Tag: leagueone

Northampton Town 0-0 Bury: Review

  • A more defensively resolute display formed the backbone of a second clean sheet in a week and enabled Chris Lucketti to avoid defeat in his maiden game as Bury manager against relegation rivals Northampton Town at Sixfields. Harry Bunn’s absence through injury meant an enforced change to the starting XI and the more conservative Callum Reilly had plenty to do in the first period; a costly error in possession almost let through the evergreen Marc Richards in an advanced area; the veteran striker was in the thick of it once more and should’ve done much better in the six-yard area from a whipped cross by Brendan Moloney but conspired to shoot straight at Leo Fasan.


  • Matt Crooks, in unfamiliar territory on the left flank, got into good positions all game and showed some quick feet and at times bamboozled Phil Edwards with his dribbling ability and his cutback was eventually stopped on the line by Eoghan O’Connell. Similarly, Matt Grimes’ set pieces always looked a threat and former Shaker Leon Barnett would’ve been disappointed not to hit the target with a towering header from his teammate’s corner.


  • Michael Smith bemoaned the number of missed opportunities the side that started the day at the foot of the table had but didn’t convert when they eventually gained a foothold in the encounter. As usual, he was the most guilty of spurning clear cut openings, although having had a second look at his looping header over Matt Ingram, I’m not sure there was much more he could’ve done from that position and if he had volleyed the ball, the odds would’ve been slimmer of a goal.


  • Rohan Ince continued his recent improvement with a box-to-box role befitting his attributes. He was the lynchpin in Bury’s midfield and quick one-twos enabled him to get in behind his opponents’ defence on two occasions. The former of these was the more presentable and an extra touch could’ve been taken to gain greater control of the ball. Nevertheless, he has played himself back into contention for a place beside Stephen Dawson once he returns from injury in the next few weeks.


  • The game wasn’t a dour affair by any means but wouldn’t have been the result Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink in particular was after; the Cobblers have failed to score in the entire month of November and what they would’ve previously thought was an eminently winnable fixture was made tougher by Lucketti’s appointment and the first signs of his hand at work in defensive organisation. A two-week break has now started between Saturday’s fixture and the next league match for either side and there should be some key players back once another ball in the third tier is kicked. For Lucketti, it represents a lengthy period in which to instil his philosophy into the squad and also to progress into the latter stages of the EFL Trophy away at Walsall. How he handles that tie could give us an inkling into his plans for the busy winter schedule subsequent to that match.

Northampton Town vs Bury: Preview

A wave of cautious optimism has greeted new manager Chris Lucketti’s appointment and the club legend will be in thick of it from the get-go tomorrow in a must-win clash away to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s similarly struggling Northampton Town at Sixfields.

The Cobblers changed managers on the last day of August after losing each of their first four league games and Justin Edinburgh suffered the ignominy of being the first chief to be bombed out from the top 92 teams in the country, thus completing an annus horriblis for the former Gillingham boss. The legendary Dutch striker was able to temporarily change their fortunes upon his arrival but they have struggled for consistency since the initial bounce; the 6-0 October roasting by Bristol Rovers in front of a shell-shocked home crowd has been the nadir of a campaign that ought, on paper at least, have seen them higher based on the calibre of player signed in the summer and some of the talent already present at the end of 2016/2017.

Northampton vs Bury H 1718

The hosts are shorn of several key individuals for the weekend, the talismanic John-Joe O’Toole being the most notable absentee. They are also sweating on the fitness of centre-back Aaron Pierre and Saturday might just come too soon for him to feature in the squad. The most likely candidate to be in his place is a certain Leon Barnett. The former Shaker has largely had to be content to be on the bench this season but will be tasked with preventing knockdowns by Michael Smith to the attacking midfield trio behind the target man, as well as covering for the runs of Brendan Moloney; the right-back likes to get beyond his partner up the flank on the overlap and offer an outlet for crosses into the lone striker.

Ash Taylor will be uncomfortable in the left-sided of the two; he has a tendency to avoid using his weaker foot wherever possible. However, he can still be an extremely tough customer in the air and in both boxes to boot. Defensively, he will have his hands full trying to shackle Smith whilst being mindful of the direct style of Mihai Dobre in between him and skipper David Buchanan. The second former Gigg Lane resident likely to be in the first XI has not had an easy time of it but you can always rely on him giving everything to the cause. His good balance and jumping reach make up for his relative lack of stature and pace.

Manchester United loanee Regan Poole is highly regarded at Old Trafford as one for the future. Still only 19, he has carved out a niche for himself in front of the back four, offering high energy and a penchant for being able to keep possession in tight areas and still play positive balls forward to the rest of the midfield. The talented Matt Grimes has stuttered since his big-money transfer several years ago from Exeter City to the bright lights of the top tier and hasn’t been at his best in 2017/2018 either. On his day, he is extremely adept striking the ball with either foot and has the vision to match his range of passing.

Anchor man Matt Crooks has found himself in uncharted waters out on the left as of late. He is aggressive in the tackle and fancies his chances from long range but he will not behave as a conventional winger. I’d expect him to tuck inside in all three phases to offer support to Grimes and Lewis McGugan. The classy ex-Nottingham Forest playmaker is renowned for his direct free-kicks in times past but those duties normally fall elsewhere. He will need to get close to lone frontman Chris Long to ensure he isn’t completely outnumbered in attacking situations.

On the other wing, Billy Waters is another square peg forced into a round hole. He has the requisite pace to unsettle most outfits in League One but again, his playstyle is more like a forward than someone who will take on his man and deliver in crosses from the byline. Long is decent on the end of floated deliveries and he will be keen to add to his meagre total of three goals (which makes him joint top scorer along with Crooks). Borrowed from Burnley, he works hard for the Cobblers and is no slouch with his movement.

vs Northampton A 1718

Harry Bunn’s hamstring problem aside, I can’t see Lucketti reinventing the wheel with selection or shape. There is little doubt in my mind that he will have watched back the win over table-topping Shrewsbury Town and, taking into consideration his limited time with the group since his confirmation on Wednesday evening, will largely carry on where caretaker Ryan Lowe left off for his maiden game. Greg Leigh and Waters might pass each other like ships in the night and someone between the pair of Rohan Ince and Eoghan O’Connell will need to cut off the space on Bury’s left.

As for a prediction, I think it will be 2-0 to the visitors. Northampton have had ‘nil’ next to their name in greater than half of their league matches thus far and the formation adopted by Lowe on Tuesday brought both greater solidity and crucially, advanced support for the goal-shy Smith. Both managers have their work cut out to revive their charges’ woeful campaigns but on this occasion, I can see Lucketti’s strategy coming out on top and earning him the victory that might just see the Shakers escape the bottom four on his first attempt.

Bury 1-0 Shrewsbury Town: Review

  • Ah, that was a typical Bury result if such a thing truly exists. Six league games without victory and after two abhorrent performances at Gigg Lane within days of each other… and to paraphase a certain 90s comedy film, just when you thought it couldn’t get worse… they totally redeemed themselves! The usual notes of caution apply – the 1-0 win over table-topping Shrewsbury Town last night is still only worth three points, they’re still bottom, it’s next to meaningless if not followed up by at least avoiding defeat at Northampton Town on Saturday… but it does feel like it could be the basis for a turnaround in fortunes, especially given the opposition and the tenacity on display. Caretaker manager Ryan Lowe had been demanding a vast improvement from his talented squad and finally received it.


  • His opposite number Paul Hurst did however slightly increase Lowe’s chances of gaining something out of the encounter by surprisingly changing shape before kick-off. The ever-present Alex Rodman ‘ruled himself out’ of contention and the level of protection he offers the left-back whilst Junior Brown is still sidelined cannot be underestimated; in his place was Stefan Payne whom, whilst hardworking, has a tendency to drift towards the centre. Carlton Morris and Louis Dodds’ inclusions altered the tactics even further and to the Shropshire outfit’s detriment. That said, he shouldn’t be too downbeat about only their second loss in League One; they did have a few chances to avert that outcome but it just wasn’t their day and I’m sure they will rally when their roster is restored to full strength. I was particularly impressed by Ben Godfrey at the base of their midfield. His recovery runs helped prevent the scoreline from being more one-sided than the reality of the contest.


  • The win was built on two very solid-looking duos: Stand-in captain Nathan Cameron and Eoghan O’Connell at centre-back in a flat four with Josh Laurent and Rohan Ince offering a defensive midfield shield in front of them. The latter two in particular have come in for heavy criticism this season but they can be more than satisfied with their night’s work, nullifying some dangerous attacks through the middle from Dodds and Jon Nolan. Cameron appeared back to his best, covering gaps in between Phil Edwards and his partner and his positioning is what sets him apart from most in the third tier; his persistent knee problems have impacted on his speed a tad but his reading of the game remains as sharp as ever.


  • Obviously, there was a slice of fortune in avoiding being a goal down to a stonewall penalty. Leo Fasan’s uncharacteristic decision to rush from his line to tackle Morris was ill-judged and he left the referee with little choice but to award the spot-kick to Town. Shaun Whalley slammed his effort onto the post with the ‘keeper well-beaten and Payne’s instinctive rebound whilst off-balance meant he could only guide it wide with a gaping hole before him. The Italian custodian more than made up for his error of judgement by saving smartly twice in quick succession in the second half to earn the social media man-of-the-match reward in a (for once) crowded field.


  • The move for Greg Leigh’s winner has to be one of the best team goals I’ve ever seen for the Shakers. It’s crucial to note that it was started by Cameron’s timely block and the type of calmness on the ball to feed the left-back from O’Connell I could easily grow accustomed to. What I’ve noticed recently about the current candidate for the player of the season is that not only is he technically very good on the dribble, he’s adept at drifting into the half-space with it as well. His slaloming run and the expertly weighted passing exchanges with Jay O’Shea and Michael Smith was capped off by a cool finish beyond the otherwise excellent Dean Henderson. It makes me wonder if his future could be the same as his past: he was a winger in Manchester City’s academy after being converted from a striker. If affordable, it’s key that the club offer him an extension on his deal or they risk him leaving for a set amount of compensation in the summer.


  • Harry Bunn had easily his best outing in the white and royal blue. He has always been best used as an inside forward and the change of shape by Lowe afforded him the numbers further back to express himself more before he succumbed to injury. The triumvirate of Bunn (or his replacement Chris Maguire), Jay O’Shea and Mihai Dobre is certainly an exciting one with a good balance of attributes: creativity, tendency to use their weaker foot and pace. Hopefully, the same setup is utilised at the weekend by the new man in the dugout…

Bury vs Shrewsbury Town: Preview

Tonight sees bottom versus top of League One meet each other at Gigg Lane and it’s reasonable to suggest that most pundits would’ve had these sides’ positions reversed if you were to tell them that this would be the current state of affairs. The reality is that there are 27 points separating them after just 18 games, which is quite frankly astonishing (and depressing from a Shakers perspective). Football isn’t played on paper and in my preview of Salop’s campaign, I feared that they might be involved in another relegation scrap and would struggle for goals. Not a bit of it. Whilst not the prolific side at this moment in time, their success has been built on Paul Hurst’s astute management and severely restricting the number of chances their opponents create and subsequently hitting them on the counter.

Ryan Lowe is a familiar name to Shrews fans, having spent five years in Shropshire at the turn of the century and whilst he didn’t hit the heights he would do later in his playing career, he is still well-regarded. That said, there will be little sympathy shown for his travails in caretaker charge and his fortunes are unlikely to change come the final whistle. Openly questioning some of the players’ desire once more after the second 3-0 home defeat in a week, he knows his time in charge is probably coming to a close in a match no-one expects him to win.

vs Shrewsbury H 1718

When he changed the shape to a more solid-looking back four, it seemed to have the desired effect of at least keeping the scoreline from being more embarrassing. Neil Danns is almost certain to miss this battle and the weakest area of the squad remains in central midfield. Rohan Ince could be restored to the starting XI in his absence and his physicality will be vital in preventing the defence from being overloaded when Shrewsbury go on the attack. Callum Reilly and Andrew Tutte looked all at sea against Rovers but few alternatives exist to come in for them who are suited to their roles.

Chris Maguire had a modicum of impact from the substitutes’ bench and his intelligence will need to be at its most potent if he is to do damage to the bulwark in orange. He will need to make runs wide to prevent the lineup from becoming too narrow and be in good areas to receive the ball from Michael Smith’s knockdowns.

Shrewsbury vs Bury A 1718

Hurst really has his side who, on the face of it, lack ‘names’ playing to their strengths and as units throughout the ranks. Dean Henderson, on loan from Manchester United, has been hugely impressive between the sticks, filling his teammates with confidence every time he comes for crosses and initiating the turnover with his ability to throw long and accurately. Abu Ogogo will be serving the first of a three-game suspension, so Mat Sadler will be entrusted with the armband and his organisational skills are key in a conservative backline. Aristote Nsiala is a colossal figure alongside him and often displays controlled aggression to either win the ball back or shepherd the man he’s marking away from dangerous situations.

Junior Brown’s season-ending injury hasn’t been the massive blow it could’ve been. Omar Beckles has a completely different playstyle but has slotted in to a role on the flank despite almost always playing in the centre up until this point for his previous clubs. On the right, Joe Riley is a steady presence and offers ample support for Shaun Whalley. Youngster Ben Godfrey has made the most of his gametime whilst at the New Meadow and has become a vital component at the base of the midfield, frequently (and successfully) recycling possession to his more advanced teammates and just sitting in front of the back four at all times.

Bryn Morris is a likely candidate to come in for Ogogo and he will assist Godfrey on the occasions they will be on the back foot; his good range of passing will feed the agile Alex Rodman; both he and Shaun Whalley get up to support Stefan Payne with their quickness and flair on the ball. The latter remains one of the fastest in the third tier at the age of 30 and he will be keen to add to his five assists in 2017/2018 with his whipped crossing for the frontman.

Payne likes to drop off from his marker to create space for the wingers and the late runs from midfield (Jon Nolan being the most prominent of those). His bustle rarely gives the other team a moment of peace and he has seven goals to his name in just over 800 minutes in League One. Not many sides play a striker so isolated tactically and yet they make sure he is well-supported when required.

As for a prediction, I fear it will be a third straight 3-0 defeat. Town are strongest in midfield and in the last 10 minutes of matches; many of their points have been picked up in the dying embers and together, these two things are Bury’s greatest weaknesses. A roster bereft of personal belief in themselves and from the stands is not conducive to turning things around and I expect Hurst to take full advantage and enhance his own managerial stock in the process.


Bury 0-3 Blackburn Rovers: Review

Despite recent abysmal ‘form’, it felt good to be back at Gigg Lane for the first time in several years. It’s the only thing I miss about not living up north anymore…


  • The first 12 minutes were reasonably encouraging for the hosts and the only period the game in which they can claim to have been better than Blackburn Rovers with any validity. The bustle of Neil Danns (who later went off injured) was ill-received by Richard Smallwood and Peter Whittingham and the Shakers found some joy on the flanks; Chris Humphrey drew a good, low stop from visiting goalkeeper David Raya and Greg Leigh screwed narrowly wide with the custodian sprawling across the face of his goal. It was whilst they were in the ascendancy that I felt Bury had a chance of getting something from the match if they could only notch first. That quickly all changed…


  • Marcus Antonsson, deployed narrowly on the left of an attacking trio behind Joe Nuttall (the latter of whom was making his first league start for the central Lancashire outfit), crushed any fleeting confidence the home supporters and most of the players had in clinical fashion. A long punt forward wasn’t effectively dealt with by Tom Aldred; Nuttall was able to shield the ball well and lay it off to Bradley Dack and his toe managed to take it away from the retreating Andrew Tutte. His delicious diagonal through pass in behind exposed Aldred and Phil Edwards’ slowness on the turn and he finished smartly over Leo Fasan, who had probably anticipated a low shot at his near post.


  • Dack was, as ever, a huge thorn in Bury’s wounded side and once again turned provider for Tony Mowbray’s charges before the half-time whistle sounded. Under no pressure from Leigh or anyone else in a white shirt, he was able to curl in a wicked ball from the right the right flank to the unmarked Antonsson, who gave Fasan no chance with a powerful header, bouncing off the underside of the bar for his second. To give someone of his talent free rein in the six yard box was just criminal and it was Edwards’ task to stick with him.


  • Speaking of Edwards, I thought he was abject all game long. Granted, being bizarrely persisted with by caretaker manager Ryan Lowe in a central role is certainly not playing to his strengths but the stand-in skipper has looked utterly lacklustre in that position and things didn’t improve much when the back five became a four. Otherwise decent balls were played to him on the overlap but he just doesn’t possess the requisite speed for anything other than a more conservative task and it continued to be an area Antonsson and Derrick Williams had by the far the upper hand in.
If anyone has any insight into why Rovers’ fans used the ‘torches’ on their phones when the 40th minute started, I’d love to know!
  • Equally as terrible was Tom Aldred. At times, the hosts were playing a fairly high line, which made no sense purely because of how slow two of the three centre backs are, especially on the turn. With his back to his own goal and the ball in the air, the former Blackpool captain looks reasonably competent. In any other defensive context, I’m immediately worried as he looks bereft of confidence when things aren’t going completely his way. If asked to play deeper and in a two with someone quicker alongside him, it could work. As things stand, I wouldn’t be continually putting him in the XI, even with Nathan Cameron on the sidelines once more.


  • There were two players who could their heads up high after that performance: one of them was Eoghan O’Connell. I’d heard mixed things about him previously from those fans (un)lucky enough to attend week in, week out but I was amazed by how assured he looked. He looked every inch the ‘ball-playing defender’ he was presented as upon signing in the summer; when you take into consideration the lack of movement ahead of him, the quality of opposition and the generally riskier passes that someone with his ability would make, that I only counted one misplaced all game was astonishing. He had the promising Nuttall well-shackled and had no culpability in any of the three goals conceded. His calmness in possession was in stark contrast to most of his teammates and whilst he isn’t rapid off the ball either, I’d like to see how he could perform in a two with Cameron or perhaps Saul Shotton for company if the fan favourite continues to be out for the foreseeable future.


  • Dack made sure the points headed back to Ewood Park with a typical run and long-range effort from midfield into Fasan’s far corner. He easily held off the anonymous attentions of Callum Reilly to send the hordes of away fans into raptures. He epitomised everything absent for the home team in midfield at present – a certain swagger, strength, determination and creativity. The Shakers didn’t really look like conjuring much in central areas for scoring opportunities all game and Harry Bunn’s scuffed effort when free in the penalty area rather summed proceedings up.


  • Greg Leigh can also be happy yet again with his efforts. Whilst his crossing doesn’t show much in the way of improvement, his effort, endeavour and no shortage of skill help massively in retaining the affections of an increasingly depressed and angry fanbase. He gave Nyambe cause for concern throughout and his forays forward weren’t as costly (in isolation) as previous matches. He and O’Connell would be the only two from those who started on Saturday who I would guarantee to be in the XI for tomorrow evening were I in charge of selection (in contrast to some, I don’t think Fasan generally does anything wrong in particular but his presence doesn’t inspire confidence).


  • Nicky Ajose was on the periphery for much of the match but in his defence, I don’t think he was at fault for the most part. It must be utterly disheartening to witness two of the three centre backs (and even Andrew Tutte at times) just pump it long when they know he’s unlikely to win many aerial battles. His game is based primarily on receiving and dribbling in the channels and taking shots from angles. At least four or five times in the second half when the shape had changed and Rovers were happy to sit back, there were openings for him if he received the right pass. He never did. The closest he came was when substitute Chris Maguire angled in a cross from the right but he just failed to connect. He needs that sort of service much more often.
The body language of the morose Ryan Lowe at the times he did emerge from his dugout showed his frustration with proceedings; he seemed powerless to affect positive change on the outcome
  • Yet again, Lowe intimated in his post-match interview that some of the players he selected didn’t make the most of their selections and it’s hard to disagree; I’ve already mentioned Aldred and Edwards ad nauseam, neither Tutte nor Reilly laid a glove on Smallwood or Whittingham (and neither were at their best) in the engine room and Bunn was not in the game at all. Contrast their performances to the U18s, through to the third round of the FA Youth Cup after another impressive display and you start to wonder whether more changes will occur for tomorrow’s crucial game at home to Shrewsbury Town regardless of who is in the hotseat. With every passing match, things look to be getting worse and they are now five points from safety. Three weeks have elapsed since Lee Clark was relieved of his duties and if anything, the atmosphere is even bleaker. Blackburn, whilst far from spectacular, didn’t need to break too much of a sweat to run out comfortable winners… that’s when you know you’re in trouble.

Bury vs Blackburn Rovers: The Big Preview

Tomorrow’s League One match between rock bottom Bury and an under-performing Blackburn Rovers at Gigg Lane is the first such meeting in 37 years, a longer period of time than either I or my brother, a Rovers fan, have been alive and we will both be there to witness that moment. It also represents a rare ‘home’ match for me – to put it into context, on the last occasion I was there, a certain Leon Clarke adorned the pitch… for Coventry City!

I never envisaged the two sides meeting in the same division, especially not growing up. Even at the Shakers’ modern zenith between 1997 and 1999, the closest they came to competing with their Lancashire neighbours was when there was a slither of hope for Bury to survive relegation from the second tier on the final day… but that wasn’t to be and had a similar fate fell on the visitors tomorrow under the ‘leadership’ of Brian Kidd. In many ways, it is ‘just’ another match but it is one I am relishing despite morale amongst supporters (and seemingly the players, too) plumbing new depths. It might not happen again for another 37 if fortunes don’t improve in the near future for the hosts.

At the time of writing, Ryan Lowe is still in caretaker charge. His hand was severely weakened by the FA Cup capitulation to Woking on Tuesday and he cannot escape the blame entirely for it. The local paper’s interview with chairman Stewart Day hinted that a new man could be in post for Saturday but I think at this stage, that’s doubtful. The anger is still palpable and the very least that is required by around 16:55 tomorrow is a sense that the side fought for every ball possible. Even the form at home has been dreadful for a year and a solution is required urgently to rectify that.

Tony Mowbray’s charges have not quite had things all their own way. I, along with many other would-be pundits, predicted a promotion challenge for the 1994/1995 Premier League champions to return to the second tier at the first time of asking. It would be an exaggeration to suggest that the door is even ajar at that prospect but the consistency of results required to be in the mix has not been there besides a four-match spell in August and September after recovering from losing their first two in encounters they were heavy favourites for. They haven’t won away on the road in any competition since that winning streak and the former Celtic manager is keen to guard against any complacency from his own players and a potential backlash from Bury.

vs Blackburn H 1718

In his damning post-match interview in midweek, Lowe was asked if he was considering a change in shape that could be a closer match for his attacking philosophy – part of the question mentioned ‘4-4-2’ and he shot back unprompted with ‘4-2-3-1′, so there’s every possibility that the five-man defence could be ditched. Not a single player who featured in Tuesday’s shambles emerged with any credit to their name whatsoever, so I would anticipate several changes being made to personnel.

Target man Michael Smith had yet another torrid time in front of goal, fluffing several chances once again. With him in the side, it’s harder to play a quicker tempo and one of the hallmarks of recent displays is a ponderously slow build-up when on the attack, even when numbers have been in the Shakers’ favour.

The main defensive issue has simply been not performing as a unit. The away side possess several players who like to make late, supporting runs in the final third, so the organisation of his compatriots by stand-in captain Phil Edwards needs to be much improved. Both teams are likely to play narrowly (full-backs excepted), so the middle of the park will be congested. For once, there is probably more bite in midfield in Bury’s but don’t let that fool you into thinking they’ll have an easy time of it. The synchronicity between Callum Reilly and Neil Danns needs to be spot on if the men in black and red aren’t going to be completely dominant in possession. They will also need to help out more when there’s a turnover in deep areas, especially given Tom Aldred and Edwards’ lack of speed.

Chris Humphrey could be restored to the lineup to give nominal width in the outside space. Whether his crosses will still be aimed at Smith or the more diminutive figure of Nicky Ajose remains to be seen. Two players who have certainly not lived up to their billing are Jay O’Shea and Chris Maguire. On their day, they are amongst the best in the league but seldom has that been true in the white and royal blue. A triumvirate with Ajose on paper looks both threatening and dynamic, which would be a signal of Lowe’s intent to win the match rather than simply limit the damage Blackburn can inflict.

Blackburn vs Bury A 1718

David Raya likes to throw the ball long to the marauding full-backs Derrick Williams and Paul Caddis (the latter of whom stated today that he ‘enjoyed’ his stint in the southern part of Lancashire last season). Neither of them are especially quick but are surprisingly good in the air and are adept at putting in accurate balls into the box. Captain Charlie Mulgrew has had plenty of joy from direct free-kicks this campaign, so Bury have to be watchful of conceding silly fouls in front of their own penalty area. He is also very comfortable with the ball at his feet in open play and has the ability to orchestrate attacks with his accurate long passing. Paul Downing, on loan from division rivals MK Dons, is very combative in the air.

Richard Smallwood will sit not too far ahead of the defensive line and he will seek to intercept any through balls to Ajose with his excellent positioning. He isn’t the speediest in a foot race but that’s not necessary in his role if more often than not, you have the intelligence to be in the correct place. He is aggressive in the tackle (sometimes a touch too ferocious) but his steel allows individuals such as Peter Whittingham to play expansively with fewer worries about having to devote too much time to assisting in the transitional phase. The 33 year-old playmaker is a class above and his excellent all-round creativity has helped massively in keeping Rovers on the front foot.

Marcus Antonsson has divided his duties between playing as a striker and a more supportive role on the left of an attacking midfield three. Each of his strikes in the league have come at the far post, so he represents another huge threat if allowed to drift into the danger zone unchecked. Bradley Dack has found his niche at Ewood Park, recapturing the form that saw him crowned Player of the Season in 2015/2016 for Gillingham. His talents have never been in question, just his attitude… but he seems to have put that perception to bed. His movement off the ball will cause plenty of anxiety and he can be deadly on it, too.

Elliott Bennett needs little introduction. He was part of the oh-so-nearly side from 2008/2009, where his wing play, work rate and chance creation made him a firm favourite whilst on a season-long loan. His career hit the buffers whilst at Norwich City (owing to persistent injuries) but he has largely remained free from spells on the treatment table in the blue and white of Blackburn. If he can find a yard of space in behind Greg Leigh, don’t bet against him adding to his assists tally.

There has been growing clamour from the Rovers faithful to see Joe Nuttall start a league match. The youngster has been hugely impressive in the Premier League 2 (a reminder that the underage sections of the club remain probably their most impressive part of the setup) since making his way south from Aberdeen, scoring 10 goals in just eight outings. Mowbray has granted their wish and he has netted in the last several senior games. The temptation must be there for him to be named from the outset against a defence that might cope better with the experienced, slower Danny Graham. His stock is continuing to rise and I’d be gobsmacked if he didn’t feature tomorrow.

As for a prediction, I’m going to suggest that a modicum of pride is restored in terms of the performance but not the scoreline for the hosts with a 3-1 defeat. The opposing team’s quality shines throughout the ranks and it’s difficult to envisage most of them being shackled or having off-days. The home players must show that their ineptitude in midweek was a nadir that won’t be repeated. The challenge tomorrow is steep and things won’t get any easier in the short-term. Points need to be ground out from somewhere but I sadly can’t see that occurring when I’m there in person.


Bury 0-3 Woking (Replay): A Craven, Howling Shambles

  • First of all, it would be totally remiss of me not to congratulate the superb showing by a Woking side who I knew would be up for the fight, just as they had ably demonstrated in the first meeting. Yes, their task was made easier for them by a Bury outfit who turned in perhaps the worst cup ‘performance’ at Gigg Lane for decades. Take nothing away from them though. Inih Effiong once again had the opposing centre backs all over the place, Regan Charles-Cook and Joe Ward found space time and time again in behind the wing-backs with incisive, counter-attacking football. There was even time near the death for substitute Jamie Philpot to repeat his goalscoring exploits from the original encounter in Surrey. They defended as a team, passed the ball in midfield with purpose and gave a harsh lesson in finishing to Michael Smith in particular. The target man hit the woodwork twice and was left to curse his misfortune. Peterborough or Tranmere Rovers await the Cards and based on their two displays against the Shakers, you wouldn’t bet against them progressing to the third round.


  • Turning the focus back inwards, I have stated before on these pages that the supporters have been extremely patient. The ‘line’ where despondency turns to vitriol was crossed last night and justifiably so. Whilst I don’t condone booing or abuse hurled players’ way, the frustration has been building for months and the meek surrender yet again in the first round of the FA Cup was the catalyst for cries of “you’re not fit to wear the shirt” and “you’re only here for the money”, the latter of which is unprecedented at any Bury game. I have been an advocate in spite of the weight of evidence against most of the individuals’ talents to date. The time has now come for them to repay the faith shown in them by Ryan Lowe (and the previous incumbent) in bringing them to the club. Many of those in question were signed in the close season with well-earned reputations and they are currently letting the supporters down. The women’s side and the U18s would have turned in better displays and that’s not being disparaging to either group as they are excelling in their respective leagues.


  • Lowe himself cannot completely escape criticism, however. Whilst he is correct to say there’s only so much he can do in terms of tactics, team selection and shape, I don’t think that a 3-5-2 with Phil Edwards at right wing-back plays to his strengths at all. Additionally, the continued selection of Smith and drafting in Nathan Cameron were both costly mistakes. The passing (when it did reach another white shirt) was ponderous and predictable, which almost always allowed Anthony Limbrick’s charges to get back in numbers into their set positions. ‘Passion’ and ‘pride’ are arbitrary, overrated qualities in footballers but on the other hand, a modicum of both are required at this moment in time from the men on the pitch as it’s likely they have just cost the caretaker his shot at becoming permanent manager.


  • Where do they go from here? The scenario that seems likeliest to me now, particularly after chairman Stewart Day’s statement this morning, is that the recruitment process for a new manager is expedited and I would expect that new person to be in post after the Shrewsbury Town game. They will find a playing squad whose abilities are being called into serious question from within and without, out of both major cups yet again at the first hurdle and doubtlessly still bottom or very close to it in League One. The portents are unfavourable and the challenge seems increasingly arduous but not yet insurmountable. For all the anger I and many other people share at the time of writing, things can still be turned around. The next appointment is crucial to perhaps even the survival of the club and I fear the disruptive churn seen for the past four years will continue regardless of their identity.

Gillingham 1-1 Bury: Review

  • Neil Danns followed up a man-of-the-match showing in the midweek EFL Trophy match against Stoke City U23s with another strong performance away at Gillingham on Saturday. His power, coupled with Rohan Ince’s height and physicality, really had their opposite numbers on the run in the first half and it was noticeable how the home side, already in the ascendancy in the second period, found more time and space on the ball in midfield once he had been taken off (presumably because he started consecutive games after a long time in the doldrums). The manner in which he just about stayed onside, checking his run from Eoghan O’Connell’s delightful through ball from the back, was pleasing to see, as was his decision to shoot across goal for the opener. He has been previously maligned by former management and many fans and it will take more than one or two good games to rectify perceptions. However, his interview after the game was very open and honest and it certainly shed some light on events at the club. That dynamism will be needed for the FA Cup replay tomorrow against a Woking side with nothing to lose.


  • Michael Smith once again fluffed his lines but there are a lack of reinforcements currently available; Jermaine Beckford did not make the squad, caretaker manager Ryan Lowe is unlikely to select himself and Chris Maguire is probably not seen as someone who leads the line, rightly or wrongly. Presentable chances came both his and Nicky Ajose’s way but they didn’t make the most of them. The latter has proven throughout his career that, given sustained runs in a side, he can score a good amount of goals. Smith has yet to prove that and with a more dynamic-looking midfield behind him, all of a sudden, his role looks a little one-paced and perhaps not the right fit at the moment.


  • The marking for Josh Parker’s goal was slack, regardless of whether it was Greg Leigh or Smith’s duty. The number of late goals conceded must be a cause for concern for Lowe and it’s difficult to suggest that it’s down to one factor alone. The Gills dominated for large swathes of the second half, thanks in part to the introduction of Conor Wilkinson alongside the hustle of Tom Eaves, who has developed significantly his all-round game since his loan spell with the Shakers several years ago. Wilkinson put the defenders under significant pressure and his positive attitude caused problems whilst also giving his teammates another outlet to aim for.


  • Plymouth Argyle’s highly surprising win at Bradford City means Bury are now bottom of the league for the first time in 2017/2018… but I don’t think it’s time to panic. Strides forward have been made under Lowe’s stewardship and whilst that shouldn’t be taken as an endorsement at this moment in time for the permanent gig, it should nevertheless be recognised. Three tough home matches in a week give him a chance to rotate some of his selections, with tomorrow’s replay the only one in which they are expected to win. Any kind of result against both Blackburn Rovers and high-flying Shrewsbury Town, especially if performances levels are as they have been in the last two games, should bolster his case. Perhaps more experience is required in the coaching setup itself but if the players keep responding to his leadership, morale could be negatively affected by an external appointment, especially if that person chooses to terminate his contract.

Gillingham vs Bury: Preview

Ryan Lowe’s Bury will travel to the vital clash at the MEMS Priestfield Stadium tomorrow buoyed by their performance in the EFL Trophy on Wednesday to face a Gillingham side utterly revitalised under their own caretaker manager in Steve Lovell. The Kent outfit ran out winners against Reading U23s in a bizarre 12-goal thriller where it is reasonable to say that neither goalkeeper covered themselves in any glory whatsoever.

The Gills will of course field a much-changed XI in the knowledge that a positive result will almost certainly see them leap out of the drop-zone where prior to Lovell’s arrival, they appeared to be doomed to remain. Their start to the season was even worse than the Shakers’ own, taking until mid-September to win a match in the league and playing a style of football colloquially known as Pennockball in ‘honour’ of their much-derided boss at the time. His decision to terminate highly-rated Josh Wright’s contract sat extremely unfavourably with the vast majority of supporters and coupled with the dour, conservative tactics and woeful results, it was little surprise that his services were dispensed with. The then-Director of Football (and my namesake) Peter Taylor took the reins for several weeks but he too was cast aside in what must be one of the few instances of a caretaker getting sacked!

Thankfully for the fans, Lovell has masterminded a turnaround in form, winning four of his six matches in charge and is only interested in taking over on a permanent basis. Chairman Paul Scally appears to have dithered in offering him the role on those terms but he would be foolish to look elsewhere. With a squad that is fairly limited on paper, he has crafted a team that has become much harder to beat but one that also plays to the individual strengths found within and a greater sense of freedom.

Gillingham vs Bury H 1718.PNG

The lack of available, experienced centre backs could mean that Lovell favours a four-man defence. Gabriel Zakuani is away on international duty with DR Congo where a slither of a chance remains for them to qualify for next year’s World Cup. Ben Nugent and the talented Alex Lacey are a couple of weeks away from returning to first team action.

Tomáš Holý has certainly proven his credentials as the number one choice between the sticks in recent games but he has a tendency to rush out of his goal to act as the last defender and it will hopefully be something that Lowe looks to target. Connor Oglivie will be asked to tuck in at left-sided centre back to partner Max Ehmer but has limited gametime performing this role as a two and they might miss his crossing ability as a result. Luke O’Neill is more at home bombing up and down the right flank but the scarcity of options in defence, coupled with the form of one-time Bury loanee Sean Clare on that side, might mean he starts at left-back. He will provide most of the width on that channel but will almost always take a moment to work the ball onto his favoured foot. Clare has been a revelation on the right and arguably Gills’ most reliable creative outlet, so his contest with Greg Leigh should be an interesting and keenly fought one.

There’s a slid look to the midfield three behind captain and dead-ball specialist Lee Martin. Mark Byrne is the most cautious-minded of the trio and will act as a screen to the centre backs when possession is turned over high up the pitch. He will also mop up high balls all afternoon long and manages to stay on his feet when making crunching tackles more often than not and both his speed and agility help him cover ground in the middle quickly. Jake Hessenthaler is an all-round midfielder without a particular specialism, so he will keep things ticking over and go wherever he’s needed the most within the context of the match. Scott Wagstaff is a player I like as his work rate is equalled by his effectiveness both aerially and where he positions himself. He will aid Clare and Elliott List whenever possible to create overloads down the visitors’ generally weaker left channel.

Martin will get forward to join the front two of List (who badly needs a goal) and Tom Eaves, who has been one of the more consistent performers over the course of the campaign for the Gills. The attacking midfielder is quite aggressive when challenging for possession but he will be a good target to aim for from crosses if the more natural choice of the leading goalscorer with six is crowded out. Eaves’ abilities are obvious and he will be tough to deal with regardless of who lines up against him. His normal strike partner Conor Wilkinson might only be available from the bench and so some of the onus will fall on List, who has been impressive with little to show for it thus far after perhaps being surprisingly retained by Pennock in the summer. He’s blessed with plenty of pace but he has been at pains to stress that he has more to him than just that and he will doubtlessly get opportunities to prove as such.

vs Gillingham A 1718

Lowe has two unexpected dilemmas in terms of formation and team selection: does he look for symmetry with the likely shape Lovell will put out, relying on the more established names to prove their worth or does he take inspiration from the quality display in midweek where the midfield three looked like a coherent unit and Nicky Ajose, in from the frozen wasteland, gave easily his best performance yet in his third loan spell? In true Bury fashion, I think he’ll go for a mish-mash.

Joe Murphy is out until at least Christmas with… something, so Leo Fasan will continue deputising. Leigh effectively picks himself at the moment as Joe Skarz is not ready to return to action. Nathan Cameron is more likely to be risked against relegation rivals than in the FA Cup replay on Tuesday against Woking and I anticipate that he will partner Eoghan O’Connell, who shackled Saido Berahino so well as to make him anonymous whilst also wearing the captain’s armband for the evening. On the right is a three-way fight between Phil Edwards, Jordan Williams (who certainly did much better than on Sunday) and Craig Jones, back from his latest stint on the treatment table. Again, I can see the latter being sent out to battle for potential passage to a home tie in the second round and Lowe might prefer Edwards’ conservatism given some of the other individuals likely to feature.

Rohan Ince was one of a cohort of players who appeared much more like the person I thought Bury were getting when he signed on loan and will need to keep Martin’s runs firmly in check. Callum Reilly seemed to enjoy the greater freedom the double screening of Ince and Neil Danns afforded him but he will have more defensive responsibility, especially if the Lancashire outfit are outnumbered in the middle as I suspect. Danny Mayor and Jay O’Shea were rested completely in midweek and the latter’s greater consistency over the last month should see him get the nod over Chris Maguire. Both will cut inside to support their teammates deeper in midfield, as well as Ajose and Jermaine Beckford.

It will be difficult for the caretaker manager to ignore the display of the Charlton Athletic loanee and if the greater emphasis on quick passing to feet is replicated, it will play much more to his strengths than Michael Smith’s. He deserves a chance at forging a partnership with Beckford and I’m intrigued to see how they can link up together over a sustained period of time and how Ajose’s runs into the half-space can bring inside forwards like Mayor to prominence.

As for a prediction, I think this is the time when the long, winless run away from home in League One is ended. It will be a struggle to come out on top but the players must believe in their ability to do just that, both for themselves and to preserve Lowe’s status at the helm and strengthen his case for the gig. I’m going for 2-1 to the Shakers in a more open contest than would’ve been the case had Pennock and Lee Clark still been in the dugouts!






Will the Last Person to Leave Gigg Lane Please Turn Off the Lights

Apologies to the faint of heart (or, well, any Bury fan at the moment) for the ghoulish image but it seemed apt for the time of year!

Bury’s disastrous, howling shambles of a season lurched to a new level of bleakness on Saturday with perhaps the most lifeless, gutless, spineless performance seen by the hosts at Gigg Lane this century (despite numerous, extremely stiff competition in that regard), especially given the now dire standing in the league table after 16 games. Only Plymouth Argyle are keeping the Shakers from propping up the division and even their results have been more encouraging recently. The players appeared shockingly low on confidence and simply had no clue how to set about the task of overcoming Doncaster Rovers even before Jermaine Beckford’s injury and Eoghan O’Connell’s deserved red card after being utterly bamboozled by John Marquis.

Admittedly, being a man down for an entire half would be a tough ask for any side but thanks to Clark’s lack of tactical nous, they never even laid a glove on Donny and when the inevitable winner came from a set piece, it prompted an exodus from the stadium and belatedly, chants calling for the manager to be removed from his post came from the contingent still present against their better judgement. Supporters have in fact been very patient and are not apt to blithely vent their anger mere games into a new chief’s tenure. 19 matches into 2017/2018 and the current incumbent’s record reads:

Won 4, Drawn 3, Lost 12, For 18, Against 29

Relative to any other manager in my 24 years of following the club, he has been backed in the transfer market more than any of them and yet has led his charges to a lower position than when he was appointed. The squad as a collective must shoulder some of the blame for their predicament but I would hypothetically swap Clark for any other permanent manager during those nearly two and a half decades of support.

  • Mike Walsh made some astute signings but ultimately led Bury to play-off final failure, a match so bad for anyone donning the white and royal blue that a fox running onto the old Wembley pitch was the highlight of the day. He failed to recover from that ‘hangover’ and was sacked after suffering a 5-0 reverse at home against Plymouth.


  • His replacement, Stan Ternent, was not exactly welcomed with any pomp and ceremony… but the rest is history.


  • Neil Warnock made many, many huge missteps (especially with signings and donning attire of certain other clubs during his time), but his sides were generally hard to beat, if bereft of goals and invention. He resigned to take over at Sheffield United in the least surprising managerial move I can recall.


  • Andy Preece had a penchant of throwing himself on whilst player-manager in the dying minutes to ensure he drew the maximum salary from the club. He had a tough job (especially during administration). Ultimately, he was let go because of cost-cutting measures but he came back to haunt his former employers on several occasions with Carlisle United.


  • Graham Barrow was exactly what Rochdale fans at the time warned he would be: a long-ball merchant but without the results to back up his tactics and the football served up was generally dour. He did oversee the emergence of talent like David Nugent and Colin Kazim-Richards into the senior setup on a regular basis. A single win in the first 10 of 2005/2006 sealed his fate, however.


  • Chris Casper was someone I wanted to do well. Praised for his work with the U18s, he was promoted to stewardship of the first team. A comeback 3-2 victory against now-defunct Darlington ensured Bury’s 114-year league status was preserved but not without a point being deducted for fielding an ineligible player. This ‘feat’ was repeated a season later in the FA Cup, which meant the Shakers were denied a place in the third round. Nobly, he offered to resign but this was rejected by the board at the time. Bizarrely, his contract was extended after a long, winless run in March 2007. In an ironic twist, he was sacked before a replay against Norwich City at Gigg Lane, which shockingly, they won to secure passage to the fourth round.


  • Alan Knill did not deliver the success he ought to have done. Given every backing by the board, he rallied his troops upon his appointment to an almost unthinkable 13th place in less than four months, playing an enterprising, attacking 4-4-2 shape in almost every single encounter. The following season, a deviation in the closing stages from his oft-repeated ‘if you can’t win, don’t lose’ maxim might have yielded the points and/or goals necessary to achieve promotion. In the end, they fell short by a goal difference of one when parity would’ve made all the difference. One of the most-one sided play-off semi second legs ended in the most gut-wrenching of penalty shoot-out defeats. A total collapse in form from February 2010 onwards meant the Shakers missed out on the play-offs altogether. He jumped ship the following year at a similar interval to Scunthorpe United.


  • Richie Barker is still the most ‘successful’ man in post since Stan Ternent. Doubtlessly with the help of senior players like Efe Sodje and Ryan Lowe, he took the shell-shocked group to at one point within a whisker of the League Two title, securing promotion at eventual champions Chesterfield on their turf. Arguably, he had his legs cut from under him by the transfer deadline day sale of Lowe to Sheffield Wednesday in the subsequent campaign but free agents such as Mike Grella steadied the ship when the goals and points were drying up. A finish of 14th (goal difference from top half) remains the highest placing since relegation from the second tier in 1998/1999. He left to take over the then-cash rich Crawley Town on the eve of the new season.


  • Kevin Blackwell was extremely difficult to like when in post, but if Barker had his legs cut off him by the board, he had his hands amputated as well. It was a common sight for the bench to only have two from a possible seven on it and the Shakers were relegated with a winding-up petition against them. This was the point when Stewart Day took over and a whole slew of signings were made in a late close season rush. Many of them were found to be sub-standard and he was relieved of his post. He had roughly the same record as Clark now does…


  • David Flitcroft was a bit of a Marmite character. Under him, there were plenty of highs but also some frightening depths. He secured promotion in his first full season but was unable to really kick on despite some of the players he was allowed to sign. His inability to find an effective plan ‘b’ when hampered by injuries was what I believe sealed his fate and the 5-0 drubbing by AFC Wimbledon in the FA Cup made it impossible for Day not to sack him despite the public vote of confidence he received a week prior.


All of the above, with the obvious exception of Ternent, had major flaws of at least one sort of another but in spite of that, I would swap him for any of the others on that list. Not even Flitcroft was endorsed so much by Day as Clark has been when it comes to shaping his own squad and backroom staff. That of course makes it harder in some ways for him to be disposed of and I’m sure the injury (and eventual return) of Stephen Dawson will massively help give a stagnant midfield a boost. However, he has not demonstrated whatsoever even an inkling of an ability to get the most out of what I still maintain is the most talented roster since the time of ‘Stan the Man’, nor did he recruit when he had the chance for the contingency of Dawson being unavailable. The conservatism on display betrays where many of the players’ strengths and whilst there are areas of concern (which I’ll touch on in another post), he’s currently making a mockery of what ought to have been the best season in 20 years and it would only have needed a finish of 13th or higher to achieve that. My own pre-season prediction was relatively cautious amongst both the fanbase and pundits at large.

I take no pleasure in wanting someone to lose their job. That said, the time is now for a replacement to be found. Now whilst the likes of Chris Maguire, Jay O’Shea and Harry Bunn are still on the books. Now whilst there’s a decent chance of at least getting to the next round in two cup competitions. Now whilst Bury are not yet hopelessly cut adrift at the bottom of the league. The financial penalties will be large for making the decision but they will be even worse if the current course is continued. When even season ticket holders in large numbers are staying away from Gigg Lane, Day must be keenly aware of the precarious situation he finds himself in.