The north-eastern outfit easily bested my side in the FA Trophy last season when the teams were a division apart. Reece Deakin’s second minute strike looked like it was going to further cement Pools’ superiority. Kelsey Mooney’s ball-stealing abilities were in full display, but his thievery could only find the inside of the far post. The contest petered out during the second half, and it marked the first loss on the road of the campaign.
Maidenhead United (a): 0-0
A similarly soporific affair, although Amari Morgan-Smith fluffed his chance to give The Magpies the lead in the early exchanges of the second half.
Yeovil Town (h): 0-0
The very first televised match of the phoenix club’s existence putted the Shakers against recent EFL competitors Yeovil. Under the lights and cameras, Mooney smashed the bar from 10 yards out in the third minute, and then, once more, the contest became a damp squib.
Barnet (a): 2-1
Finally, some goals! The Bees had two thirds of the shots but only one third of the strikes. Callum Reynolds sent Charlie Andrew the wrong way to give the London-based club the lead, but a flowing move that ended in a sighter from range by Dylon Meredith broke Bury’s duck. Baker then intercepted a loose pass and punted forward for Mooney to round one-time loanee Scott Loach to bag the winner.
Work in the background is once again underway to improve the youth facilities and recruitment – these constitute key facets of Buryball, with the emphasis on improving infrastructure and bringing through the club’s own talent over signing from elsewhere.
Torquay United (h): 1-0
A red card for a tackle from behind by Armani Little was as good as it got for The Gulls, who didn’t muster a single meaningful shot on goal. However, the Pilsworth Park faithful were made to wait for their side’s advantage to manifest itself; substitute Fergus McAughtrie blasted in during second-half stoppage time to ensure the profligacy of late didn’t rear its head in this one.
A middling month with few goals scored or conceded is still enough to be in the top seven beyond all expectations. Will it last? Find out tomorrow.
The big day arrived. What would lay in store during the course of the 2020/2021 season? Can my charges cock a snook at the board and the pundits predicting an almighty struggle to stay in the National League?
(1885 Bury score first):
Ebbsfleet United (h): 1-0
A more dominant and encouraging performance than the slender margin of victory suggests. Three times the number of shots, restricting the visitors from Kent to not a single clear-cut chance, and overall, bedding in the new faces very well. Kelsey Mooney, the star striker signed from Hereford, looked threatening throughout, and capped an impressive debut with a cool half-volley into the far corner from a clipped ball by left-back Akeem Hinds, a fellow newcomer, this time from Rotherham United. However, Luke Ward, a centre-back recruited from Shrewsbury Town, was dismissed late on, which did take the gloss off an otherwise consummate display.
Solihull Moors (a): 4-2
Games come thick and fast in the fifth tier, but the Shakers were unchanged, save Ward’s enforced removal. Mooney picked up from where he left off the previous weekend, rising highest to head home a Dion McGhee corner. The former Manchester United youngster provides real competition for Denilson Caravlho in the advanced playmaker role behind the sole striker, and was helping to fashion plenty of opportunities for Mooney. In the second half, Gaël Bigirimana, once of Newcastle United, smashed into an empty net from distance to level things up briefly; Dylon Meredith restored the advantage five minutes later from a raking Harold Essien cross. George Baker scored the pick of the bunch, however, volleying in from 25 yards out from a poorly headed clearance.
Essien then thought it was a great idea to experiment as to whether 1885 Bury could get a second win on the bounce a man light, scything down Paul McCallum. The resulting free-kick was blasted in by Bigirimana for his second of the match. A late penalty on the counter whilst trying to absorb pressure was put away by Mooney to settle some nerves.
Chesterfield (h): 0-0
Ah, Chesterfield. Many are the recent high-profile encounters with the Spirerites, all of which of course were contested at a higher level. Not that it meant much after two matches, but this too was a (rather unexpected) top of the table clash at Pilsworth Park. The first 45 yielded just one shot on target between the two sides, but the lion’s share of chances were created by my young XI. The second period followed much the same pattern, but it was hard to be disappointed – seven points in the first three was a far better return than anyone was hoping for or indeed expecting.
Eastleigh (a): 1-1
Baker rattled the bar from outside the box on the five minute mark, and Essien cleared off his own line… before bringing down Ben Williamson. Byron Harrison hit the spot kick against the woodwork, Meredith crashed the outside of the post on the counter. Whirlwind stuff. Ross Woodcock, who’d been begging for more starts, became the third player to get sent off in the opening four matches. That didn’t perturb Meredith from venturing forward and slotting in at the near post. Steven Ziboth evened things up for The Spitfires with quarter an hour left on the clock. Réda Johnson received his marching orders, although it didn’t affect the outcome ultimately.
Notts County (h): 0-2
Another big club in the doldrums. The Magpies came out swinging from the first whistle, which was capped off by Wes Thomas finishing under Charlie Andrew. The journeyman poacher made sure of the victory for the visitors, profiting from a mistimed header by Akeem Hinds. The young full-back’s day went from bad to abject when he became the fourth individual to be sent off. Must be something in the water on the industrial estate…
Wealdstone (a): 4-1
The brilliantly named Michael Gash smacked in a rebound for the Ruislip-based outfit in the ninth minute, but The Stones were soon brought back to earth with a cheaply given away penalty. Mooney, returning to full fitness, did the honours for 1-1. Despite having to operate for the vast majority on the back foot, a great lay-off by Ellis Hudson set up Baker to complete the turnaround. Denilson Carvalho was on the end of a deep Fergus McAughtrie cross to bag a third, and the Brazilian squared for Mooney to lash in a fourth. Further chances were spurned to increase the gap, but it was great to be back to winning ways in an even contest.
Havant & Waterlooville (h): 2-0
A quiet opening to this one. Mooney and Meredith both went close with efforts that whistled past the post, and a superb passage of play saw Woodcock become the latest member of the ‘hit the bar’ club. Baker followed suit. 20 shots in the first 45 because of a late flurry hadn’t yielded a goal. The deadlock was broken from another penalty (Mooney dispatching), and Carvalho finished the good work by Essien to put the icing on another delicious cake of a display.
Well, well, well. Fourth in the league after seven games, and that’s been on merit. What next for 1885 Bury? Find out later in the week!
The very first thing to do following promotion was to discuss with the board the club vision. The negotiations didn’t go well, so the goal remained simply staying up in the National League for the foreseeable future.
You might have noted that there was very little mention of the Buryball rules in previous chapters. That won’t be the case from now on; my request to improve the youth category from four to three was approved, costing £350,000 – this follows the mantra that investment in infrastructure is to be favoured over new playersand helps with the development of academy prospects into the first team, rather than relying on young loanees from clubs higher up the pyramid.
The next key issue was whether to turn fully professional; a quick scan of the division the Shakers were going into showed that the number of part-time outfits are on the wane: Maidenhead United, near neighbours Stockport County, and Woking are the only others who will be semi-pro (unless they change their status, too). In any case, the request was rejected by chairman Richard Mason, so the task will be that much harder to stay in the fifth tier. Additionally, he only offered me a one-year extension to my contract, so I’m still not exactly held in his highest esteem.
Improvements were required in the backroom staff, one of which was a popular and familiar face in a new role of Youth Development…
He immediately went on a course to get his National A Licence, which will be important with only a small team of people behind the scenes.
The revolving doors were in full swing on the playing front, too; with plenty of the wage and transfer budgets remaining, I decided to add more depth to the first team squad, plus work towards implementing a full U23s roster as a halfway house to develop talent further.
One of the strangest moves though came about because of just how upset Owen Gallacher, a striker who just arrived as a free agent from Nottingham Forest, was at seeing Kelsey Mooney join from Hereford on the same day. Almost straight away, a bid came in from SPFL third tier outfit Raith Rovers for £43,500. Whilst I’m not, strictly speaking, operating the Moneyball policy of always selling someone for more than they’re worth, given that something I am doing is sticking to the mantra that I cannot make a net loss in any season through transfers until the Premier League is reached, it just made sense to go ahead with the quick-fire deal!
This is how the senior setup now looks:
Ebbsfleet United will be the first visitors to Pilsworth Park after promotion. Can the young Shakers confound the pessimistic expectations from the fan-owned board? Find out tomorrow…
York City <National League North Play-Off 1st Round> (a):
In the very first minute at Bootham Crescent (possibly the last-ever match played at the historic stadium), the Minstermen could’ve taken the lead. Winger Elliott Durrell, having previously been a free agent following a long spell at Macclesfield Town, floated a dangerous ball in for opposite winger Alex Kempster – his header ought to have been a goal, but he instead conspired to rattle the crossbar. Top scorer James Morris’ lob dipped but still cleared Anthony Patterson’s own goalmouth. The custodian then got down well to save from a long run and shot from Shakers winger Simeon Oure. York were having more of the chances as half-time sounded, but honours were still even.
Morris could’ve done more on the counter when set free by Dylon Meredith just before the hour mark – Patterson stood firm to deny him a crucial opener. The second half as a whole was a far more attritional affair, as could be expected with the stakes so high. Extra-time was needed…
Straight away, Kyle McFarlane hit the side netting from a favourable angle for the hosts. That aside, it was tighter than ever.
Their full-backs were understandably getting tired, so I set sub Ellis Hudson and Oure to attack them more directly in an effort to make a breakthrough. With time ticking away, Josh Eccles thought he’d won it for the men in red and blue, only for Liam Landers to pull off a crucial save.
James Morris – O Elliott Durrell – X Denilson Carvalho – O Tom Crawford – O Jason Fletcher – O Sean Newton – O James Cook – O Josh Eccles – O
It all came down to the last pair of takers…
Alfie Raw – O
Even so, there are still two (potential) matches to play, and because of the seedings, the next/final one will also be on the road…
Darlington <National League North Semi-Final> (a):
Much like the previous match, a goal could’ve been scored after mere seconds. Alfie Raw, the hero from sudden death, thought he’d done just that…. but not all the ball had crossed the line. It did 15 minutes later – James Yates laid it on a plate for Morris to rifle home his 25th and most important strike of the campaign. Cameron Taylor charged down a Quakers shot soon after to preserve the nascent lead. A well-worked move from a corner for the hosts resulted in the equaliser – Jack Bainbridge squeezed a shot in at the near post. Meredith bended an effort in from the edge of the area, but it whistled wide. Oure was then forced off with an injury, which brought a close to the first half.
His replacement Hudson ought to have done better with a presentable chance from a Morris lay-off, only to see it fly over the crossbar. The latter profited once from a full-back’s whipped cross to restore the advantage with less than 20 minutes on the clock. I decided to try to see the tie out, bringing on Alex Honeyball in a switch to a five-man defence, tasked with smashing everything that comes his path clear. It appeared to be working… until the dying moments. Ben Hedley used his noggin to take another game to extra-time!
In the second period, Morris got the matchball – a free-kick from deep by James Cook flew over the Darlington backline, and the hitman showed ice-cool composure to hit a low volley into the far corner. Challis Johnson was brought on to keep things that way as a target man, looking to relive the inevitable pressure that would be wrought on the Shakers. It didn’t come to pass! The final awaits!
Southport <National League North Play-off Final> (a):
Oure shook off his injury in time for the big decider, and supplied the perfect corner for Morris, but Sandgrounders custodian Alex Handford was equal to it. Carvalho had his own off-target effort that had Handford rooted to the spot. Efforts were raining down on the hosts at Haig Avenue, and Southport didn’t have one to their name in the whole first half.
Oure’s return to the fold proved to be pivotal – an errant header in the penalty area fell kindly to him, and the French 19 year-old showed maturity beyond his tender age to put 1885 Bury minutes away from what had almost always seemed to be an unlikely promotion over the course of the season. Hudson could’ve sealed it from a direct free-kick, and was unfortunate not to see his curler hit the target. Morris then missed a sitter… and was duly punished. Kieran Glynn’s 30-yard piledriver dashed dreams of fifth tier football.
Former Lincoln City ‘lump’ Matt Rhead twice wasted gilt-edged opportunities to give the Lancashire outfit an undeserved lead, and Morris had a clearly offside goal chalked off in response.
Matt Rhead – X James Morris – O Tommy Smith – O Denilson Carvalho – O Russell Benjamin – O Ro Vieira – O Senior – O Cameron Taylor – O Morgan – O Alex Honeyball – O
… And the board, delighted as they might be, still only rate my management as a ‘B-‘, despite promotion!
Check back next week for the tumult that will need to happen over the summer to ensure a swift return to the sixth doesn’t happen, including whether turning fully professional can happen within the confines of the Buryball rules…
Ah, a C+ from the board. Again. Hello darkness, my old friend…
(1885 Bury score first):
Kettering Town (a): 0-0
Narrator: ‘Absolutely nothing happened.’
AFC Telford United (a): 0-1
Not quite the same dirge on show in Shropshire. The hosts took the lead on the half-hour mark, Alex Petrovics blasting home from near the penalty spot. Aaron Williams was then dismissed for Telford with just 10 minutes remaining, prompting an all-out assault on their goalmouth… but without reward.
Hereford (h): 1-3
Gibraltarian international Alex Gosling rifled in from an early free-kick, which was the instigator for a flurry of attacks on the Bulls’ own goal. Stephen Dawson, famously formerly of Bury twice, believed he’d grabbed a second, but it was disallowed. Unfortunately, Hereford have their own version of James Morris – Kelsey Mooney increased their lead with his 22nd of the campaign. Denilson Carvalho got one back on the break, but Reece Styche made sure of victory with a simple finish from a Dawson cross (!).
Leamington (h): 1-0
A much-need victory. The same shot dominance as the previous fixture, but without the poor goals given up so easily. Morris found form once more, bundling in from a Carvalho free-kick. Ross Woodcock, playing on the right side of defence for a change, was sent off for a second bookable offence in injury time, but it didn’t cost the Shakers too dearly.
Altrincham (a): 2-2
In true FM-style, a previously goal-shy striker scores against the side you manage. Lewis Archer had gone 15 miserable games for Altrincham without joy, but found it in just the fourth minute against 1885 Bury, heading home from a right-wing cross. Dylon Meredith replied with an absolute howitzer from the corner of the box. A superb passage of play with interchanging passes between the attack-minded four ended with Simeon Oure slotting home for a short-lived lead; naturally, Archer got his brace soon afterwards, rounding Lewis Landers to level things up.
Darlington (h): 1-2
Okera Simmonds punished Landers for mistiming rushing from his goalmouth by netting for fellow play-off contenders Darlington. Meredith was felled for a penalty in first half stoppage time, and Morris duly obliged, sending the ‘keeper the wrong way. Simmonds then made a mockery of the offside trap on the hour mark to restore the visitors’ advantage. Two games to go, and the play-off position is now looking precarious.
Bradford (Park Avenue) (h): 1-1
Winner Luaba was doing his level best to make his teammates with a truly bizarre own goal that I’ve had to upload and share with you, such is its insipidness. Thankfully, Ellis Hudson grabbed an equaliser with the last kick of the game to all but ensure participation in the play-offs, but with no real form to speak of.
Southport (a): 0-1
Oh dear. George Newell bundled in after three minutes, and the tired old refrain of huffing and puffing from early in the season is back with a bang/whimper (depending on your disposition). James Cook had a goal chalked off in injury time, which is also all too frequent. Something will have to change if promotion is to be gained…
On Friday, you’ll be able to find out just how the play-offs went. York City will have to be overcome, and they’re just the first hurdle…
Frustratingly, the fan-owned board at Pilsworth Park are still only ‘satisfied’ with my performance as manager, despite now being firmly ensconced in the play-off picture and on a nine-match unbeaten run in the National League North. Guess I’ll just have to make that 14 by the end of February…
(1885 Bury score first):
York City (a): 1-2
Still the closest thing to a real derby, the last-ever fixture between the Minstermen and any team adorning the name of Bury at Bootham Crescent sprang to life when the hosts were awarded a clear and obvious penalty in the 13th minute. Liam Landers stood firm but could only help Tom Crawford’s powerful take into the bottom corner. Scott Twine thought he’d doubled the county capital’s lead, only for the flag to go up for the most marginal of offside calls. Simeon Oure equalised on the volley from a Winner Luaba whipped cross. Clear-cut chances were subsequently spurned for both teams, but Crawford made no mistake when Ben Fletcher missed an interception to retake the lead for York. The unbeaten record has gone, and they’ve leapfrogged the Shakers in the standings…
Guiseley (a): 1-0
A positive response was required from that setback, and Cameron Taylor poked home from a Denilson Carvalho free-kick to draw first blood. In a quiet game bereft of good opportunities, Scott Burton ought to have made the most of some sloppy passing along the Shakers backline, but curled his effort onto the outside of the post with Landers stranded.
Boston United (h): 1-1
Despite being the attacking midfielder of choice almost throughout the campaign, Carvalho had only scored once in any competition before this match, creating chances for James Morris and the wingers. That changed in spectacular fashion against Boston, with the Brazilian bending in a superb effort from 30 yards out. Former Bury loanee Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro headed in an equaliser on 65 minutes, and Morris was then given a straight red for an off-the-ball tackle!
Gloucester City (h): 2-0
Carvalho made it two in two from direct free-kicks, and target man Challis Johnson, handed an extremely rare outing in place of the suspended Morris, nodded home the clincher in injury time. A comfortable win and competent performance, all things considered.
King’s Lynn Town (a): 3-1
An encounter in which it was vital to obtain at least a point, given that the Linnets were lurking with intent just outside the play-off picture. Central midfielder Jason Fletcher got things off to another poor start, leaving 1885 Bury a man short for 72 minutes. However, the side were galvanised in spite of his asinine dismissal, first through a great jinking run by Oure and Morris coolly slotting home during a one-on-one, sandwiching the equaliser on the rebound by Adam Marriott for the hosts. Morris rounded off an impressive victory under trying circumstances with a poacher’s finish from a corner after some pinball in the area.
Eight games to go. Automatic promotion is out of reach, but a favourable draw in the play-offs is not…
At the midway point of the campaign, here are a few league-only player and team stats as a measure of how 1885 Bury are faring beyond the table itself:
Top Scorer: James Morris – 13 (joint 1st best)
Most Assists: no player in the top 20
Most Player of the Match Awards: James Morris – 5 (joint 3rd best)
Highest Average Rating: James Morris – 7.11 (10th best)
James Morris gets his reward for a superb December, scoring six goals in just five matches
(1885 Bury score first):
Curzon Ashton (a): 3-1
Near neighbours Curzon Ashton employed a narrow 4-3-3, a shape rarely seen at any level in English football. It was precisely that lack of width that led to a penalty for the Shakers, and top scorer Morris got his 18th of the term despite the best efforts of Cameron Mason. In a very dominant showing, Morris assisted Dylon Meredith for a simple headed second at the far post. Luke Jordan did his best to dispel that narrative, capping off a solo run with a cut inside and neat finish to reduce the arrears. James Hudson fed Morris from the other flank for a third; however, Jason Fletcher was taken off injured with all three subs made, but other than a concession of territory, no real effect was seen. Nine games unbeaten now…
Kidderminster Harriers (a): 0-0
17 points off the leaders (and occupiers of the sole automatic promotion spot), and in a tightly-fought contest, 1885 Bury had Lewis Landers to thank on several occasions for earning a stalemate.
Hartlepool United (a) <FA Trophy 2nd Round>: 0-2
The next match on the road pitted the Shakers against higher tier opposition in the form of National League outfit Hartlepool. Well-known lower league veteran Jason Kennedy crashed in the first for the north-eastern club. Rumarn Burrell thought he’d added a second before the 10th minute mark, but it was disallowed for a clear offside. Altin Zeqiri did ensure clear daylight after a good switch from the left flank. Morris could’ve done better with a rare opportunity late on, but the hosts were well worth their win. The result of that is passing the club vision for the competition, but not exceeding it.
Farsley Celtic (h): 2-0
Morris reached his 20th whilst still in January in this fixture (no small feat regardless of the level), and was quickly followed by a Meredith rebound to solidify the advantage. Hudson did his very best to engineer a way for Farsley to get back into the match with a red for a rash tackle, but they could only muster one shot on target in the 90 minutes.
Alfreton Town (h): 0-0
This match was like a throwback to the ‘dark days’ of October – having the majority of possession, creating more chances, but simply not finishing them off. Alfreton were sturdy opposition, putting up a decent fight of their own without landing many blows.
Can an unlikely run to the title be mounted without any cups to distract my young squad? Find out tomorrow if it becomes even plausible…
As the nights start to really draw in, the board have put me on a C+ grade, which always felt at school like a bit of a mickey-take whenever I got it (which was frequently in most subjects). I’m hoping the holiday season will be bringing very good tidings for my young squad as I seek to at least meet the minimum requirements in the league of gate-crashing the expanded play-off picture.
(1885 Bury score first):
Bradford (Park Avenue) (a): 3-2
Brad Dockerty put the willies up the youthful Shakers early doors by powering in a header, only to be deemed very marginally offside. Dan Mooney then rattled the bar with a similar effort, and both of these were against the general flow of the first half. Leading scorer James Morris, back in for the transfer-listed Joe Thompson, showed his budding skills in front of goal once more, latching onto a loose ball in the area to toe-poke home. That seemed to put the tie beyond Bradford, but a superb solo run and finish from Joe Hawkes levelled things up. Despite the paucity in the ‘goals for’ column, the tactic seemed to be coming together. Some intricate approach play between the attack-minded four resulted in a close-range tap-in by Ellis Hudson to regain the lead. It didn’t last. Oli Johnson notched a very similar strike to Morris, but the latter was not done. One poor backpass went unpunished, but not a second one. A calm finish made it 3-2 deep into injury time.
Kidlington (a) <FA Trophy 1st Round>:1-0
The Oxfordshire-based Southern League Division One Central outfit were the next opposition, and a win in this game was paramount to meeting the club vision. Despite the gulf in divisions, I felt it necessary to name a strong XI for the encounter. Territorial and shot dominance in the opening period didn’t yield a goal, and Morris was guilty of missing two sitters just after the restart. He then conspired to hit the woodwork from three yards out, and I was beginning to wonder if a replay would be required (one of the quirks of the FA Trophy is that both teams have to agree whether to hold extra time – Kidlington did not agree prior to the fixture taking place). Centre-back Cameron Taylor finally broke the deadlock in the 71st minute from a Hudson free-kick – that proved to be sufficient to squeak by.
The second round draw meant a third away trip in a row in the competition, this time against higher tier opposition – struggling Hartlepool United in the National League. The game will be a real test of the team’s (improving) credentials.
Brackley Town (h): 2-2
A cagey affair in the first quarter came to a close with an own goal by Gareth Dean for the visitors, who was under no pressure at all when he guided Dylon Meredith’s cross beyond his despairing goalkeeper. The ex-Burnley prospect then got in on the act himself, turning in a square ball by Ross Woodcock. Lewis Landers preserved the rare two-goal advantage with a smart save from a direct free-kick after the break. Lee Ndlovu halved the deficit with a strike out of nowhere, and unfortunately, it was merely the precursor for the equaliser from Matt Lowe, ensuring the Shakers were back out of play-off contention.
That was the trigger point for the squad being unhappy with my management, but I think I bought some time with an admission that things hadn’t been up to scratch (even though results and performances have improved recently).
Blyth Spartans (a): 3-0
The first of three festive fixtures saw some great switching between the wingers, but it was Morris who bagged his 14th from a long punt forward from Alex Honeyball. Jacob Fletcher added another with a volley from outside the box in the second half. Hudson should’ve sealed it, but only conspired to find the inside of the post. Blyth offered nothing whatsoever, and Morris did get the vital third to prevent any sniff of a comeback as had been witnessed in the game prior, although Tom Devitt did get a consolation in the fifth minute of three minutes of injury time.
Gateshead (h): 2-1
The Heed started in earnest, having the lion’s share of the early shots on goal but without profit. Turning the season in general on its head, 1885 Bury took advantage of that profligacy, Hudson and Meredith combining once more to great effect. Cameron Sangster ensured that lead was short-lived, bundling in an ugly fashion from a corner. Morris ballooned over in the six-yard area. Landers kept the Shakers in the tie with a save from a similar chance. Ex-Bury centre back Michael Nelson smashed the bar with the resultant set piece. A ding-dong affair went the distance… until Morris made amends for his earlier gaffe, heading home from a Cameron Esien cross.
Spennymoor Town (h): 2-1
A few changes were required to keep some players refreshed. Francis McAughtrie’s reintroduction could’ve gone better straightaway, but missed a gilt-edged opportunity. Michael Collins opened the scoring for Spennymoor instead, and only a late comback courtesy of Simeon Oure and Morris once more kept the engine of recovery ticking over. (N.B. The game didn’t save properly after the first result, which was 1-0, hence the change in scoreline/scorers).
Now firmly entrenched in the play-offs, but 14 points off the sole automatic spot. Can the good form continue into the new year? Check back tomorrow in Chapter 7!
The ‘B-‘ from the end of September has slipped to a ‘D’ in the view of the board. There’s going to be no grace period for working towards getting results in a newly introduced tactic. They have to happen now.
(1885 Bury score first):
Leamington (a) – 3-2
Ah, Leamington. We must stop meeting like this. Thankfully, James Morris headed in his 10th of the season after two minutes, and the onslaught on the hosts’ 18-yard box continued. Maybe the players actually wanted to preserve my job after all. Winger Fergus McAughtrie is one of a litany of individuals who just hasn’t lived up to their talent on paper, but even he put his desperately poor form behind him for this encounter with a looping header for the second goal. After the restart, Jack Edwards reduced the arrears, profiting from a well-worked corner routine. Lucas Tomlinson then beat the offside trap to level with a touch over quarter of an hour left. I had to go for it, with so much on the line… and just when it seemed all hope was lost, Ellis Hudson went on a marauding run and blasted in from an acute angle. An actual win. Three actual goals!
Darlington (a) – 0-1
A fortnight separated the first two games in November (thanks to already bowing out of the FA Cup), allowing the squad to almost be back to full health. Darlington, who have been able to drop their year founded moniker after reforming, sat in second before this fixture, but I still felt like I had to ignore Anthony Johnson’s advice to adopt a more cautious approach. Okera Simmonds punished that arrogance, stepping into the space vacated by the out of position James Cook and finishing coolly. Whilst certainly not overawed by the opposition, the Quakers did have the lion’s share of the better opportunities, and should have won by a larger margin.
The elections to be the new chair of the fan-owned club belatedly came to a close after what felt like an eternity.
Biggleswade (a) <FA Trophy 3rd Qualifying Round> – 2-0
Curiously, the draw for the FA Trophy was only made a few days before the fixture was due to take place, pitting 1885 Bury against Biggleswade, members of the Southern League Division One Central (tier eight). Only formed three years ago, the Bedfordshire outfit were one of the most local to me before I made the move to the Forest of Dean. Despite the two-division gulf, this game felt like a throwback to the dark days of October – all the possession, the majority of the shots, but no goals to show for it. With extra-time embarrassingly looming, Morris once again made the difference, volleying in from a Hudson cross. The right-winger then added a second. The minimum expectation is to reach the second round proper, and with my failure to meet a similar goal in the FA Cup, more emphasis is going to have go on the competition than I’d originally envisaged.
Southport (h) – 1-0
Ah, where was this performance hiding? The Sandgrounders started the game firmly ensconced in the play-offs, but were dominated from the off at Pilsworth Park. Zehn Mohammed, formerly of Accrington Stanley, made a horror tackle on Thompson whilst the striker on the break from a Southport corner, forcing the visitors to play out the final 30 minutes a man short. The breakthrough came from a corner of 1885 Bury’s own, Jacob Fletcher nodding in from a Cook centre.
Will Christmas bring good tidings for the Shakers? Can I get back into the play-offs? Find out on Monday in Chapter 6!
According to the monthly managerial summary, my start to life in the National League North has been graded as a ‘B-‘, with particular criticism reserved for the ‘less than exciting tactics’ to date. What a load of rubbish – I only gave the board and fans a 10-goal thriller the other week! What more do they want? An average of a goal a game in the league?
(1885 Bury score first):
Kettering Town (h) – 0-2
The visitors to Pilsworth Park ‘boasted’ a certain Joe Skarz in their lineup at left-back. The two-time Shaker in real life has seen injuries catch up with him, hence the drop to semi-pro. He was the one laughing however when his opposite number Ross Woodcock was dismissed for unnecessarily pulling back Daniel Nti when already on a yellow. Simeon Oure, carrying a slight knock, was sacrificed for defensive solidity. I needn’t have bothered when a route one free-kick routine left Callum Maycock with the simplest of headers to nod into the far corner approaching the hour mark, leaving me a man light, a goal down, and in a tactical dilemma. Ultimately, I decided for a slightly more positive posture, attacking down Skarz’ flank. Maycock again profited from a dead ball to wipe out the slim positive goal difference I had enjoyed in the league, and whilst defeat wasn’t a disaster under the circumstances, it again made me rue how costly some of the red cards have been this campaign already. Woodcock then bleated about how unfair fining him a day’s wages was, but I was in no mood for clemency.
Leamington (h) <FA Cup Qualifying 3rd Round> – 0-0
The pressure was back on a bit to deliver a result and passage to the fourth and final round of qualifying before the ‘proper’ stage of the FA Cup. James Cook, whose signing has not been popular with fans, was demanding more gametime. I put him to cover in behind the defensive line as a bulwark against balls being launched over the top. Left-winger Fergus McAughtrie had a goal controversially chalked off for offside when he looked dead level, and that was the height of the approach play for almost the entire match, barely even registering a shot afterwards. Leading scorer (a relative term) James Morris also had a strike disallowed, but in truth, the Shakers were fortunate to earn a replay, completely nullified by the opposition.
Leamington (a) <FA Cup Qualifying 3rd Round – Replay> – 0-0 aet (8-7 pens)
The prize on offer for the victors of the replay is a trip to Chorley in the tier above. It was clear how much both teams wanted it – not a single highlight in the first half. Connor Gudger smashed against the post for Leamington to remind the spectators that there was something resembling a football match on display, although there was little else to stir them. Extra time at least meant being able to make a fourth sub to stem the fatigue creeping in to the part-timers’ bodies, and their task was made a touch easier by a tired tackle by Jack Edwards, reducing the hosts down to 10. There was no choice now but to go for it as a shoot-out would not bring any kind of advantage… but it made no telling difference. Leamington elected to take first, and after two goes each, it was 1-1. After four attempts, it was 2-2, Callum O’Neill saving twice, the Shakers’ takers hitting the post or blasting wide. Sudden death wasn’t looking like separating the teams either, with the scores now up to 7-7 from nine attempts apiece. O’Neill shut out his opposite number, and Harry Bircumshaw finally tucked away the winning penalty!
Gloucester City (a) – 1-0
It was then back to the bread and butter of the league after the euphoria had died down and the dark fruit cider had been imbibed. The games coming thick and fast necessitated a few changes to the starting lineup in an attempt to actually score a goal in normal play. Zack Kotwica missed a gilt-edged chance for the hosts (who actually have to play in a different county because of flooding 12 years ago), but aside from that, it was 1885 Bury who were playing the better football, helped in no small way by Morris’ restoration to the team. Vincent Harper inexplicably chested into his own net from a Woodcock free-kick to give me a precious lead, which I then tried to hold onto by bringing on target man Challis Johnson to partner Morris. It did just that, but still provided very scarce amounts of entertainment for the travelling supporters.
Hereford (a) – 2-4
A trip to another reformed former EFL club was a welcome one… at least until they won and converted a second minute penalty. The Bulls then got another one just four minutes later, but thankfully, Tom Owen-Evans wasn’t able to double his side’s tally. Keiran Thomas then played exactly the sort of ball over the top that I’d tasked Cook with cutting out… but he didn’t, and Brad Ash made it two-zip. Ryan Scholes-Beard, fired up from the half-time rollicking, cut their advantage in half with a volley after a great knockdown by Morris. Owen-Evans turned provider to a completely unmarked Jordan Nicholson 60 seconds later. Centre-back Martin Riley heaped further misery soon afterwards, and Morris’ own striker after good hold-up play by sub Joe Thompson meant very little in the end.
Chorley (a) <FA Cup Qualifying 4th Round> – 0-3
As you’d expect, the Lancashire outfit set their stall out from the beginning, taking the game to the young Shakers. Oliver Crankshaw, who was completely bossing Ify Ofoegbu, exploited some defensive sloppiness to give the Magpies the lead. In truth, both full-backs were having a torrid time, and I used all my substitutions to try to salvage a replay, only for Oure to then limp off… sigh. Crankshaw assisted Chris Holroyd, who had a ‘memorable’ spell on loan at Gigg Lane in 2010/2011, and then blasted in a third for Chorley late on. Technically, the exit made it a side bearing the name of Bury’s worst performance in the famous competition for 128 years.
AFC Telford United (h) – 0-0
Back to the tactical drawing board. I can’t escape the fact that the squad were signed in mind to fit a 4-2-3-1, but the emphasis on controlling possession just wasn’t creating enough chances, nor winning the ball back quickly to relieve pressure on the defence. Hitting the woodwork twice in the first half was only adding to my frustration.
Altrincham (h) – 0-0
A sense of déjà vu crept in, further compounded by a Thompson penalty miss. 22 shots and no goals…
Will the tactical overhaul eventually lead to a glut of goals? Check back later on Friday to find out!