total Games / Total Minutes: 29 / 1,339

Goals Scored: 6

Goals Assisted: 0

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Right-sided striker in a two

Assessment: An unremarkable capture in many ways, the Sheffield United loanee gave plenty of huff and puff to a forward line that already had that in abundance. In his defence, he rarely had a full 90 minutes to impress, but did manage to get three goals in two derby day clashes with Oldham Athletic, the last of which had huge significance in the context of that fixture. Didn’t face towards the opposition goalkeeper enough for me, which limited the number of shots he was able to get off. A goal every 220 minutes or so doesn’t tell the full story one way or the other. More aggressive in the tackle than his competitors, this was usually at the expense of giving away a free-kick.

What Next: Released by the Blades, there’s still an outside bet that he’ll be back at Gigg Lane, or an ambitious outfit in the fourth tier once more. At 26, he needs to be holding down a regular spot in the EFL.

 

36. Nicky Maynard

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Total Games / Total Minutes: 39 / 3,453

Goals Scored: 22

Goals Assisted: 7

Most Common Position / Role & All Roles: Left-sided striker in a two

Assessment: Curiously overlooked for official recognition of any kind at the end of the season, the much-travelled striker has to rank up there for me as one of the very best to adorn a Bury shirt in my 25 years of watching the club. Bearing in mind he was picked up as a free agent in October, to finish 2018/2019 north of 20 goals in all competitions is an outstanding achievement, and even more so conversely when you take into consideration that they only represented just over a fifth of the Shakers’ tally.

A provider as well as a predator, his all-round game, despite his protestations about being poor at heading, is proof positive of his past, much more lofty history. Scored a plethora of crucial goals, some more beautiful than others. His work-rate, first touch (most of the time), and movement really did make him the missing piece in the jigsaw up front.

What Next: An option already exists to extend his deal. It would be fantastic if that was somehow able to happen, but I have my doubts. A more stable club must surely be ready to take him on, which would follow the pattern of other recent potent strikers having single year stints.

 

Unused Players – What Next?

8. Stephen Dawson

Almost certain to leave in the summer, the tough-tackling central midfielder has been beset by injury problems and woeful displays when Lowe did pick him in the early going. The highest hurdle to a swift departure is the year remaining on his deal, but with pronouncements of cutting costs at the club, he might be persuaded to take a cut of what remains and move on.

9. Jermaine Beckford

The veteran striker played just 13 minutes in 2018/2019 after an aborted comeback from a lateral cruciate ligament injury. He targetted a return to first team action around the time of the play-offs, which thankfully weren’t required. His contract expires in June, and I’d be gobsmacked if he was still here after then.

14. Phil Edwards

Relegated to featuring in just the EFL Trophy on three occasions, the conservative right-back’s attributes are an ill-fit for an expansive, attack-minded wing-back system, possessing neither the height nor pace to make a decent fist of being one of the wider centre-backs in that formation. Certain to leave on the expiry of his contract in June.

17. Jordan Archer

Used extensively at Southport on loan as a lone target man, he hit nine goals in 31 appearances in all competitions for the National League North outfit. Still has a year to run on his deal at Gigg Lane, and has yet to be seen adorning the white and royal blue in a meaningful fixture. Difficult to envisage that changing after the elevation to the third tier, but he might get the opportunity to impress in pre-season friendlies to alter that perception.

20. Joe Adams

Finished well clear in the U18s top goalscorer charts, despite almost exclusively being used as a wide forward on either flank in a front three. Capped several times for Wales U19s, his stock continues to increase, and he made the most of a rare first team chance in the EFL Trophy with an assist, putting in a hanging cross for Telford of all people to head in. Mayor’s probable departure should open the door to more consolidated gametime, but don’t expect him to be thrust into the XI from the off. Strong with both feet, he’s a different kind of prospect, and one that needs developing in a sensible manner.

23. Joe Skarz

Distinctly unimpressive by all accounts on loan at FC Halifax Town for the entirety of 2018/2019. A mirror image of Edwards but on the left flank; now 29, perhaps his extensive injury history has sadly caught up with his body when he ought to be in his prime. His contract almost certainly won’t be renewed.

24. Tom Aldred

A mainstay for SPFL side Motherwell for the second season running, he’s barely missed a minute of action as the right-sided centre-back in a flat four at Fir Park. Clearly unwanted by Lowe when he perhaps had the chance to make him part of his plans south of the border, I’d be surprised if he didn’t end up once more lining up for the Steelmen in 2019/2020.

28. Saul Shotton

Surprisingly overlooked for minutes for the first team (particularly with the EFL Trophy in mind), given his commendable efforts last season. The young left-footed ball-playing centre back has yet to sign terms offered to him at the close of last season (meaning he’s still a scholar rather than a pro), which will negatively impact any offer from another club for his services from a Bury perspective…

29. Callum Hulme

The second player to receive a lengthy pro deal, the key for him is to improve his discipline. There’s little question he has the talent to make a success of a pro career – I haven’t seen that many youngsters have the range of passing he possesses, and he can also be effective anywhere in central midfield. What takes the gloss off slightly are a small number of very questionable incidents resulting in red cards. I wouldn’t be altogether surprised if an offer came in for him during the summer, but I’d be more than happy to be witness to a calmer, more focused individual donning a first team shirt with more regularity next season.

33. Harry Bunn

Spent almost the whole term on loan at higher tier Southend United, where he had a mixed bag of a season, full of the usual struggles to stay off the treatment table and flashes of quality. Started off for the Shrimpers mainly as an inside forward cutting in from the left of a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1, before latterly being partnered up top with Simon Cox. Two crucial goals during League One’s crazy relegation run-in were worth four points to his temporary side, making a huge difference to their hopes of survival in the process. Is there a chance for him to be back at Bury in the final year of his deal? I think it’s very slim, personally, even in the event of Mayor leaving. I envisage a similar situation to the one facing Dawson in the early weeks of the close season.

35. Scott Burgess

Another unfancied by Lowe, he had two loan spells in the upper echelons of the non-league system; the first was cut short at Wrexham with minutes on the pitch severely limited by the form of others in central midfield, and the second was with York City a tier below the Red Dragons, being a key part of a squad that pulled the Minstermen away from choppy waters and an unthinkable relegation into step three. Reportedly offered a permanent stay by manager Steve Watson, he could be plying his trade at the new stadium at some point next season.

37. Dougie Nyaupembe

Has the pace and flexibility to work in Lowe’s preferred style, but two loan spells at local sides Hyde United and Stalybridge Celtic respectively suggest that his future could lie away from BL9. Regular minutes at Bower Fold would’ve done him the world of good; turning 20 later his year, this is a career-defining summer for the Zimbabwean youngster. Yet again, it probably won’t be with Bury.

38. Sam Allardyce

The grandson of the one-time England boss, he’s perhaps a victim of there being no U23s setup more than he is any shortcomings in his game in being released at the end of his scholarship. Admittedly more effective as a centre-back without the ball than with (although he has worked hard to improve that aspect), he’ll almost certainly resurface at a club that can financially accommodate taking low-risk signings in bulk in the hopes of one or two of them eventually progressing to their first team or being sold on at a handsome profit.

39. Aaron Skinner

Developed as a full-back through the academy but was deployed frequently in central midfield, most notably during the FA Cup Youth run to the quarter-finals. Has had experience of being the captain for the U18s, and will be a key figure for Ryan Kidd in 2019/2020.

40. Aaron Brown

More goals will be expected from the Northern Irish forward during the second year of his scholarship, hitting just four in 2018/2019. He can play as the focal point or on the left of a front three (a favourite ploy of Kidd’s), and will have to contend with the likes of Joe Collins, Bright Amoateng, Cedric Ondoa and Femi Seriki (more on him below) for opportunities next season. Some players thrive on the increased competition, so let’s hope he’s one of those.

41. Cameron Hill

Much like Allardyce, he’ll probably have the same fate after his release. Started off the campaign on fire with the U18s, belying his withdrawn playmaker role in midfield to get amongst the goals. A bad injury kept him out for four or five months, before coming back in time for the Liverpool clash. He perhaps wonder what might’ve been without that setback.

42. Femi Seriki

Graced the bench on final day against Port Vale. The main purpose behind that was to push his name into the shop window again. Having only turned 16 a fortnight ago, he can play anywhere down the right side of the pitch or in a two up front. Crashed in an impressive eight goals from out wide whilst still underage for the U18s in 2018/2019. Still very rough around the edges, retaining him for the duration of his scholarship will prove difficult.

43. Scott Moloney

Impressed Lowe enough in training that he was content to have the young custodian on the bench after Preston North End loanee Mathew Hudson’s deal expired, rather than source a replacement. Suspect he’ll have to make do with the same next season, regardless of whether Murphy is still at Gigg Lane, but could be thrown into the EFL Trophy group games if the format remains close to the last few years.

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Will the Most Courageous Promotion in Bury’s 134-Year History Prove to be the Club’s Epitaph?

For my reviews of AugustSeptemberOctoberNovember, December, January, February, and March, click their respective links.

No normal review

It’s frankly impossible to carry on in the same vein as the previous analyses this campaign to conclude 2018/2019. Well-documented off-field issues on here and elsewhere did spill over to matches themselves. Without taking anything away from the sides that beat Bury during April, it’s difficult not to wonder whether some of those might have been prevented had the players been paid, and had manager Ryan Lowe not gone above and beyond his remit to motivate non-football staff, as well as a downbeat squad.

Fortunately, a mixture of an unbelievable rekindling of the team spirit, fans and club being as one (with the usual caveat), and promotion rivals Mansfield Town and Milton Keynes’ equally woeful form ensured the Shakers made it over the threshold with a game to spare. Requiring a point from a daunting looking trip to Prenton Park, Lowe’s heroes rallied from a relatively poor first half display by their standards to deservedly equalise in the second period, restricting the division’s top goalscorer James Norwood much more successfully than had been the case in the early exchanges. The enforced substitution of Eoghan O’Connell for Will Aimson after 38 minutes proved to be the catalyst to regain a foothold in the contest.

It was perhaps poetic that Danny Mayor was the one to get the all-important leveller. Just like with Tom Soares’ effort four years prior on the same ground, the actual finish wasn’t pretty, being hit against a defender’s leg, but you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who cared at that very moment or in the days since. Besides which, his turn on the halfway line to create the opening all by himself was a bittersweet reminder of his peerless ability to conjure something out of nothing, and that it will likely not be seen in white and royal blue again.

Rightly, the euphoria and imbibing of several shandies by everyone involved at the club once promotion was confirmed lasted well into the week. Although the final fixture at home to Port Vale was largely academic, a second 1-1 draw in the space of five days had two rare moments: firstly, sections of the home support applauding an opposition goal; Tom Pope took to Twitter after the match to acknowledge that:

Secondly, Jordan Rossiter, rarely seen in deep in enemy territory, was left completely unmarked outside the area to arc a beautiful left-footed shot into the far corner. In a career dogged by injury, that goal marked only his third in senior football. Having come through his loan spell constituting 16 games unscathed and his reputation enhanced, Glasgow Rangers boss Steven Gerrard will doubtlessly be ecstatic that the gamble worked.

The result meant Bury clung on to runners-up spot behind champions Lincoln City, six points off the Imps and with a superior goal difference to MK. Suffice it to say, whilst on paper, the grand total of 22 wins and 79 points is nothing special (and is indeed ‘worse’ than previous successful campaigns), the circumstances in which the last 10 or so games were played out under makes it the most remarkable of the 11 promotions in the club’s 125 years in the EFL. It’s also reasonable to suggest that many followers of other teams are far from happy about the nature of it, which isn’t going to go away anytime soon. I’ll make an attempt to address this at the end of this post.

Ben Mayhew’s xG timelines illustrate that there was very little to choose between the Shakers and their opponents, almost without exception:

 

 

 

 

 

 

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U18s

Ryan Kidd’s side wrapped up their highly commendable season with a derby defeat to a very strong Rochdale outfit, which meant they finished just outside the top three. Nevertheless, the greatest success of the term was in the FA Youth Cup, reaching the quarter-final stage against all odds before being understandably outclassed by Liverpool.

The likes of Joe Adams, Callum Hulme, and the well-regarded Femi Seriki were on all the bench for the senior setup on Saturday. Whether by accident or design, it’s hard to envisage these instances not increasing in League One; the budget will almost certainly be cut much further than what happened last summer (if the club survive the winding-up petition). That should also entail a smaller roster and perhaps a little less reluctance on the part of Lowe (should he stay) to give some of the more promising talents meaningful gametime.

As you can see from the Twitter thread above, the academy are still proceeding as normal for next season. The Carrington training complex, divisive among Bury fans as it is, remains a vitally important component of the underage structure, and that should not be dismissed out of hand so readily if the club are to really cut their cloth. The Shakers could do a lot worse than attempt to emulate the likes of Crewe Alexandra if they want to remain a beacon to players released from higher category institutions, as well as developing their own in-house for a fairly streamlined pathway at present to at least the fringes of the first team.

Women

It would be extremely remiss not to mention at the huge success achieved throughout the different women’s sides.

In his first season with the U18s, Chris Honor led his charges to two cup finals and a top-three finish in their division.

The reserves managed to best higher tier opposition in the form of Nelson on on penalties during their Lancashire FA Plate Final encounter after mounting a thrilling comeback in regular time. Kimberly Tyson was particularly impressive up top, showing calmness under pressure for a cool finish for the second goal in the highlights package below:

Colin Platt’s team also came third in their pool, and they will hoping for an even better term next season.

The senior side under the auspices of Scott Johnson have gone from strength to strength ever since he was handed the reins just weeks after the campaign got underway, culminating in a title win and promotion at Gigg Lane itself on Sunday. For club stalwarts like captain Lucy Golding and Aymee Openshaw, the trophy has been a long time in the making, and it will be intriguing to see how they cut their teeth in the North West Premier Division, the fifth tier of the women’s pyramid. A very young squad overall, the potential is most certainly present for them to push higher in the next few years. It’s something I’ll be paying even closer attention to on this blog and when my podcast launches later this summer…

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No matter what happens to the ‘main’ arm of the business, there will still be a Bury FC Women – they couldn’t be in better hands at this moment in time

Potential Takeover

Whilst the celebrations of the past week were taking place, there was of course a very notable person in absentia. Owner Steve Dale has not been seen at the club recently, and his last set of ramblings on the official site dated the 25th of April made stark the grave situation facing the club, even if like me, you don’t take all the figures and needless anecdotes mentioned at face value.

At the time of writing, there are just eight days to go until the adjourned High Court appearance. Director Matt McCarthy mentioned in a more recent local radio interview that there are some interested parties looking to purchase the club from Dale. Simultaneously, there’s a new initiative that’s launched called ‘Buy Our Bury’. They’re looking for pledges from supporters with the aim of making the BL9 outfit fan-owned.

Correctly in my view, they’re not assuming that any successful takeover from Dale will transpire. Even if one does, I firmly believe it’s in the interests of any would-be party to have a conversation with BOB to help spread the financial burden of operating a full-time professional team in the domestic game. If you can, I’d like you to pledge an amount to the campaign. If not, please share the website with your friends. It might make all the difference.

Is this it?

I’d like to take this opportunity to address anyone who’s read up to this point and feels that the men’s team have ‘cheated’ their way to promotion: You’re half-right… but the culpability rests mainly with people no longer at the club – Stewart Day and Lee Clark. The vast majority of the alleged higher earners on the books have barely been used, if at all, by Ryan Lowe during 2018/2019 for various reasons. Does that assuage the overspending by the club for years? Not in the least.

Should there be a punishment for clubs like Bury that have continued to spend beyond their means? Yes, I think so. However, we have seen all too keenly and all too frequently as of late that the EFL are not fit for purpose, and there’s nothing in their current rules and regulations to combat this. Every side in the Championship during 2017/2018 made a loss, in spite of the far higher level of income being part of the second tier ensures. That pattern is largely repeated in the lower reaches, especially when you take out money made from player sales. Again, that in no way excuses the reckless behaviour in the Gigg Lane boardroom during the past six years.

There is the chance that the new owners will wipe out the debt owed to all the creditors, and whilst in many senses that would constitute the best possible outcome for everyone, it could easily be seen as a ‘cheat code’ that draws a definitive line under the past with no repercussions whatsoever. I have a lot of sympathy with that argument, but until there comes a time that one or more high profile club goes bust, I just can’t foresee the EFL doing anything meaningful to clamp down on rogue owners and a flagrant disregard for the long-term futures of clubs. Financial Fair Play (FFP) hasn’t had the desired effect, and is not enforced in the same way throughout the divisions. You only have to glance at how they have handled the even bigger shambles due west at Bolton Wanderers to glean an understanding that massive financial reform is well overdue… but is the collective appetite there for it?
What’s next on the blog?

Regardless of the outcome of the High Court case, I’ll be doing a detailed analysis on every player used in the second half of the season; discussing the retained list (if it’s released in the conventional sense…); putting together my alternative take on League Two Team of the Season; detailing my night at the Football Blogging Awards, which takes place this Thursday at the Etihad Stadium in Manchester; lastly, I hope to have at least one Q&A in the pipeline… and that’s far as I can look with the club’s future still up in the air.

Get Out of Bury Football Club

The winding-up petition was adjourned by the High Court, giving Bury Football Club a five-week window in which to settle debts with the most pressing creditors. During the hearing, it emerged that HMRC are now the lead creditor, being owed £277,640.77 by the club – a figure which will only increase as time goes by. Former assistant manager Chris Brass’ deferral of the £140,000 he’s owed was, and still is, contingent on the players and staff being paid their March salaries. This still hasn’t taken place, as this piece on the BBC confirms. It’s incumbent on Steve Dale as owner and chairman to address that as soon as possible, with a vague promise of late next week rumoured.

A statement was released several hours after the adjournment on the official website, in which it originally suggested a resolution to the owed salaries this week. At an unspecified point after publication, it was amended to remove the reference to a specific timeframe. What had brought relief to many readers initially only brought yet more anxiety hours later, together with a non-sequitur reference to the Sunday Sport newspaper of all things in the midst of a passive-aggressive pop at supporters racked with worry. The vast majority of the statement is extremely defensive, and not at all the rallying cry you’d expect from a chairman of a professional football club or committed communitarian.

Granted, it also painted a picture of a future in which major changes will be obligatory to keeping the club afloat next season – stop me if I’ve heard that one before. Actions speak much louder than incoherent words, which even with the best of intentions, might not be able to acted upon. The Damoclean threat by HMRC will not be avoided on the back of an unspecified sum from the EFL, nor will it be remedied in combination with season ticket sales. Whilst there’s still major doubt whether the club will be a going concern in 2019/2020, even the most die-hard of fans will at least think twice before renewing their subscription, especially if they can’t claim back the cost in the event of administration by using a credit card for their purchase(s). To repeat, these two streams of income were what was used in High Court to stave off the club being wound up immediately, and says nothing of having any cash in the bank over the summer to pay for other expenditure during the months without a ball being kicked…

Playing devil’s advocate, Dale is absolutely right to say that some ‘bitter pills’ will need to be swallowed by all concerned, should the business even survive past the 15th of May. In reality, that will undoubtedly mean a drastic reduction in the playing budget and probably redundancies for some non-football staff, too. I don’t wish anyone to lose their livelihood, and the vast, vast majority of people I’ve come into contact with at the club are talented, hard-working, and passionate about Bury. The burden will mostly fall on players who must by now be instructing their agents to seek more stable pastures next term, but the strife already caused by the lack of remuneration cannot be underestimated.

It’s inevitable in any firm that if people are unhappy and not being paid on time (or at all), employees will air their grievances in one way or another. The ubiquity of social media has provided an avenue for ‘leaks’ to spread, which allege a whole host of things. Taken individually, they are next to impossible to substantiate and could easily fall into the ‘he said, she said’ category. However, when you receive messages from no fewer than six people working in completely different departments that, for all intents and purposes, echo the same sentiments which aren’t just related to money, it’s hard to ignore. I should also stress that six is not a tiny sample for a club the size of Bury, either…

A professional football club is not just another business. Whilst I’m not fond of the term, there are many stakeholders (yes, even in BL9) in its ongoing operation. Bury as a town is one of the smallest in England or Wales that hosts a team in the top 92 and consequently, whether everyone in that corner of south Lancashire realises it, the club play a major role in its economy, so it’s no surprise to see the council, its two MPs and belatedly, even the EFL take an active interest in what’s unfolding.

It’s the middle of April now. In any other season, this blog would be awash with analysis, opinion, who might win which award in the end of season showpiece at the club, as well as statistics about the run-in, who Ryan Lowe could sign in the summer if he got the Shakers up. It should go without saying that I don’t want to write pieces about off-field matters, especially now that they’re this dire. Finances are never a million miles away from keen consideration by the more prudent-minded at Gigg Lane, but we’re now shoulders-deep in the mire, a nightmare that has sucked away all the enthusiasm over the displays on the pitch.

I know of fellow supporters that are suffering badly from the events that have transpired in the last fortnight. Many of them are at wits’ end, desperate for a positive resolution to the situation. Others still refuse to believe that there’s even much of a problem at all, even after the latest news. That the game is on against Colchester United tomorrow has unfortunately had the effect of assuaging lingering doubts.

As always with hindsight, there were some warning signs. A popular Shrewsbury Town forum had a thread on Dale as soon as he took over, the contents of which make for grim reading. It should be noted that elements of Salop’s supporters have been fiercely critical of how Bury have operated financially for years now, and not without good reason. They were not alone. Football message boards always throw up posters that make a big splash and then disappear without trace. The largest Shakers one was no different in December, and as I mentioned earlier in this blogpost, it’s often easy to dismiss a lone voice. Much of what the anonymous guest said has been vindicated, however.

It’s at this point I want to make two things crystal clear; firstly, I am fully behind Lowe, the backroom staff, the players, and everyone else at the club (with one big exception) in whatever they decide to do from hereon out. It’s already close to the 14-day notice period without pay in most of their cases by my best guess. Few could blame them if they left now.

Secondly, the mess was inherited for all intents and purposes. The past few years’ accounts all show substantial losses and spiralling debts; the latest ones have yet to be filed. A cursory glance at former owner Stewart Day’s appointments on Companies House is very illustrative, coming on the back of two more of his businesses being wound up. What you could say about him though was that he really did come to care about the club. That should not be construed as a defence of his time in charge, but his passion was self-evident.

That passion and ‘everyman’ persona he imbued seems to be in sharp contrast to the current owner. He is by his own admission not a Just eight days ago, yet another statement on the site spoke of his desire to pass on the reins to a ‘younger custodian’. That time has come now. I have racked my brain to come up with a real reason as to why he took over in the first place. He’s said that he’s not an ATM – nobody either wants or expects him to be, and if he can’t take on a task of the size Bury are, he should let others try whilst there’s still a small window.

Liquidation is a serious prospect in the near-future. I have had conversations with a representative at Chester and Supporters Direct to gather information for what would need to be done in that eventuality. Of paramount importance is somehow ensuring that the ground remains in the club’s possession by any means possible, whether it’s conjunction with the council or another body. The ‘success’ of any possible phoenix club is highly contingent on that happening, whilst being fully cognizant that there are still charges against it.

In any case, the clock is ticking on 134 years of history. In my opinion, Bury Football Club will only get to their next anniversary if someone else can step in. Even if that happens, there’s no magic wand to either turn the clock, nor will HMRC have the same degree of leniency that Brass showed this week when the club are back in court, almost certainly on the back of a heavy play-off semi-final aggregate defeat. Staff and fans need to be united now more than ever.

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If you are able to donate a small amount for the staff still without pay at the time of this update (16th of April), you can do so via this link:

https://www.gofundme.com/help-the-staff-of-bury-football-club

Forever Bury, officially recognised by Supporters Direct, are actively seeking new membership and/or funds to build capital for all possible contingencies. Whether you’re a Shaker or a follower of another club, your membership or donation would be extremely welcome, and it could just prove to be the difference between a club bearing the name Bury still existing or ceasing to. The link to join them, as I have done today, is below:

https://www.foreverbury.org/join/

No Crystal Ball, but Things Must Change Now and Forever, from Within and Without

It won’t have escaped even the most casual observer’s attention that this has been a(nother) horrific week in the long and storied history of Bury Football Club. The two comfortable home defeats back-to-back have paled into complete insignificance because of off-the-field events yet again. From a financial perspective, the Shakers have rarely ever been healthier than merely ‘treading water’, certainly in my quarter of a century following the side. I’ve been become accustomed over the years to phrases like ‘cash-strapped‘ and ‘begging bowl‘. Before previous chairman Stewart Day came along however, you could at least look at the accounts and say that the debts were comparatively tiny to what they have now become – at the very least, an increase of tenfold since the summer of 2013, together with numerous CCJs and winding-up petitions, one of which will be heard next week on the 10th of April. I know precisely where I lay the blame for all of this, but I’m not here to talk about him – I’ve done that before and received vociferous criticism – the past has informed the present, and in turn has set the likely course for the future.

Equally however, the near-ubiquity of the money worries under different administrations has understandably hardened many supporters of other clubs to Bury’s plight, coming as it does with greater frequency all the while. I don’t expect or ask for sympathy from anyone, as it’s my belief that a fundamental change needs to happen both within and without the club in the domestic game as a whole. Once more, the change I speak of does not absolve any custodian of the club from their responsibility to restore prudence to the books, and it is simply unacceptable that the players and staff have not been paid their wages for March.

Late last night, current chairman Steve Dale penned a long statement on the official website, which warrants being put on here as it addresses some, but not all, of the vital issues:

“I’ve become aware of some recent speculation about our club and, although I usually prefer not to address or give credence to rumours, I feel it’s reached a point where it’s time to address the main causes of speculation and to offer first-hand information around some recent events.

Firstly, I would like to highlight how our dedicated players, staff, and directors have all rallied round to support our club to ensure its future. Fans, followers and the community, can rest assured that Bury Football Club is here to stay.

Unfortunately, though, I can confirm that there is some element of truth in the circulating information relating to the club’s financial affairs. Due to a number of unforeseen issues, the financial position of the club is significantly worse than what was discovered during our due diligence process prior to the acquisition. The full extent of the problems inherited from the previous ownership of the club have become apparent over time, and this has undoubtedly led to our current difficulties. It is certainly a testing time, but we can overcome it. We will overcome it.

To address some of the gossip pertaining to my own position, I can assure you that this remains the same as it has been from day one. On the pitch, I have always been clear that I can add nothing; from that perspective, the club is in the highly capable hands of our Sporting Director, our Manager, and the players. We’re currently sat third in the league, and so I consider them to be doing their jobs extremely effectively. If in any given week the team loses a bit of form, showing them support and enthusiasm will help them rise to the occasion, as they have so many times before. The disdain that has been shown in light of recent results, however, is not only disappointing in the extreme, it’s disheartening to a team who have performed exceptionally all season. Fair weather fans are not true fans.

On the financial side, I made a commitment to get the club on an even keel, at which point my job would be done and a new, younger custodian could take over. That is still my aim, and what I’m working towards, although this process is slower than I would have liked due to the new issues that have arisen. Whilst many in my position would have walked away having unearthed the true position of the club (as some of my advisors have urged me to do), that’s simply not my style. But nor am I a never-ending ATM machine. Fiscal prudence and fans through the turnstiles are what will ultimately safeguard the future of our club. The former of which we’re working on, and the latter of which we need your help with. The continuity of any club is only viable by the support and attendances of its followers. Supporters are the blood we need through our veins, so bring as many family and friends as you can, get behind the team and have a great day. This will serve as a valuable contribution to securing the future of our club in the immediate term, as well as for future generations.

Another point I would like to address is my non-appearance at the game on Tuesday night. Unfortunately, my illness has rendered it impossible for me to be as able as I once was. On Tuesday, I left my house at 5am and didn’t return until 8.30pm, having had back-to-back meetings and a 9-hour round trip in the car. All of which was to safeguard the future of our club. Upon my return, I was understandably drained and so I was unable to attend. When I’m able to, I attend all of our matches, including our ladies and youth team. This isn’t a chore to me, I enjoy every match I watch and am an avid supporter of every team at Bury FC. It, therefore, saddens me to have to address speculation about my commitment to the club, which has been unwavering from the start.

The final point I want to address is the extreme unpleasantness experienced after the match on Tuesday evening. Whilst people are allowed and, indeed, fully expected to have their opinions, the actions of a select few individuals after the game was shocking, unnecessary and completely inexplicable. The threats and abuse (much of which appears to have been based on false information) endured by directors and staff, who have been going many extra miles behind closed doors, was a disgrace. To be clear, any further behaviour of that nature will result in anyone involved being banned from the club indefinitely.

I would like to take the opportunity to give my sincerest thanks to our true fans, those who stick by our club no matter what, as you are the future of Bury FC. We will turn the current circumstances around, and your support whilst we do so is invaluable. Thank you.

Finally, I would like to wish all the other clubs in similar, or far worse situations to ourselves, all the best of luck.

Best regards,

Steve”     

Perhaps for legal reasons, he doesn’t make an obvious mention of the salaries owed; there are plenty of other things to pick out from it, though.

Firstly, I am decidedly not assured about the future. It’s gone well beyond a rallying cry for me. I don’t point the finger at Dale for that, but it signifies the culmination in my experience of rhetoric over action. I’ll only be ‘moved’ with a demonstration of the latter, starting with paying what is owed to all the employees of the club. I must then see that there is a proper plan in place for managing the debt and making the business (because unfortunately in many respects, that’s precisely what it is) solvent.

The ‘easiest’ way of doing that is by cutting the wage bill of the playing staff, which is precisely what I’ve been advocating for quite a while, and I’m far from a lone voice in that respect. If that means staying in the fourth tier (or lower), so be it. It’s far more preferable to the age(s) of false boom, bust and even more bust. The reality of that might mean far more emphasis on bringing through academy prospects than is already placed, or even demoting the status to Category 4, which would effectively cut off everyone below the age of 16, and see the club more as a beacon for talent discarded by teams higher up the pyramid to have a realistic, short pathway to senior action. This would be far from ideal in many ways, but we’re not in the time for ideals.

The way I interpret the paragraph about due diligence is that, put simply, it was rushed, most likely out of necessity for the club’s existence, which has probably led to the latest malaise. I’m glad he specifically mentions prudence in the statement and he is also right to say that, coupled with more fans attending, will certainly help in the short-term. The football that has been played has been the best in my lifetime – no doubt about it, and I don’t need to use any stats whatsoever to back it up. At this point, I find it incredible that Ryan Lowe and the players got booed by some fans. No-one’s disputing that it was a poor performance and result on Tuesday,

I would like to see a different ownership model in the future. You only have to glance around the EFL and below the elite in the Premier League itself to get a flavour of how the odds are forever stacking up against clubs, despite how much money is awash in the sport. Whether this model is fan-owned, several different substantial investors (thereby spreading the risk), or an amalgam of the two, I’m unsure, but the dangers of being in thrall to a single benefactor or someone masquerading as one have been plain for all to witness. Very few owners at any step on the ladder see a return on their investment, so it’s usually better if the parties involved have an existing affiliation with the area and club whilst not being blind to the potential pitfalls involved.

In an age of rolling news and social media, the gap between that statement and the previous one felt like an aeon had passed, when in reality, it was a little over two and a bit days. Into that yawning chasm stepped 1,001 rumours – some that transpired to have a kernel of truth to them; some that were fanciful to say the least; worse still, some of them were really ugly, and manifested themselves as referred to in the statement. On the one hand, it’s inevitable that with feelings running so strongly for so many, a few will become desperate in their search for answers. On the other, I totally condemn any abuse and threats made for the very simple reason that they’re completely unnecessary, and make any positive outcome much less likely.

In the midst of the radio silence yesterday, I could ruminate on little else but the fate of my club, so I penned this tweet:

I stand by what I said. Yes, a ‘phoenix club’ could rise up (and it would be something I’d like to have involvement in), but it wouldn’t really be the same. So much more would be lost than a member of the EFL for 127 years and counting – people’s livelihoods for one thing, and much of fans’ identities, too. The closure of the current club would be like a death of a loved one. I know that’s hard for those not really interested in football to fathom – ridiculous, even… but the sport is so omnipresent, so interwoven in fans’ lives that it is no exaggeration at all to hint at the devastation it would bring.

Thankfully, I’ve been told that the recently incorporated women’s team will not be part of that unthinkable scenario. As with the rest of the sides and other work that the Trust do, they have been run on a sound financial footing, only spending what they actually receive. It could catch on. More to the point, the women’s game as a whole is experiencing a lot of growth in England, and there is a realistic plan for the female Shakers to be a small part of that. As such, I have made a commitment to provide equal coverage of them in the future, both on this blog and on the podcast, which will launch in the summer. Exciting times lie ahead for them, at the very least.

Turning back to the men, the players going above and beyond what can reasonably be expected of them by agreeing to perform until the end of the season, regardless of whether they are paid in that juncture. Talk of promotion is very much a tertiary concern for me now; like anyone else, I would celebrate if it does happen, but it would be a Pyrrhic victory without the securing the club’s future and making substantive changes to reduce the likelihood of this ever happening again.

There are of course factors outside the club’s control that are making things more difficult. I can think of 10 sides this season that have faced major problems of one sort or another, with the EFL ignorant, powerless or both. The instances are increasing year-on-year; substantive changes must also be made to how clubs operate, how to slow or reverse the trickle-down effect of wage inflation, as well as the ‘Fit & Proper Person Test’, which is one of the biggest laughing stocks in the game at present if you’re a lover of very dark humour.

As the title of this post suggests, I don’t have a crystal ball. I have no real insider knowledge. This might even be my last entry on this blog about Bury Football Club as we know them today. As someone who’s trying to pivot their career into football writing, a lot of that is reliant on the continuing existence of the club I support from a distance. I can’t say with any certainty that I’d still find the passion to write if they ceased to exist.

On the 9th of May, I’ll be at the Eithad Stadium in Manchester, where I’m a finalist in the Football Blogging Awards in the ‘Best Club Content Creator’ category. If you like my work, please vote for me to increase my chances of winning it. I just hope that some action has been taken by then to ensure it’s not an extremely bittersweet occasion.

Nothing Lasts… But Nothing is Lost

For my reviews of AugustSeptemberOctoberNovember, December, January, and February, click their respective links.

Tightening Up… at Both Ends (aka Scott Wharton’s Impact and Easing the Burden on Nicky Maynard)

There can be no question now that the pressure is for the first time this season on Ryan Lowe’s men to ensure that the deserved 3-1 home reverse against Swindon Town last weekend does not come to signify anything more than a defeat in a highly competitive division.

Prior to the encounter, Bury had experienced an uncharacteristic spell of clean sheets, most typified by the emerging importance of Blackburn Rovers loanee Scott Wharton on the left side of the centre back three. The 21 year-old has largely been an assured presence in a previously weaker area of the XI, winning a greater proportion of aerial challenges and being more accurate (and shorter) with his passing than was expected of him under Danny Cowley at likely league champions Lincoln City.

No single shape in football is infallible, and the attacking thrust firmly emphasised by Lowe will almost always ensure the opposition in any given match have opportunities to give tough examinations of Wharton and his partners on the counter. When teams like the Robins push up their wingers to the same level as the nominally lone striker, it can often leave the defence in a three-on-three mini-game of sorts, and they can’t win every single one of those battles, especially when the frequency of those situations is as high as what was witnessed on Saturday.

On the flip side of the general tightening up at the back, at the other end, neither the goals nor quite the free-flowing movement was demonstrated in March; Macclesfield Town aside, the Shakers could only muster three more strikes in the month. You’d perhaps expect it to decrease at least a little as the scramble for points necessitates a more conservative posture from sides they play against, but it can’t have also escaped people’s attention that besides Wharton’s own commendable couple of efforts and a Jay O’Shea penalty,  no-one else troubled the score-sheet except Nicky Maynard, who continues to gamely fight for second place in League Two’s top goalscorer charts with Kieran Agard and Tyler Walker of promotion rivals Milton Keynes Dons and Mansfield Town respectively.

Ordinarily, this wouldn’t be that big of a problem. Most clubs are reliant on one or two players to regularly get the goals to help them achieve their aims, but that just hasn’t been the case in 2018/2019, and the onus is really now on others to step up to assist Maynard. Caolan Lavery’s form has taken a nosedive since the derby with Oldham Athletic; Byron Moore might now be needed elsewhere (thanks to Danny Mayor); Dom Telford pulled up in the warm-up before the game at Grimsby Town; lastly, Gold Omotayo’s recent cameos from the bench have unfortunately not done much to inspire confidence.

Mayor’s three game suspension, which I’ll discuss at length further into this article, also means some of the trickery will inevitably be lost from the starting lineup, so more of the chances might need to be created between the striking partnership themselves, which has frequently rotated alongside Maynard.

Ben Mayhew’s xG timelines ably demonstrate a distinct drop-off in the Shakers’ supremacy during a month where the performances were less than sparkling:

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Neil Danns’ Gold Cup qualification

Looking away from Gigg Lane for a moment, I thought it was certainly worth mentioning captain Neil Danns’ exploits for Guyana during the international break. A win for the Golden Jaguars over Belize in the final CONCACAF Nations League fixture ensured their participation at this summer’s Gold Cup, the first major tournament in the country’s history. Danns scored one spot kick and missed another, but there was no question that he massively contributed to their success under the guidance of Michael Johnson, the former Birmingham City and Derby County centre-back.

At 36 and with his contract up in the summer, there are inevitably question marks as to whether Danns will go into that tournament still a Bury player, but either way, I’ll be keeping a close eye on the action, which kicks off on the 15th of June. The draw will be held in Los Angeles in nine days’ time.

‘Replacing’ Danny Mayor for three games

Back to matters closer to home. There can be little doubt that at 2-1 down to Swindon, the Shakers still had a decent chance of restoring parity, despite being largely second best throughout the match. That task was made mightily more difficult by an idiotic lashing out by Mayor in response to a very poor challenge (to say the least) by Canice Carroll. No-one, and I include myself in this, is expecting a professional footballer to stay cool 100% of the time, especially when you’re fouled as often as the inside forward is. The stats have him in the top 10 in the fourth tier for fouls suffered, and then of course are the instances where he still gets kicked and nothing is given by the referee, which happens most often to the most dangerous players.

I have seen some people on social media suggest he and others like him should be offered more ‘protection’ by the match official. In practice, how would that actually manifest itself? Are they supposed to identify the ‘danger men’ before the game kicks off, and give the offender a red card regardless? No, there must be objectivity. Anyone that persistently targets and subsequently fouls an individual will eventually be sent off. If it’s a ‘team effort’, then in one sense, it shows just how much of a threat Mayor poses to them, and there has to be an acceptance on some level that that’s how it’s going to be.

The rush of blood to his head was thankfully not defended too strongly by Lowe in the post-match interview, who privately must have been incandescent about the incident. A good manager recognises that there are different personalities within a squad; Mayor is the epitome of an introvert off the field who, once he graces the turf, usually feels confident to express himself with some sublime pieces of skill and to beat his man repeatedly on the dribble.

His self-imposed absence comes at the most crucial juncture of the entire campaign, and provides Lowe with a huge tactical quandary in the next two weeks. There is no obvious candidate to replicate what Mayor brings… because they just don’t exist. That’s not a disparagement of anyone else on the roster, merely a reflection of the current predicament.

As a consequence, I decided to pose the question to fellow supporters on Twitter:

Byron Moore

Moore

The case for:

The versatile 30 year-old possesses the positional know-how and pace to bypass his marker and cut inside on his stronger right foot. As teams sit ever deeper during the run-in and hit Bury on the break, which Cambridge United are bound to do tomorrow evening (and I don’t blame them), Lowe is going to require someone to reliably carry the ball forward into the final third to both minimise the chances of that occurring, and to try to get in behind resolute backlines.

Moore has already proven to be a capable option in the left channel, and his presence would ensure that the transition to attack can still take place without having to resort to more direct methods, or pushing up others too high. It is the closest role he will receive under the 5-2-1-2 to his most natural place on the wing, and he is highly accurate when crossing the ball, drilling it into the box or shifting onto his right for a deeper far post effort.

The case against:

The aforementioned form of strikers not called Nicky Maynard. Moore, who has a one goal every four games on average during 2018/2019, has been adept up top, operating wider than most forwards would in a conventional pairing. With Telford possibly still out for a little while yet, his services might best be utilised alongside Maynard, rather than being tasked with supplying him.

His instincts are firmly on the attacking end of the spectrum, which is a double-edged sword in a system designed to take the game to the opposition in numbers. Will he really sit back to allow Callum McFadzean to hurtle up the flank on the outside, rather than drift inside? The conclusion I draw is that he’s much better when focused as high up the pitch as possible, and in a side already lacking ball-winners, he is even less defensively-minded than the man he’d be replacing.

Neil Danns

Danns

The case for:

The skipper’s (temporary) restoration to the XI would ensure a true three-man midfield. Even before Mayor’s dismissal, it was plain to see that Rossiter was doing all the leg-work in the middle, which the more adventurous sides in the final seven games could easily exploit if afforded the opportunity to do so. It would also allow O’Shea to concentrate more on late runs to the edge of the area, and less on having to help out the Glasgow Rangers loanee (or less often, anyway). Danns is by no means a ball-winning midfielder, but you can guarantee his maximum effort to cover as much ground between the two boxes as possible.

It would also give more balance to the midfield, which would go hand in hand with a greater degree of flexibility. There might yet be situations in the three games ahead where Bury need to hold onto a lead, and I’d sooner trust Danns to hold fort than the other candidates discussed in this section.

The case against:

You’d be asking an awful lot of the wing-backs, both to provide the width and the attacking thrust.. McFadzean would more or less have to go it alone down the left flank, with the most attack-minded of the midfielders usually operating closer to Nicky Adams. The vice-captain, for his part, has not enjoyed the best time of it in recent games, but to expect totally consistent displays from individuals who are ultimately plying their trade in the fourth tier is a misguided one.

Would there be enough guile and creativity in the lineup? As much as I love O’Shea, he’s what I’d categorise as a goalscoring attacking midfielder, rather than as a playmaker. As I’ve already mentioned, it’s likely that it will be a case of having to break down two banks of four/five. Without someone to carry the ball from deep and do the unexpected, there’s an air of predictability in the approach play.

Joe Adams

J. Adams

The case for:

Regular readers of this blog will know I mention Joe Adams from time-to-time, and for good reason. Rewarded for his displays in the youth side with a pro deal until June 2021 (currently the longest contract of anyone at Bury at the time of writing), he could just be the option few opposition scouts would anticipate playing. Lowe has often spoken with praise for him, whilst understandably being cautious about throwing him at the deep end. Still only 18, the Welsh U19 international is top scorer for Ryan Kidd’s youngsters this season, bagging 13 goals without ever playing in a conventional striker’s role.

He has the pace and the dribbling ability to beat his man and get in behind, but equally as importantly, he is strong with both feet from crossing situations, meaning that as his marker, you don’t know for sure which way he’ll go, and the Shakers could really do with that level of uncertainty in the opposition ranks without Mayor.

The case against:

As much as the manager is an advocate of developing talent, it would constitute a huge risk to thrust him into the starting lineup at his age, and in the situation the club find themselves in. Like Moore, his positivity could easily lead to counterattacks, and there’s also the small matter of whether he’s still injured, having had to drop out of the last Welsh squad he was called up for a fortnight ago. Like Telford, you don’t tend to get estimated return dates from Lowe during interviews, perhaps in an effort to keep his next opponents guessing.

Even if fit, there’s a time to properly ‘blood’ academy graduates, and it differs on a case-by-case basis. He might have a much bigger role next season in what is likely to be a squad reduced in numbers by a smaller playing budget (regardless of division) and the continuing lack of an U23s setup.

The unbeaten run, and ‘negative’ predictions

As the title of this post states, nothing lasts forever, which is especially true in football. The recency effect of less than scintillating displays, coupled with the defeat, has led to the return of negativity, and in greater amounts than I’d have expected. To go 14 matches without leaving a ground pointless is a superb achievement in any league, and the circumstances behind the remarkable turn-around in fortunes under Lowe.

In my preview of the game for Steven Fyfe’s blog for Saturday, I said Bury would lose to Swindon… and so they did. I caught quite a bit of flack for prognosticating ‘doom’, even being asked after the event whether I was happy that my prediction was correct! The answer to that should be blatantly obvious – no. However, I’m not going to do what I see supporters of almost every club do and say they’ll win if I don’t believe it will happen. I knew the threats that Richie Wellens’ outfit had at their disposal, I knew how he’d got them playing a more progressive style of football, and any guess at a result is just that – a guess.

I also play for fun a Predictions Game over on FL2 Blogger, and over the course of the campaign, excluding the rearranged game with Cambridge tomorrow, I have had Bury winning 18, drawing 15, and losing just six of the 39 games, which would leave the Shakers just two points shy of reality. So much for my negative predictions…

The remaining seven fixtures, and the big-game experience in the core squad

League Two

Attention now turns to the run-in, with that loss allowing MK to leapfrog Bury into second place. Wins for Mansfield and a white-hot Tranmere Rovers side, themselves with a game in hand on the rest of the pack, has ramped up the stakes for tomorrow evening. It should also be mentioned at this point that I did a bit of research into the ‘big games’ members of the Shakers’ core squad have been in during their careers, and one of the possible advantages of having an older than average dressing room is that there is a wealth of experience of successes (and failures) in promotion tilts through both the automatic and play-off routes, with three-quarters of the 20 used players this calendar year having had at least some memory to fall back on before 2018/2019.

I also decided to poll fans as to how many points they think will be accrued in the remaining seven matches:

The top end of that bracket would be sufficient for a club record points total of 86, beating out 2014/2015’s vintage under a certain David Flitcroft by one. But it won’t be easy to emulate.

Firstly, Colin Calderwood will be hoping for a big reaction of his own from a lacklustre display by the U’s in their own backyard, succumbing to a last-gasp defeat in injury time to top seven hopefuls Colchester United. Their own status in the EFL is still under jeopardy, with Notts County’s big win at the weekend cutting the gap to six points. The visitors have pace on the counter, principally in the guise of Jevani Brown, as well as the tall presence of target man Jabo Ibehre, who, whilst far from prolific this campaign, is exactly the sort of player Bury have struggled to contain.

Carlisle United are in no sort of form, and now find themselves outside the reckoning by three points. Well beaten by Tranmere, they will nevertheless target a win at Brunton Park this coming Saturday. Jamie Devitt is one of the best players in League Two, and you wouldn’t put it past Hallam Hope adding to his considerable goal tally against his former side.

The aforementioned Colchester come to BL9 on the 13th, and will probably be within a victory of the top seven at worst by the time the crunch fixture rolls around. The other U’s are the most puzzling outfit in the league, equally as capable of doling out thrashings as they are at receiving them. They should set their stall out to attack more than most have at Gigg Lane this season, with pace to burn on the wings and one of the best central midfield partnerships in the division – Sammie Szmodics in particular could cause damage.

Rodney Parade is a tough place to travel to, and Bury can expect little benevolence from Newport County on Good Friday. With 11 wins and just three losses at home, Michael Flynn’s charges are also still eyeing a late play-off surge, with two games in hand in which to reduce arrears. Jamille Matt had the beating of Adam Thompson in the reverse fixture, and both Padraig Amond and Ade Azeez are good options to call on if the Jamaican needs more support up top.

Easter Monday will pit the Shakers against probably the only side in their remaining games with ostensibly nothing to play for. Northampton Town have enjoyed some improvement under Keith Curle, but nothing too dramatic to convince observers that they’ll be challenging at the top end in 2019/2020. Nonetheless, they showed their defensive mettle in the earlier stalemate, and have some canny operators in midfield to ensure anything but smooth sailing.

For me, the key aim remains avoiding needing to go to Prenton Park on the penultimate weekend needing a result to seal promotion. Tranmere’s winning streak is no fluke, and whilst I think it’s almost certain that it will be snapped before the last game in April, they still look ominous at the moment, and I see little reason why their performances will taper off. Resolute in goal and at the back, unassailable top scorer James Norwood is backed up by a supporting cast in similar rich veins of form – the likes of Ollie Banks and Connor Jennings must be shut down to get anything from the game.

Port Vale ought to be all but home and dry on final day, but veteran Tom Pope will want to add to his century of goals (and counting) for the Burslem outfit. There is major concern off the pitch, but I don’t think it will prove the distraction some would like to believe on it. Again, Bury really don’t want to go into needing the points to cement a place in the top three…

Double glory for the women’s sides?

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Scott Johnson’s side are now firm favourites to win the championship and with it, the only promotion place available. A 13-0 shellacking of Morecambe Reserves yesterday underlined the quality throughout the team and on the bench. Four wins from the remaining five will guarantee 2019/2020 in the North West Premier Division, and the same number of games will take place in double headers against Cammell Laird 1907 and Preston North End, each instance being inexplicably played after the first game, with only an hour break…

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Senior side captain and taliswoman Lucy Golding added yet another goal to her tally, taking her to 19 for the season, despite operating in a deeper role; she too will be hoping for glory by the conclusion of April…

The very wet weather in the middle of the month caused the Reserves’ Plate Final against Nelson at Leyland to be postponed until this coming Sunday. Defeat to Stanwix Juniors put paid to Colin Platt’s slim hopes of promotion, but he will be hoping that strikers Sarah Knight and Kimberley Tyson can upset their higher tier opponents, and bring some silverware back home for a positive end to a very encouraging season under his leadership.

No Stone Unturned – An Interview with Jimmy Dickinson

The pace of change in modern football can often be breathtaking. What was once novel is now commonplace, and this is certainly true of the First Team Analyst… but what does someone in that role actually do? Bury’s Jimmy Dickinson reveals all…

You’ve been a fan of Bury since you were just four years old. What are your earliest memories of the club?

My first ever memory as a Bury fan was at my first ever game away at Radcliffe in pre-season. I nipped to the burger van with my dad and uncle during the match, and as I was just handed my chips, the ball had been cleared into the stand and hit me right on the head, knocking me over! Luckily, I’d just put my chips down. Looking back, it was probably a warning sign of things to come as young Shaker!

What would you say is your favourite moment or match from any time before working for the club?

It has to be Chesterfield away (in 2010/2011). The day we got promoted. That is what I class as my first promotion as a Bury fan, as I still a bit too young to remember the promotions under Stan Ternent in the 90s, and wasn’t going regularly then. So from the time I started properly watching, I only really saw struggling seasons and relegations apart from the odd year, so to witness a campaign and a day like that was very special for me.

Did you always have aspirations of working within a professional football environment growing up?

As a lad growing up, my main passion was football, like most kids. I was always into stats of players and clubs, and my knowledge of players at all levels has always been in-depth. My interest for analysis didn’t spark until university. I took the module in my second year, and enjoyed it so much that I carried it onto my third year, where I went on to do a season placement at Rochdale.

How did you find balancing your first degree with your work under Keith Hill at Spotland?

It was hard at times. With all my uni work, a part-time job, and a placement at Rochdale, I had to manage my time well! Fortunately the analyst I worked under at the time (Dan Fradley) understood the situation after recently graduating himself, so that helped. But it was all worth it in the end.

How did the opportunity at Bury in 2014 come about?

At the time I was studying for my Master’s, and had extended my placement at Rochdale for another season. Around October time, I saw through an advert through my uni that Bury had advertised an analysis placement for the first team. I applied for the placement and got invited down for a trial game for the FA Cup against Hemel Hempstead. That afternoon when I arrived, I got talking to the then manager David Flitcroft, and we had an in-depth chat about how we could improve and utilise analysis at the club and after a couple of weeks of the placement I was offered my first professional role in football.

How would you describe your role to someone perhaps unfamiliar with what a First Team Analyst actually does?

I would say one of my main roles at the club is opposition analysis. Along with Steven Schumacher and Ryan Lowe, we will study our next opposition with great detail. Putting together a video report on them, involving different aspects of the match that we show to the players during the week leading up to the game. On a match day, you will find me in the gantry that sits at the top of the south stand. Up there, I will film and live code the game into stats and video analysis, so we have the match already dissected for straight after the game for the gaffer and the coaching staff to review, as well as for the players to watch their individual clips from their performance.

Has there been much difference to you personally working with the various managers in the past four and a half years?

Every manager is different and likes things done and presented in a certain way. For me, it’s just about adapting as quickly as I can and forming relationships with each member of staff, so I can get my job done as efficiently as possible.

What factors do you think have driven the growth of analysis within professional clubs, especially those below the top two tiers?

I think football these days for managers and staff has become so intense and highly pressured. You see examples of managers losing their jobs after only a few bad results. So from an analysis point of view, if something is there to be utilised that can be used to help or improve how you see things, either in training or on a match day even, if it only helps improve something by a small percentage, that could be all the difference. It’s like that in other aspects of football too, not just analysis; sports science being a prime example.

Has there ever been an instance of something you’ve seen whilst analysing the opposition that’s had a big impact on how Bury have then set up against them, and if so, is there an example you can share?

As staff we look at every area and aspect of the opposition. Defensive weaknesses and strengths, attacking weakness and strengths, set pieces defensive and attacking, penalties, style of play, goal keeper distribution. We look at every aspect to try and give us the edge on the opposition.

Given the number of academy players that have been in or around the first team at different points this season, have you had much chance to collaborate with Hannah Burgon (U18s Analyst)?

Yeah, I speak with Hannah everyday. We work closely together on a lot of things. I oversee all the analysis that goes on at the club and will involve myself in as much academy analysis as my schedule allows me!

What do you want to achieve in the short and long-term in your role and career?

I love working at this football club, as you know I’ve supported them as a kid and all my family are massive supporters. We have a great group of players and staff and it’s an brilliant place to work every day. There’s no hiding that the last two seasons in league one were difficult for me personally and the football club as a whole so the short term goal is obviously to get where we want to this season and keep picking up those wins! Long term for me I want to work at the highest level possible like everyone does in their careers, I want to work with and learn off the best in my field every day.

Have you been surprised at how well this campaign has gone so far?

No, I’ve not been surprised. I’ve seen at close quarters the work and dedication the gaffer and Schuey have put in since taking over last season, and all the planning and preparation that went into this season. Everyone at the club is just taking it one game at a time, we’re in a decent position, but nobody is getting carried away. We know the job we all have to do…

My Love is Like a Red, Red Rossiter

For my reviews of AugustSeptemberOctoberNovember, December, and January, click their respective links.

EFL Trophy, and competing against third tier sides

Let’s begin with a negative – losing last night at home to Portsmouth 3-0 in the semi-final, with a place at Wembley the prize on offer. I made a brief radio appearance (10 minutes or so into the clip), full in the knowledge from reading local news sources that Pompey boss Kenny Jackett would break with the pattern he’d established in previous rounds of the competition, and name what was essentially the visitors’ strongest available lineup, and was even able to leave the likes of Jamal Lowe on the subs’ bench for the first half.

There were some parallels to the FA Cup tie against Luton Town to how the game eventually panned out – the hosts were on top for large expanses of time, didn’t get the crucial opener (not for lack of trying), and a shrewd tactical tweak changed the course of proceedings. Yes, one or two decisions were a little contentious, but Bury didn’t really have an answer to the Hampshire outfit’s higher press, and there’s no shame in that. The scoreline was on the flattering side, but I think Ryan Lowe and his players will have learned a lot from their experiences pitting their wits across two different cups against six League One sides, winning and losing half of them, and more impressively, scoring 13 in the process.

You can also see as a fan particular areas where the current squad could be improved if they gain promotion back at the first time of asking. There’s little reason to suggest at this moment in time that the manager will make big changes in the summer tactically or personnel-wise, and I’m certain that between him and Director of Sport Lee Dykes, they’ll have identified well in advance of the window re-opening a cluster of targets to bring through the doors to augment an already talented group, as well as offering some of the most promising U18s deals (which I’ll get on to later in this post). As soon as the first team’s division is confirmed for 2019/2020, I’ll put together my own ‘wishlist’ of realistic signings, and how they could specifically improve a system that’s unlikely to drastically alter.

The immediate efficacy of Jordan Rossiter

Understandably, there were question marks over his loan capture from giants Glasgow Rangers, owing totally to injury concerns, rather than his undoubted ability. He didn’t start against Crawley Town on a half-frozen pitch, but did make his bow at the opening of the second period, and has barely put a foot wrong since. Captain Neil Danns has had to be largely content watching on from the sidelines during February, and it’s not hard to see why in the two videos below:

In a regular XI where previously seven of the 10 outfielders were unquestionably attack-minded, the addition of Rossiter into the mix probably takes that figure down to a much more conservative six-and-a-half. One of the most basic tenets of being an effective professional footballer is to always seek the ball, even in tight situations. As the clips more than ably demonstrate, he does just that, which can be a decisive factor in breaking the opposition’s high press onto the defensive trio.

He covers the gaps in deep areas, recycles the ball to teammates, plays smart passes that can look deceptively simple, very rarely wastes possession, intercepts with gusto, and despite his injury record, he relishes putting in the tackles. I did have some concerns that the introduction of a player in that role might have slowed down the high-octane style Lowe has employed, but I don’t think that’s been the case at all.

A running total of five games is a small sample size, but his completed passes average stands at 84%, and was as high as 90% at the weekend, attempting 70 in total just by himself. At St. James Park, he seemed omnipresent, breaking up promising Grecian attack after attack on no fewer than 15 occasions, as is abundantly clear above.

Additionally, he’s been named man of the match for the past three games in a row. Not only is that remarkable because of being new to the club and his position, it also makes him stand out even more during a season where the Shakers have been praised far and wide for their attacking endeavour, which has at times not left sufficient room for column inches or credit for the likes of Adam Thompson, Will Aimson, or anyone else tasked primarily with defensive duties. I have seen some criticism of the back three as a whole, some of which is valid, but some of it goes over the top, and pointing to the goals conceded column doesn’t tell the whole story.

After the long-awaited derby day triumph against Paul Scholes’ Oldham Athletic™, he received glowing praise from his temporary boss, with Lowe describing the deal to bring him south of border for six months as:

"The best bit of business I've ever done, or ever likely to!"

A cynic might suggest he’s only had three transfer windows in temporary and subsequently permanent charge to make such a claim, but if you’ve seen (m)any of his interviews, you’d understand he’s usually very reluctant to heap too much adulation onto one player, let alone come out with a statement like that. The addition of ‘ever likely to’ at what is still the very early stages of his managerial career is actually the most telling part of that sentence, and underlines the great value he can bring during his short spell.

He has endeared himself to supporters in such a ridiculously short space of time – the winning combination of maximum effort plus real ability will never not do that, but it’s certainly made me, and plenty of others, believe that he will be the key player from now until the end of 2018/2019.

The versatility of Byron Moore & Callum McFadzean

Has anyone in the current squad played in as many different areas as Byron Moore over the past seven months? I solely regarded him as an out-and-out winger in a four or five-man midfield upon his arrival, but it soon became apparent that Lowe had other plans for the 30 year-old, especially as the usual shape of the side doesn’t even accommodate that position. A cursory glance on Wyscout illustrates he’s played in every outfield role for a decent chunk of time, with the sole exception of centre back!

Up until the Portsmouth match, he had looked quite adept in the left wing-back area, but I’m unsure the combinations down the left with Danny Mayor and Callum McFadzean weren’t a little too cavalier, and at certain intervals, the first two would try to operate in a very small space in that channel. Expecting absolute consistency from any individual in the fourth tier, especially one that has had so many jobs to do, is unrealistic. His wide skillset has meant, however, that his manager has been able to call on a core squad of 20 in the second phase of the season, assisted by an unusually empty treatment room, and very few disciplinary issues of any kind on the field.

Whilst not quite on the same Swiss Army knife level as his teammate, McFadzean, by his admission better going forward than the other way, has been deployed as the left-sided centre back on numerous occasions, usually in an effort to push everyone else even further up the pitch when chasing a game. It seemed to have the right effect last night for most of the first half. However, it did then get exploited by a resurgent Pompey with Jamal Lowe’s introduction, with all three of their goals coming from that area. With Scott Wharton cup-tied and possibly still out with a knock, he was probably preferred to Chris Stokes due to his greater pace, possibly at the cost of a little more experience and solidity.

Nevertheless, both Moore and McFadzean were largely unheralded when they signed in the close season, and yet have turned out to be invaluable to the team, improving as the campaign has unfolded.

 

Nicky Maynard, the poacher

Unlucky not to add to his tally of 17 goals in all competitions last night, he came up against an inspired Craig MacGillvray between the Portsmouth sticks with an arcing effort that seemed destined to nestle into the bottom far corner. His otherwise fruitful month was characterised by four efforts that could only be labelled as a ‘poacher’s’ – just about getting enough on the ball to poke home against Crawley Town; an inadvertent one-two with Exeter City’s Dean Moxey for a truly scruffy strike; bundling the ball over the line for his first against the Latics, and then capitalising on some woeful defending for his second within the six-yard area.

Even if that was the case, it would still speak volumes about his positioning to peel off his marker, and setting his body correctly in anticipation of a pass or inadvertent opportunity. Ugly goals they might have been of late, but the aesthetics matter not, and he’s certainly demonstrated he’s capable of the spectacular, too.

 

Another unbeaten month in the league & 12 games left…

Once more, Ben Mayhew’s xG timelines demonstrate the different ways Bury have remained unbeaten in the four league games contested during February:

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The table is starting to take shape with just a quarter of the campaign left. Long-time leaders Lincoln City drew 1-1 last night with Exeter City, in a result that probably suits Bury more than a decisive outcome either way. I’m not going to go into much depth here about how I think things will pan out for all the runners and riders – I’ll save that for a separate post a little into March.

The Lancashire outfit will need to bounce back from their disappointment quickly, with three matches in the space of a week, beginning this Saturday with the visit of Macclesfield Town to BL9. Under Sol Campbell, they have risen a place but are still in the relegation zone, taking 20 points from a possible 45 during his tenure. Winless in five, they have nevertheless been very competitive in every game, and have only suffered defeat by a margin of more than once in that period – away at Mansfield Town, which is no disgrace.

That fixture is swiftly followed by a journey down to the Jonny-Rocks Stadium to face Cheltenham Town. On a four-match winning run in Gloucestershire, they have taken vital, maximum points from the teams around them as a consequence. Although they were soundly beaten 4-1 in the reverse fixture, the scoreline was harsh on Mike Duff’s men, who looked especially dangerous down both flanks when floating crosses in to Luke Varney. It’s at this juncture where teams in or around the bottom six often start picking up ‘unexpected’ scalps, and nothing can be taken for granted.

On the 9th of March, the outspoken Dino Maamria will welcome the Shakers to his corner of Hertfordshire. Stevenage are nothing if not wildly inconsistent, and it’s still not out of the question for them to put some form together to trouble the top seven. The obvious qualities Queens Park Rangers loanee Ilias Chair possesses will need to be somehow kept in check; Lincoln didn’t manage to do that, and were very nearly three points worse off for that one failure in a recent clash.

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Ilias Chair has certainly made the rest of the division sit up and take notice in the month he’s been at the Lamex Stadium, to put it mildly…

Cambridge United are badly struggling for goals once more, having only notched on a single occasion in their last five outings at the time of writing. A more than respectable January (drubbing by Milton Keynes Dons aside) gave way to a decidedly barren February, and they were extremely fortunate to best Port Vale for their solitary win. That said, Colin Calderwood should look to how his predecessor Joe Dunne disrupted Bury back in November by employing a high press and a mid-block in defence, and emulate that as best as he can to obtain something from the match.

Michael Jolley’s Grimsby Town are on an upward curve since the beginning of December, and like Stevenage, are an outside bet to gatecrash the play-off positions. Admittedly, their January results were poor on the face of it, but most sides would count even one win in four against the top teams as commendable, which came over MK at Blundell Park, despite being a man lighter for more than half the game. Unbeaten in February, they will be a much tougher prospect than they appeared to be back in the nascent part of the season.

Similarly, Swindon Town are experiencing a renaissance of sorts under Richie Wellens, who’s making more out of the technical players at his disposal. If anyone currently lower than ninth is going to be in the reckoning come May, they would be my pick. For the most part, their run-in games are against fellow mid-table sides who will potentially have little to play for by then. Triumphs over MK and Forest Green Rovers in the past month demonstrate that they have the capability in one-off games to compete with the ‘elite’ of the fourth tier, and are the most technically comparable side to Bury in terms of style and mentality. It should be an intriguing game to round off March, and the complexion will be much clearer by the end of it.

 

FA Youth Cup

There is at least one Bury side still in a cup competition (actually two, but I’ll get to that in the section below!). Ryan Kidd’s youngsters have a mouth-watering clash at Gigg Lane, hosting Liverpool U18s in the quarter-final stage. Should they manage to find a way through one of the best academies in the world, they’ll be on home soil once more to Watford or Leicester City in a single leg, which is the first change in format for 40 years.  The two ties have already been played in the ‘other’ half of the draw, and Bury now stand alone as the only Category 3 and lower tier representatives in the competition.

The magnitude of next Wednesday evening’s occasion shouldn’t be underestimated, and I’ll be talking to two people who have kept close tabs on the Reds’ fortunes under new boss Barry Lewtas this season for this blog.

Few will be expecting a shock home win, of course, and as someone who takes a very keen interest in youth football, it’s always tempting to overstate some of the current crop’s potential, even though I try to remain as objective as possible. That said, they are at the late stage for good reason; Callum Hulme and Joe Adams have been offered (and accepted) pro contracts, and I suspect at least four of the other second year scholars will receive similar terms, if that hasn’t taken place already away from the public eye.

Below them, there is now a reliable stream of quality coming through, which is testament to the work Kidd, Mark Litherland, Graham Hastings, and others have put in over the last half-decade. Put another way, there’s good reason Femi Seriki was mentioned unprompted by Lowe before last night’s match, where he suggested that the versatile 15 year-old right-sided forward could be in line for his senior debut before the season is over. There was also a reason why he was on the bench earlier on in the course of the EFL Trophy…

It’s difficult to avoid language that makes the boys sound like commodities to be pinched off the club for a pittance, but such is the pervasiveness of EPPP, it’s an onerous task to do so, and even harder to keep them from the watchful gazes of scouts at teams with larger resources. That’s why it’s important to cherish the current group aiming for glory next week. I expect them to line up in a positive 4-3-3 to try to go beyond the midfield diamond that’s a staple of the Reds’ lineups in 2018/2019. They can’t afford to be boxed in to their own third of the pitch, but should hopefully have a sizeable backing in the stands to aid their cause.

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Coming to a League Two match soon? Scouted by many clubs higher in the pyramid, Femi Seriki is out to impress…

Two women’s sides challenging for trophies

Lying in second place but with only a single promotion spot on offer, Scott Johnson’s senior women’s side face table-toppers Blackpool away this Sunday, having beaten the Seasiders 10 days ago at Carrington. Even a draw would still be advantageous, as they are currently seven points behind with three games in hand. Victories in the other seven fixtures would ensure promotion to the fifth tier of the female pyramid, and whilst that is a tall order, the four other confirmed matches for March are against opposition they’ve already either beaten comfortably, or who are struggling at the other end of NW Division One North. The three leading scorers in the white and royal blue are having their own tussle for supremacy – captain and taliswoman (if it isn’t a word already, I’ve coined it now!) Lucy Golding leads the way with 14 to her name despite playing a deeper role, but Jordon Bailey (13) and Caitlin Clancy (11) are both hot on her heels, having notched match-winning braces in the last two matches.

The reserve side lead the way in their smaller pool, and thanks to some walkovers and clubs withdrawing, they only have one league match left to contest. A win over Stanwix Juniors would ensure them of at least second, but much like the senior outfit, they need top spot for promotion. Colin Platt’s charges would still be reliant on Sunday’s opponents slipping up elsewhere, as their goal difference is vastly inferior to the Carlisle natives. Later on in the month, they have the Lancashire County Plate cup final against higher tier opposition in the form of Nelson on neutral ground in Leyland. If you’re in the area on the morning of the 17th of March, they’d certainly appreciate you coming down to watch them lift some silverware!

 

My Thoughts on ‘My Club, My Community’ – The First But Most Important Step for a Brighter Future

In an increasingly urbanised locality, the town of Bury has in the past few years regenerated its centre, which has in no small part encouraged new residents to become part of the community, especially from Manchester’s overspill. However, it still has unique facets; an accent distinctly different from other satellite towns on its doorstep, famous exports known well beyond the borough boundaries, and moreover, a football club that has been through more than its fair share of strife throughout the 134 years since its founding.

Understandably, new owner Steve Dale’s takeover back in December was, and continues to be, met and held in cautious optimism. Supporters far older than I, writing as I celebrate my 33rd birthday, have seen silver-tongued figures come and go like the waxing and waning of the moon making promises they either couldn’t keep or worse, had little intention of keeping. I’m not for a moment lumping him in with those, but it does go a great deal of the way to explaining a deep scrutiny of anyone who arrives at the club in the future that doesn’t back up their words with actions.

The statement from the chairman today, which I encourage you to read before continuing with the rest of this article, is pitched at the right angle. There’s nothing contained within it that I feel overreaches what people at the club can realistically achieve.

The relationship I’ve had personally with the club has gone through several different phases; first, between the ages of eight and 12, I witnessed a meteoric rise on the pitch, an era not repeated in either the decades preceding or following it, which has been done justice in fellow fan and scribe James Bentley’s weighty, nostalgic tome.

The downward spiral almost immediately following the mid-90s is also well-documented, and of course led to periods where the club’s future was in serious doubt, including being in administration. Getting teased about it at school by a friend that happened to be an Accrington Stanley fan lent a bizarrely ironic twist to a situation completely out of my hands, and it still rankles me to do this day to see financial instability used a stick by some to beat followers of other teams with. It was also a period where it felt like the seeds were being sown at many other sides in England; the savviest amongst them were starting to realise the paramount importance of forging stronger links with their towns and cities whilst coinciding with a booming economy, and not necessarily just at elite level.

That’s not to say that Bury didn’t do anything; far from it. For my GCSE work experience, there was only place I wanted to spend my two weeks: whatever I could at Gigg Lane. As part of that, Football in the Community, as it was known then, would go into schools to do various talks and play short matches during P.E. lessons, although the overarching subject range was fairly narrow by contemporary standards. Even so, it felt good to be even the smallest cog in the machine I loved for a brief moment in my life.

Fast forward a few years and I’m in quite a bad place at university; without the money to regularly attend games despite only living in Rusholme, it was also when the first team were at their poorest on the pitch, barely surviving the dreaded drop to non-league in successive campaigns. Before the advent of social media, I was quite restricted in that position how and when I could interact with the club.

11 years ago, I had to make the decision to follow my parents down south to Bedfordshire. Suffering from both anxiety and depression, the era under Alan Knill brought some comfort; his interviews often gave me hope that a perpetual struggle wasn’t going to be on the cards. He left just before promotion was (finally) achieved in 2011, and since then, the first team has yo-yo’ed between the bottom two tiers.

Though at times criticised fiercely for various reasons, the club’s outlets on Twitter and Facebook in more recent times have slowly but surely improved beyond recognition with the current media team, and in turn have helped to build bridges between a club and fanbase that had been seemingly been growing apart on the power of their own inertia. CEO Karl Evans’ presence, receptiveness, and responsiveness on social media were one of the few positive constants of an otherwise shambolic 2017/2018; although not directly linked to that, my depression came back with a vengeance at the turn of last year and almost wiped out my longstanding, long distance affection for everything Bury F.C., even though I was writing about some aspect of it twice a week.

Thankfully through counselling, it started to ease off again. One of the main aims of my writing has always been to promote what the club does. For example, it wasn’t that long before interviewing current women’s captain Lucy Golding that I wondered to myself ‘why don’t Bury have a women’s team?’, only to find out through a lot of digging that they did.

The point of providing a potted life history of sorts, and how it has intertwined with the club, is to demonstrate that through events not restricted to, but mainly orchestrated in the past few months have made me feel part of it again, even though I live well over 100 miles away. I have seen the warmth and openness that fellow exiles have been treated with; I’m not saying that these qualities weren’t present before, but I think there has been a marked difference between the two parties since the new ownership.

Things are going fantastically on the field for almost every category under the banner of the club – the men’s team are two points off top spot and one game from only a second appearance at Wembley in history; the women’s senior team, after their superb win over leaders Blackpool last Sunday, also have a real chance of promotion, and will soon make Gigg Lane their new home and have been brought fully under the structure of the club, which I maintain is the best combination of news for quite some time in BL9. The U18s have made waves by making the furthest foray into the FA Youth Cup since 1966, and face the might of Liverpool in a fortnight for a place in the semi-finals. The female reserves under Colin Platt’s leadership also have an outside chance to reach the division above.

Going full circle, the statement is very timely. The iron has been struck whilst it’s scorchingly hot in many respects. It’s impossible to divorce completely success on the field with success and good sentiment off it. The tireless work of the Trust arm of the club has never stopped, but it is finally now getting the publicity that the staff there deserve.

Dale’s ambition from the outset has been to bind the club and town together. His words on the website today represent the first important step in achieving that aim; increased prominence and coverage of the women’s teams, disabled (Ability Counts) outfits, underage teams of all genders, and walking football will go a long way to plugging some of the current gaps.

The last two paragraphs are the most telling, and they relate back to a feeling I’ve held for a long time (and not I alone, I might add) that Bury simply haven’t penetrated the consciousness of the borough to nearly the fullest extent yet. I’m excited to see what happens in the future.

What can I do from my vantage point, as the writer of this blog? I want to continue promoting all aspects of the club wherever possible, and reserve the right to constructively criticise when necessary. I’ll continue to do tweets about stats that include all the available information like the one below:

I want to talk to more people involved in various departments of the club, as well as fellow supporters. It’s to that end that I’ll be launching a podcast in the summer to take things to another level, and to discuss things in a slightly different format than this blog allows. I’m not in the foreseeable likely to be able to go to every game; that’s why I want to make the most of when I do, and to watch from afar when I can’t, and hopefully produce some good content.

I’m very pleased about the direction Bury are heading in. As a fourth generation fan, I’d like my three-year old son to be the fifth if he develops an interest in football.  The announcement today makes that just little bit more likely, and that’s something that could be repeated across the town. The future generations are out there that will support the club in one way or another, I’m certain of it.

Scouting Report: Jordan Rossiter – Let’s Leave the Injury Jokes Aside, and Talk About His Ability

2018/2019 stats (for Glasgow Rangers in all competitions): 181 minutes, 2 starts, 3 sub appearances; 0 goals, 0 assists.

By now, you’ll have seen the superbly put together video of the ‘worst kept secret’ of the winter transfer deadline day. Just like Ryan Lowe said during his interview yesterday, I would never have expected the likes of Jordan Rossiter at the club, although it becomes a little easier to understand why when you look at his career trajectory in the past five years, with two hugely contributory factors weighing him down in my view.

Firstly, and most obviously, it’s his injury record. Assuming his page on Transfermarkt is reasonably accurate, to have so many lengthy spells on the sidelines at such a young age can only have had a massive impact on him, but it also says a lot about his character and mental toughness to have fought his way back to fitness so many times. Unfortunately, having so many knockbacks will inevitably start to attract ire, derision, and this can then take the form of ‘banter’ about him spending more time in Fairfield General Hospital than he will on the Gigg Lane turf. You just have to accept that some people will resort to that, given how much focus professional footballers are under, particularly ones with Rossiter’s profile.

A local Liverpool lad, he entered the academy at just six, and rose through each age bracket with glowing references, and made his debut at 15 in the now-defunct NextGen Series, a continental cup competition designed principally for U19 players… which brings me to the second issue. A strong showing as a substitute in that game against Inter Milan was sufficient for Reds legend Robbie Fowler to draw comparisons between him and Steven Gerrard:

I’m sure it was meant as only the highest praise, but that is an extremely heavy mantle to have to take on whilst still an adolescent. Of course, it’s far from a unique situation to him, but I’ve always found it a lazy, often damaging way of describing a player, which both sets fans up to have unrealistic expectations, and the label can become internalised by the individual him/herself, making it that much more difficult to enjoy their football and progress.

One thing that’s rarely been questioned is Rossiter’s actual ability, as that tweet attests to. In compiling this Scouting Report, there is a bevy of evidence to support the claims that have always been made about him, but it is unavoidably scattered over a large expanse of time.

Capped up to England U20s level, he’s been used exclusively at club and international levels as either a defensive or central midfielder. His strong left foot, which he’s nearly as adept with as his right, has meant often being chosen to be the left of a midfield duo or trio in order to utilise this facet of his game more extensively. His career passing accuracy to date is just a shade lower than 90%, with around a third of his total being played forward, and his impressive array and range has helped to unlock defences from deep areas on the pitch, in not too dissimilar a way to former Celtic prospect Eoghan O’Connell’s recent exploits for the Shakers.

Whilst not the quickest, which has doubtlessly been exacerbated by persistent calf and hamstring problems, he does cover a lot of ground in every phase, which will be a crucial aspect under Ryan Lowe’s system without the ball. Equally as handy is his ability to really get stuck in, and he’s just as apt to recover possession in the opposition half as he is his own. This could be of great help in reducing the number of instances Bury get countered upon, especially when coupled with how well he retains the ball.

In my review of January, I identified that as perhaps the weakest part of the current tactics. Rossiter is not a silver bullet for all that’s given up in defence for the sake of attack, but he does offer a skillset that’s hard to replicate, and is testament to the coaching he received at Melwood and more recently at the Rangers Training Centre; strong in the tackle, decent in the air, a natural with both feet, quite positive when passing, likes a shot from range, and most importantly in a sense, he loves to drive forwards, which will be key to how well he meshes into the XI when called upon. With Neil Danns on international duty with Guyana in March to try to earn qualification to the Gold Cup, there is a place up for grabs in his absence, if indeed he hasn’t already established himself by then.

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Rangers manager Steven Gerrard remains one of Rossiter’s biggest admirers and proponents, and will surely feature the 21 year-old heavily in his plans for 2019/2020 if he can prove his fitness with a much-needed run of consistent matches

It remains to be seen whether he’ll start tomorrow as Crawley Town make the journey north from West Sussex, but I think he’ll definitely feature at some point. There’s little chance that he’s been brought here at the expense of possible alternatives in the SPFL and the third tier of England to sit on the bench, and much of the credit must go to Lowe’s friendship with Gerrard to help persuade him and the rest of the Glasgow Rangers setup to send a second player from Ibrox to BL9 this campaign. Jamie Barjonas didn’t feature as much as he or his parent club would have liked, but in truth, Rossiter is a different prospect from the outset from his teammate, and that’s not meant to in any way diminish Barjonas, who will now spend the remainder of the campaign at Raith Rovers in a similar pursuit of regular minutes.

To give you an illustration of just how at odds 2018/2019 is the years immediately preceding it, Sporting Director Lee Dykes, together with Lowe, has ensured that the squad has been reduced in size, two of the leading lights in the U18s have signed pro terms, and none of the ‘core’ senior contingent have been sold at an important juncture. Only Scott Wharton and Rossiter have arrived at Carrington, and they both eptiomise quality over quantity in positions that needed strengthening to maintain the tilt for automatic promotion. It’s equally plausible that the latter is ‘above’ the Shakers’ relatively low standing, as I’ve seen suggested both within and without the club, but as good as he is and could prove to be, I don’t feel as though the collective success is all hinging on him being a success in his time there. He has retained a positive outlook in the face of adversity on several occasions, and that will help him no end in fitting into the squad, no matter how much he does or doesn’t end up playing.

 

What Does Success on the Pitch Now Look Like for Bury This Season? Fans Have Their Say

You might recall my prediction at the start of 2018/2019, which now looks rather modest: it was simply a desire that the minimum target be for Bury to win more league games than they lost, even if the margin was only one. Barring a complete collapse, they’re likely to do much better than that. Fans’ expectations at the club have, on the whole, risen in the last decade, thanks in no small part in my opinion to former manager Alan Knill, now assistant to Chris Wilder at Sheffield United in a role reversal of their time at Gigg Lane.

Knill was by no means perfect, but what he did manage to achieve during his interviews was a perceptible shift in the collective mentality in BL9, which has barring one miserable season (no, not 2017/2018 – 2012/2013!), stayed around long after he departed eastwards for Scunthorpe United. It wasn’t ‘little Bury’ anymore, and rarely has been since. There’s a difference between knowing the limits of what can be achieved, and seeking to expand those confines even by just a little bit.

Few supporters, myself included, truly knew what this season would bring. There’s been tumult off it, but it hasn’t disrupted the harmony on it. The players and indeed the staff seem as one, especially since Steve Dale took over shortly before Christmas. That doesn’t mean the current state of affairs will continue in perpetuity, but I thought that now was a timely moment to reflect on what it’s been like for the past few months, and still might be up until May and maybe beyond, but in the words of others:

It’s a question I also put to members of gigglane.com, the largest unofficial message board dedicated to the Shakers. The standard of responses were very high, and can be generally categorised into the following groupings:

  • Winning the ‘right way’, i.e. entertaining hugely whilst doing so, and rarely (if ever) resorting to a win-at-all-costs mentality
  • Restored/rekindled affection and love for the club, and a sharp contrast to last season
  • Ryan Lowe – his honesty and selflessness during interviews is a marked departure from previous incumbents
  • High satisfaction with how things have gone already, even if results taper off…
  • … which contrasts with more than a minority stating that ‘anything less than finishing in the top three would be a disappointment’
  • A pleasure to go to matches

I’ve included Barry Howarth’s comments verbatim, as I think he sums it up quite brilliantly, and always writes well:

“There are too many factors to take into account in predicting success or even defining what success is for a club like Bury. Unlimited finance is probably the one guarantee of success and even that isn’t particularly reliable.

However, there is one aspect of the management of the club that deserves some scrutiny and that is the management style of Ryan Lowe and its impact on the pitch.

Ryan isn’t a proven manager or even one that has had a qualified training background to the highest level. He has had little experience in management, his earlier spell care taking wasn’t exactly a wild success. However, there was one early indicator of his impact when we were left manager-less after Knill left us short of the line. There is no doubt that Lowe played a key part in driving the team to promotion – arguably after we we heading out of the race before Knill left. He did have some other strong characters and experience around but I would argue that it was Lowe’s natural positivity and emotional intelligence that made the difference.

Given last season’s debacle and the increasing creakiness of Day’s tenure, it has been a total revelation to see the way the team has performed and dealt with injury setbacks as well as off the field distractions. I can’t believe it is down to Lowe’s tactical genius, his managerial experience or his skills. Great leaders are defined by their behaviours and not by their skills.

Lowe presents as someone who is what you see – he is authentic. He is modest and open about his background and achievements, never pretends that he is what he isn’t (looking at you Clarkey!) and always always puts his players, his team first and foremost. Without wishing to sound over analytical, people have a choice in how to respond to events. They can be reactive (like this messageboard is sometimes when we lose!) in that we moan about mistakes, we get angry about losses or we slag off people who don’t seem to be up for the job.

In his first spell, Lowe did that when the team lost – “that’s not my team out there” – and you can only imagine the impact on the players. I called him out for it at the time but, being charitable to him, it was out of character and I believe heavily influenced by Clarke’s tenure which was all about blaming the players for what he, as manager, was entirely responsible for.

This year we have seen Lowe with his constant grin, his cheeky chappie attitude not ‘reacting’ to events and setbacks but choosing to be proactive in pretty much all the situations. This removes pressure from his players, gives them a confidence boost and creates an overall happy and supportive environment. This is immediately obvious on the pitch where we are playing with a freedom and positivity which I honestly can’t remember over such a sustained period since – errr  . . . .

Football at this level has always been more about making the most of what you have. Teamwork is the single most effective indicator of that and anyone who can create teams who have self belief, are happy, work for each other and create a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts is a good manager in my book.

For me, success on the pitch this season is not about promotion, play offs or even (god forbid) relegation but about demonstrating our values, our togetherness, our teamwork and building a Bury brand in the image of the manager. We can always bring in skills but attitude and behaviour is in short supply in the managerial pool.

Dale should do all he can to keep Lowe.”

It was inevitable that some would factor in the (cautious) optimism surrounding Bury since Dale became the chairman. Most supporters have seen false dawns come and go, and successful times become relatively short-lived. What can be agreed upon though, is that the current squad and brand of football is the best anyone has seen for decades… it’s now just a small matter of ‘getting to where we want to get to’, in Lowe’s own words. It’s sure to be quite the conclusion to 2018/2019!