Tag: matchreviews

Forest Green Rovers 0-1 Plymouth Argyle: Review

In my first ever trip to the New Lawn, I was witness to an entertaining but not shot-filled match between two ‘Green Armies’ in League Two. Were Plymouth Argyle deserved winners over then-leaders Forest Green Rovers? Read on to find out…

Taking my seat at the back of the West Stand near the players’ tunnel gave me a great view of the pitch, plus the body language of all the personnel at different intervals of the match. Plymouth manager Ryan Lowe was exuding positivity as he nearly always does in public, doubtlessly buoyed by the triumph the previous week over Bolton Wanderers in the FA Cup.

Just the one change from my predicted lineups and shapes in total – Joe Edwards was still at right wing-back (with Joe Riley on the bench), so Josh Grant got the nod at the base of the black and green central midfield. As expected, the majority of the opening exchanges in the first 10 minutes were down Forest Green’s right, and it looked for a time as though that would be the key battleground.

Beyond that area, the wider centre backs for Argyle were hitting balls early into the channels, looking for the runs of forwards Joel Grant and Byron Moore to beat any offside trap the compact hosts would attempt to spring. In truth, this strategy wasn’t working as planned. Not much was sticking to Moore, and Joel Grant was spending the majority of the time facing away from goal, holding onto possession for as long as he could in the hope of some more sprightly support from midfield.

Returning back to that flank, Callum McFadzean mistimed a header on the counter, but used his speed to recover extremely quickly, blocking a shot from Aaron Collins inside his own area after running way more than half the length of the pitch to atone for his error, As time ticked by though, there was less focus on that side, and the Nailsworth outfit were looking more centrally to try to bypass the opposition’s middle third. A further tame header on the 20th minute from Collins was the sum total of the table-toppers’ efforts in the first 45.

Instead, it was Lowe’s charges who grabbed the opener; a corner was worked short to Antoni Sarcevic, who was allowed to run laterally across the edge of the area unimpeded, bending an effort that might’ve taken a slight deflection during its travel into the far corner of the goal; the scorer celebrated in front of the travelling horde of Pilgrims with a knee slide (I just missed capturing that on camera!).

There wasn’t much more action in the first period, but what was becoming apparent was that Edwards kept sitting narrow on the right even with the ball, and his compatriot on the opposite wing was causing some concern for the medical staff, going down twice in the 45 with an apparent injury. Luckily, it was nothing serious, but he didn’t reemerge for the second period.

Forest Green had taken things up to second gear in injury time, and I’d have been intrigued to have been in Mark Cooper’s dressing room during the interlude. A lot of what he’d instructed his side to do had worked – they’d nullfied their adversaries’ forwards in open play, Danny Mayor was shut down after a promising beginning to the fixture, and they were making Josh Grant work hard to recover possession in front of the Plymouth triumvirate in defence.

All that said, they needed to show a bit more adventure being a goal down, and McFadzean’s substitution ought to have handed them that. Riley came on in his place, which meant that Edwards shifted to the left. Immediately, I’d have made that wide space the focus of the Gloucestershire club’s forays forward – not because Edwards was a weak link, but simply because they could’ve sprang lots of two-on-one situations against a player who was distinctly right-footed, had a tendency to drift inside (like Mayor in front of him), and who had very little prior experience in that role. Indeed, Liam Shephard did initially look to exploit the gaps, but his crossing choices were woeful when he had the time and space to make more use of his new-found freedom.

The visitors’ own attacks weren’t finding their mark, either. When Moore and Joel Grant weren’t cut off completely, they had a tendency to operate in the same five yards, which meant there was seldom anyone to look for in the penalty area. Added to that, a series of sliced clearances from their teammates further back was putting them under unnecessary pressure, and Forest Green again stepped up their urgency in response, especially after Niall Canavan’s free header went wide.

The best move Forest Green made was with 25 minutes left on the clock. A great lay-off in the form of a cushioned header by Stevens was narrowly missed on the half-volley by Glasgow Celtic loanee Jack Aitchison. Had it been on target, it would’ve been the equaliser – Alex Palmer was rooted to the spot.

Shortly afterwards, Riley also went off injured, which meant another big switch-around for Lowe and assistant Steven Schumacher to contend with. Dom Telford, the former Bury striker, was introduced, which meant shifting Moore to right wing-back. I’m sure Moore himself would be the first to admit he’s not the most dogged defender; if he was deployed there for the Shakers, it usually meant they were the ones chasing the game, not the opposition.

Neverthless, a cleverly worked indirect free-kick by Sarcevic was almost converted by Telford via a flicked header backwards, proving once more that what he lacks in stature he makes up for in surprising aerial ability. The former’s game management was helping the visitors from Devon at least partially prevent wave after wave of lime green and black bursts forward in the last 20 minutes, which went a long way to confirming his deserved man of the match award (from an away perspective).

Although Forest Green were dominating possession in the closing 10 minutes, it never felt for me as though they had the nous to carve out a clear-cut chance. The back three they were facing defended stoutly, and the belated presence of Joel Taylor holding the ball up as far from Palmer’s goalmouth as possible ate up precious seconds for something to spark for their opponents.

Only with five minutes remaining did Cooper make a substitution, but it had little effect on the outcome. The closest his troops came to netting an equaliser was in injury time. A scuffed clearance by Scott Wootton, who’d otherwise barely put a foot wrong all game, resulted in a second successive corner. The ball seemed to ping about in the area, and a goal-bound effort from Shephard was stopped by Moore’s knee of all things.  Referee Sam Purkiss promptly cautioned Palmer for wasting time, which did little to relieve the ire he’d been subjected to from sections of the home crowd.

The final whistle sounded, and Forest Green were no longer top. In truth, for as much as praise can be given for their shape and thwarting of Plymouth’s threats in open play, they never truly looked like getting back into it; perhaps the late, single sub was an indication of the paucity of options in the squad to change the game, or a show of faith by Cooper in the starting XI to break down Argyle’s resistance.

For Lowe and Schumacher’s part, they’ll be pleased with a positive defensive showing, but will hope that Riley’s injury matches McFadzean’s in its short length out of contention. They now have a platform from which to ascend the standings further, and it’s unlikely their future opposition will be quite so compact on their own turf.

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Bristol Rovers 2-2 Portsmouth: Review

If you read my preview, you’d know that my expectations from the match yesterday at the Memorial Stadium had significantly diminished in the absence of Bristol Rovers’ star striker Jonson Clarke-Harris. Portsmouth also came into the encounter severely under-performing in League One this season, with manager Kenny Jackett the subject of plenty of vitriol from supporters.

I took my seat high up in the Poplar Insulation Stand, which gave me a perfect vantage point to see the tactical battle play out in a ground full of character.

Open the image in a new tab and remove WordPress’ compressed dimensions to see the panoramic view of the Mem in its true glory

There was one change apiece from my predicted lineups for the two sides; the much-maligned Tom Nichols was relegated to the bench in favour of Tyler Smith. For Pompey, Ronan Curtis was drafted in on the left of the attacking midfield trio.

An early thrust down the right was a false dawn for The Gas, who looked utterly toothless up top after that fleeting moment, and the visitors were more than content to have their double pivot in midfield sit quite close to the back four, lapping up the powder-puff ambles into their territory, then quickly turning them into a counter. Oddly, despite Rovers’ conservatism, they’d often find themselves outnumbered in these situations.

As it was, the opening goal came from a contentious penalty decision. A move that began with a short free-kick was eventually directed into the home area and helped on by Ronan Curtis into the path of John Marquis ended with the latter seeming to go down from a push. I didn’t believe in real time that it was so clear-cut, and even slowing things down on the highlights makes it seem as though he made the most of things. Nevertheless, Gareth Evans stepped up to convert, giving Pirates chief Graham Coughlan a tactical quandary with 81 minutes still on the clock.

The problems were plain for all to see. With no focal point in the forward positions, the long balls to the front line were swallowed up. A lack of movement and positive intent in midfield magnified this, and in turn made the back three pass it across in the desperate hope that someone in advance of them would actively seek out possession.

The pattern kept repeating itself. Abu Ogogo, eventual recipient of the man of the match award, thwarted several breaks by his opponents, but couldn’t prevent further presentable chances from being created. Anssi Jaakkola kept the disparity to just a single goal almost single-handedly in the first period. Portsmouth’s height advantage was very telling in both open and dead ball situations, and every opportunity possible was sought from which to cross to the far post from both flanks.

The half-time whistle sounded, and at that juncture, I was sure Coughlan would have to do something drastic to shake off the malaise that was swirling around the ground along with the inclement weather, but there was no evidence of any changes as play resumed. Pompey hadn’t got out of second gear, but neither had they seemed capable of it on the evidence thus far.

Again, the diminutive statures of the hosts were costing them dear. The ball kept bouncing over captain Ollie Clarke and Ogogo’s heads, putting pressure on their teammates to step out of their low line to cut out the understated threats in grey. On the occasions they would stem the tide and attempt to take the game to the Hampshire outfit, they simply wouldn’t get close enough to their strikers, whose body language was getting visibly worse as time wore on, reflecting the frustrations felt in the crowd around me.

There seemed to be no way back to parity when on the 70th minute mark, Portsmouth got their second. A woeful clearance on Rovers’ left flank meekly surrendered possession in a dangerous area. Marquis turned creator, putting in a cross for Curtis to head in unmarked. They hadn’t to work too diligently for their two-goal lead, and a repeat of the scoreline suffered on Tuesday at the hands of Bolton Wanderers looked on the cards.

To Coughlan’s belated credit, the switches he made from that moment on had the desired effect. Liam Sercombe’s return to at least partial match fitness was timely. A free kick minutes later resulted in some pinball in Pompey’s area. Right wing-back Alex Rodman made the very most of the loose ball to lash it into the unguarded net. Subsequently, Tony Craig was withdrawn for Mark Little, allowing Rodman to push up into a midfield four. Kyle Bennett was also introduced, providing a brief but important link between the lines.

Jackett, whether he hadn’t anticipated the onslaught or felt powerless to react to it, paid the price with that reluctance in the dying embers. Despite the aforementioned physical disadvantage in set plays, the Gas profited once more from them, and the ball was forced over the line by a combination of Ross McCrorie and goalkeeper Craig MacGillivray to send the hapless duo to the floor almost immediately after the final whistle along with the rest of the XI.

The home players applaud the crowd after a hard-earned point…

The majority of the 8.648 in attendance left relatively happy whilst full in the knowledge that their side cannot always rely on either a big mistake or a lucky happenstance from a set piece. The onus needs to be on Coughlan to be more positive in home matches from the outset. As for Portsmouth, this was another two points dropped in a soporific season to date – on paper and in person, they should be doing far better even whilst a nagging feeling persists that they’re playing within themselves. They were the better team but did not ‘batter’ Bristol Rovers by any means.


Bury 4-3 Milton Keynes Dons: Review, And Some Words of Cautious Optimism

Football. Bloody hell.

As regular readers will know, I don’t get up to south Lancashire very often. Indeed, my ‘annual pilgrimage’ normally has to suffice, as well as a handful of away trips local to my current place of abode. This can sometimes make me feel a little disconnected from the rest of the Bury fanbase, but Saturday’s match against promotion rivals Milton Keynes Dons went quite some distance to rectifying that.

repurposed industry.JPG
Making my way to the stadium through some back roads unfamiliar even to me as someone who used to frequent the town once a fortnight for longer than 10 years, I got the sense that it’s on the cusp of slowly transforming, much the football club, from the old to the new, exemplified above by the repurposed mill on Wellington Street

I forwent the opportunity to explore the town centre in order to meet up at the Social Club with people more recognisable to me by their online handles on Twitter or the message board than their real names, and I could belatedly give depth to them in the flesh. My friend Andy Ashworth, someone who gave me no small amount of support during my non-football related depression last season, introduced me to fellow imbibers in the bustling sports bar (given a new lease of life under Steve Dale) as the person behind this blog, and the reactions were truly heartwarming. His father Cliff joined us a little later on, and upon making my acquaintance took my hand and shook it, praising my work. I must confess that it meant a little more coming from a man who’s undoubtedly experienced many things, and been witness to almost all of the highs and many lows in the club’s modern history.

Why am I mentioning this, you might ask? For various reasons, going to matches has been quite a solitary affair for me. Sometimes, I’ll travel with my dad-in-law, but as a lapsed (and priced out) Arsenal fan, his interest is more in the quality of the fare on show, rather than the day-to-day machinations of the Shakers, so mentioning the strengths and weaknesses of players or the ‘heavy metal’ system Ryan Lowe has employed in 2018/2019 that he doesn’t see in some form week in, week out, can be a little lost in translation.


I took my seat in the South Stand, not far from where I used to hold a season ticket with my mum all the way through the Icarus-esque rise and fall during the mid-90s to mid-00s, and even before kick off, the atmosphere was much more vocal than I’d become accustomed to throughout much of that period at Gigg Lane.

A cursory glance at the visitors’ teamsheet made it clear that Paul Tisdale wasn’t going to acquiesce to my preview, choosing to draft in Peter Pawlett behind the deadly duo of Chuks Aneke and Kieran Agard, instead of shoehorning him or one of the other forwards into the nominally left-sided role vacated by the (temporary) absence of Rhys Healey. Further back, he strangely opted for Joe Walsh over the recently impressive Mathieu Baudry, choosing to deploy the former in his first game for two months as the right-sided centre back, despite being predominantly left-footed.

The early minutes saw MK largely sit back and invite their hosts onto them in the hopes of using the pace of Agard on the counter. As early as the sixth minute, this strategy had to be tweaked a bit because of a hamstring injury to George Williams down the right flank. His replacement Conor McGrandles has taken on that position reasonably frequently during the current campaign, but I’d argue that forced substitution changed the tactical complexion of the encounter just as much as any subsequent to that. Good in the air as he was, he was largely penned in to his own half by the attacking proclivities of Callum McFadzean and Danny Mayor.

Bury’s shape in this picture gives you as good an indication as any of how Lowe sets the stall out – Will Aimson’s foot, which is just visible on the very left, shows how wide he roves to cover for Nicky Adams; normally, there are at least six outfielders ahead of the ball

Even so, the rest of the pitch had an open feel to it from the off, with Pawlett enjoying no shortage of room in which to manoeuver. Under a small amount of pressure from Agard, Chris Stokes made what turned out to be the first of several costly errors during the game, lumping the ball with his weaker out for the needless concession of a corner. A well-worked routine saw the returning Jordan Moore-Taylor climb highest of all to dispatch Jordan Houghton’s cross, drawing first blood for the Dons.

The goal only seemed to encourage an even more attack-minded approach for Bury, and it seemed as though they’d get their reward for beginning to pepper Lee Nicholls’ net when Jay O’Shea dusted himself down after Houghton’s clumsy challenge to take the penalty; although it was struck well, his opponent pulled off a superb save to ensure his side’s lead was preserved. Momentum was still mainly with the home side and by this point, the majority of the build-up play was squarely focused down the left flank. From another patient move to work the ball into the area, the Irish playmaker bravely stepped up to make amends just after the half-hour mark when captain Neil Danns went down a little dubiously adjacent to Walsh, who certainly had some justification for his protests when reviewing the highlights. Nevertheless, the spot kick was calmly guided into the far corner, and the Shakers were level… for all of three minutes.

Once more, the inability to defend from set pieces proved to be the BL9 outfit’s undoing. A throw-in was played to Agard, and his hold-up play invited Stokes to foul him, giving away another cheap chance for the side in red and gold to profit from… which they duly obliged. Dean Lewington, having much more success than his compatriot McGrandles, turned his hand (or, rather, foot) to expertly angling a tap back from Houghton into Joe Murphy’s far corner, which the latter could do little about, seeing the ball too late as it flew past the two-man wall.

After half-time, things became more desperate for Lowe. Lewington was allowed too much space to pick out a wicked cross by Nicky Adams, and with Agard waiting on the six-yard line to nod home, Stokes did the job for him. In his defence, he had to get something on it, as the striker was queued up right behind him. Facing towards your own goal with the pace of the ball as it was, it’s very difficult to steer it away from danger with your head. A dejected looking Stokes was summarily substituted, and he must be fearing for his starting place if Lowe was basing his judgement on that match alone.

Now 3-1 down, Lowe rolled the dice. On came the divisive Eoghan O’Connell for Danns, whose job was twofold: a) to sit a bit further back than his teammate had to deprive Pawlett of the ball, and b) when possession was regained, to pick out a white shirt with greater urgency than had hitherto been the case. Byron Moore’s introduction at the same time ensured the balance in defence wasn’t altered, with McFadzean, who has experience of centre back at former side Guiseley, tucking inside to accommodate the probing forays forward of Moore.

The effect wasn’t immediate, and it took a couple of timely interventions by Adam Thompson to keep the gap in the scoreline surmountable. Once that danger had ceased and an hour had elapsed, it was almost all Bury from then on. Pawlett’s withdrawal for Lawson D’Ath had no obvious positive effect on proceedings, and perhaps diminished the influence they had in midfield areas.

In a sign of what was to come, the uncontrollable Mayor flashed a presentable effort just wide. With less than 20 minutes remaining, the home support, which hadn’t given up hope of salvaging something from the game by any means, were able to cheer Dom Telford’s crucial strike to halve the deficit. Fed by O’Connell, the diminutive striker still had a lot to do, but his change of pace left Walsh unable to catch him as he drove towards the goal, angling a left-footed shot into the far corner. O’Connell, for his part, didn’t misplace a single one of his 26 passes after coming on.

The increasing hope in the stands was visibly translating itself onto the field, with goalscorer Telford calling for more noise. O’Connell strode forward, and tried to replicate his spectacular curling effort against Stevenage, but the flight of the ball was a touch too high. Then, it was Mayor’s turn to conjure up something special. Teed up by Moore’s backheel after a charge to the edge of the penalty area, the inside forward cut inside and took his shot a little earlier than is his custom, which went through the legs of Nicholls. It would be harsh to place much blame on the custodian for it, as he had little opportunity to anticipate the direction of the effort. 3-3, and already a classic.

It was at this point that Andy asked me whether I’d take the point as it stood, which I stated I would. Although I hadn’t seen the best of Agard or an off-colour Chuks Aneke, you write off MK Dons at your peril, even in an encounter they had largely been second best in on the overall balance of play. Osman Sow was called upon to add more physicality to their forward line in the dying minutes, with the defence now hitting it longer to stem the pressure they were under.

However, it was former Don Nicky Maynard who had the final say. Another quick ball into the area from O’Connell found its intended target, but the marksman could only conspire to somehow to poke wide when unmarked. It felt like that was the chance to fire Bury into what had appeared to be an unlikely lead, but thankfully, that wasn’t the case. The presence of Gold Omotayo, on for Telford, was actually quite an important moment, as it offered a prominent outlet in both boxes, esepcially from any late corners. As it was, he had an understated role in the winner. Goal side of McGrandles, the Swiss target man blocked off the wing-back’s means of getting anything on Adams’ cross-cum-shot, all while his shirt was being firmly held. The direction of the ball was definitely changed slightly but vitally by Maynard. Cue bedlam.

As I stated above, Gigg Lane is not known for generally having a vibrant atmosphere, although some sections of home supporters do do their best. The scenes I witnessed and was very much a part of after Maynard’s winner are some of the most joyous I’ve seen in my entire life, only matched by the sound of the full-time whistle.

None of the highlight packages, my video above, or even the best efforts of the commentary team on the iFollow stream, can do either moment justice. It’s the sort of experience you have rarely, particularly as a Shaker, and I’ve only a handful of occasions in my lifetime that even come close at the ground:

  • Tony Rigby’s amazing play-off semi-final winner against Preston North End in 1995
  • Being one of the fans on the pitch at the end of the 1995/1996 season, awaiting news of whether Bury had stolen the third and final promotion spot
  • The title win in 1997 against at a sold-out ground
  • The 2-1 derby win over rivals Bolton Wanderers in 1999
  • Jon Newby’s injury time winner against league leaders Millwall in 2001… and sharp exit from the wrath of angry visiting fans!

You’ll notice that most of those are 20 or so years ago. Whilst that is partly down to my relocation, it’s also true to say that more of the recent glorious memories supporters have had have come away from home, including both of the promotions in the last decade. Gigg Lane really was rocking.

Football. Bloody hell.

Whilst Tisdale’s men had not been at their swaggering or imperious best, they had still more than demonstrated that they are automatic promotion bedfellows for good reason, being 3-1 up (without being at the top of their game) for a lengthy spell. They have the means if necessary to recruit in the remainder of the transfer window, and will surely be targeting Healey for a return. On Saturday’s evidence, they could’ve done with a bit more cutting edge from open play, but I’m sure they’ll be fine regardless of the outcome of that potential re-signing.


I wrote an article last month, cautiously welcoming chairman Steve Dale’s takeover, as well as offering some ways to get stakeholders back onside. Fans have suffered over the years from the club’s poor financial reputation in more ways than one, as well as false dawns and promises of others, no matter how benevolent their intentions were. A fans’ forum was held on Friday night, clips of which will no doubt be published by the club later this week. I wasn’t there, but I’m told he, new director Matt McCarthy and CEO Karl Evans were actively encouraging the participation of the supporters during it.

Plenty of words have been said about reconnecting the club to its community, even in the month Dale has been in situ. Thankfully, they have already been proven by actions, including a succinct note on the official website and the chairman’s presence at yesterday’s women’s cup match. The club is much more than the senior men’s team, and even though they are still small steps, to have that recognised so early on will go a long way to making good on that promise, and it’s coupled with a perception that everyone’s now pulling in the same direction. Tough obstacles (both on and off the pitch) still lie in wait, and even if Lowe fails to achieve the target he’s privately set himself and his group of players, it feels good to be an active participant in all facets of Bury Football Club again.

Northampton Town 0-0 Bury: Review

Bury were extremely fortunate to leave the PTS Academy Stadium with a share of the spoils on Tuesday night. Ryan Lowe’s charges looked uncharacteristically jittery for large swathes of the match, which was particularly noticeable in defence. The Cobblers had been hitherto harangued by their own supporters for a lack of effort, but with Keith Curle confirmed as Dean Austin’s replacement a day prior, none of that was on show.

The Shakers set the tempo for perhaps the opening quarter of an hour; Will Aimson’s header cannoned back off the crossbar from an inswinging Nicky Adams free kick, with custodian David Cornell rooted to his line. After that period, the hosts came into proceedings more and more, with five or six bodies joining every single attack they could muster. As poor as the visitors might have been in cheaply giving up possession time and again, their adversaries were a constant threat, strangling the spaces in midfield for passing options.

The major difference between the two sides on the night was the care the home defence had on the ball. In a shift of shape, the strugglers reverted to a back three, and whilst none of them are especially renowned for their ability to pick out teammates intelligently, they did much better in that regard than their counterparts. However, their best scoring chances came mainly from the opposition’s errors, and I still have no idea how they didn’t profit from any of the numerous gilt-edged opportunities.

All of Curle’s substitutions in the second half were positive, rightly sensing that the tie was there for the taking. The leniency of the referee became prominent just as the challenges were flying in, but ultimately, neither team could capitalise on these situations in a frenetic encounter. The new incumbent will doubtlessly be the happier of the two bosses going into the weekend’s fixtures, and whilst there’s little doubt of the talent within their ranks, it must be harnessed quickly if they’re to make up ground on the top half of the standings.

As for Bury, the performance in the stalemate should serve as a timely reminder that no player can be allowed to rest on their laurels, but also that the results on the road are rapidly improving from an extremely low base, too. With Eoghan O’Connell injured once more and Saul Shotton seldom making the matchday XVIII, the centre backs must display a greater level of consistency. I felt from my vantage point that they all played as though there was no pressure whatsoever on their places, and it’s important to nip that in the bud before it causes more damage. David Flitcroft’s Mansfield Town are likely to be much more ruthless, and they cannot be allowed as many sights of goal as Northampton had.

Northampton Town (5-2-1-1-1)

David Cornell – Initially distributed the ball poorly, but his superior rapport on the night with the back three prevented a good amount of goalscoring opportunities for the visitors.

Shay Facey – Swapped wings with Daniel Powell, and afterwards, largely had the better of Nicky Adams. Showed excellent awareness to block a goalbound Nicky Maynard shot on 70 minutes; deserved his yellow for persistent fouling.

Leon Barnett – Able to mask his poor technique by regularly having the better of Maynard in the air; the gap between Bury’s forwards and midfield let him stride forward on plenty of occasions.

Ash Taylor – Communication with Cornell several times was key to alleviating any pressure; the calmest of the back three in possession, he beat his marker all ends up on one corner, but headed narrowly wide.

Aaron Pierre – Had the beating of Byron Moore in the air all night long, as you’d expect. Displayed good ability on throw-ins deep in the opposition half.

Daniel Powell – Begun brightly but faded as the first half wore on. Pushed back Callum McFadzean on all but one occasion; subbed off for Billy Waters – Had some good touches, but nothing too penetrative in a comparatively pedestrian second half.

Sam Foley – Did the basics well, and his diligent work perhaps went under the radar. He timed his forays forward with aplomb, but was understandably beaten on the dribble several times by Danny Mayor.

Matt Crooks – The most prominent midfielder for Northampton, and it was obvious why his return to fitness was desirable; kept finding pockets of space in the channels, and linked together almost every attack the Cobblers were able to muster.

John-Joe O’Toole – A deeper role than I’m used to seeing him in, only a desperate goal-line clearance denied him his maiden goal of 2018/2019. Not as considered in possession as I would’ve expected; subbed off for Dean Bowditch – Not the nemesis to Bury as he has been in previous years. Most notable ‘contribution’ was receiving a quick yellow, and then almost being sent off minutes later.

Sam Hoskins – His partnership with Powell restricted McFazdean severely, as he tended to favour the right half-spaces. His superb low diagonal cross on 23 should’ve been rewarded with a finishing touch of any kind.

Andy Williams – Hugely impressive as the focal point of the attack. Used his frame and good first touch to have the Shakers’ back three, and led the line superbly, constantly bringing others into play: subbed off for Kevin van Veen – No time to make an impression.

Bury (5-2-1-2)

Joe Murphy – Saved his defenders’ blushes too many times to count in the opening 45 minutes. Berated them constantly, but the message didn’t seem to get through.

Nicky Adams – Always a danger from set pieces, and produced an outstanding cross to Maynard. Have to give credit to his markers for largely subduing him.

Will Aimson – Oh dear. Caught out of position on a handful of occasions, he doesn’t seem to suit being deployed as the right-sided centre back of a triumvirate when faced with numbers and any sort of pace. His passing selection was truly woeful. There was one passage of play where the ball came straight back to him three times, and not a single time did he find a dark blue shirt, which characterised his performance.

Adam Thompson – Ran Aimson close in the insipid stakes. Caught in two minds twice in 1st half, and was uncharacteristically jittery throughout. His lack of awareness should’ve been punished.

Chris Stokes – The problem with playing three at the back in the modern era without a screen is that ideally, at least one of them needs to be confident that they can hit passes to a teammate. Once more, he didn’t show that, and was guilty of some horribly shaky clearances when not necessarily being closed down too quickly.

Callum McFazdean – Strange decision making throughout, and guilty of two foul throws. Managed to get forward with any note just once, and the ball was played in behind him too often for comfort.

Jay O’Shea – Far from his best outing for The Shakers. Didn’t make intelligent use of the space he was afforded often enough, and let the ball run twice in key moments that could’ve cost Bury dearly. Unlucky with a direct free kick in the second half.

Neil Danns – Anonymous. Can’t think of one time where he was able to affect the tempo, and the match largely passed him by. Needed much better balls from the defence, and more support in midfield.

Danny Mayor – Tried his level best to take the game by the scruff of its metaphorical neck. Not found on the deck as much as I’d like, but is the only senior player with the possible exception of Moore who can reliably beat his man on the dribble. Could easily have scored on another day.

Byron Moore – His excellent work rate helped to extend the turnover time in the game. Not really presented with any chances to score however, and was somewhat fortunate to get away with blatant foul on O’Toole in front of the referee.

Nicky Maynard – Understandably rusty, and constantly beaten in air. Starved of proper service in the main, and is not suited for a target man role whatsoever; subbed off for Dom Telford – Should’ve been brought on earlier. Displayed typical striker’s selfishness when through, with two teammates better placed to finish from less acute angles.

Lincoln City 2-1 Bury: Review

  • The yellow card Will Aimson rightly received in the very first couple of minutes would, unfortunately from a Bury perspective, have a massive impact later in the game. His eventual sending off shouldn’t detract from what was an excellent performance overall. His positioning was spot on, he covered the other two centre backs with well-timed interceptions, and he was constantly cajoling both of them and Nicky Adams to reset themselves, ever vigilant of the dangers Lincoln City posed. His absence on Saturday for the trip to Crawley Town could be sizeable.


  • Danny Cowley’s men set up in the shape I’d anticipated, but not exactly the same personnel in attacking areas than I’d anticipated. Matt Rhead spearheaded their front three, which didn’t seem the best fit for the quick balls forward that were played in the first half. The Shakers rearguard could afford to take a high line, owing to the target man’s inherent lack of pace. Matt Green went quite narrow on his right, leaving only Bruno Andrade to provide width. Elliott Chapman, making his first league start for The Imps, looked the brightest, getting up in support from a midfield that seemed far too deep to get the best out of their unit or their teammates in the final third. He had the most joy in the wide space, as the channels were heavily congested.


  • Whilst I’m sure Chris Dagnall was delighted in some respects to finally having a striking partner alongside him in a dark blue shirt, it wasn’t a vintage display from Gold Omotayo, and understandably, there didn’t appear to much of a rapport at this stage, save for one slick move. The former Crewe Alexandra player certainly worked hard, and his first touch did a better job of retaining possession than his Swiss compatriot’s. Manager Ryan Lowe wants his side to defend from the front, and there can be no question that between them, they did that; sometimes however, it meant that Dagnall would be found behind his own backline in open play, and that’s hardly where he’ll do damage. Omotayo was constantly lambasted on the iFollow commentary, which I felt went a little far. Like some of the other strikers signed in the close season, he needs time and patience to adapt to playing consistently, and in his case on a full-time basis.


  • Although the visitors had the edge in the opening period, they did give the ball away cheaply in midfield areas frequently, particularly when looking to switch from one flank to another. Adams did seem a little more comfortable than he had been previously in the right wing-back role, but it’s still unfamiliar territory for him. It often meant that neither he nor Chris Stokes were on quite the same wavelength as Stephen Dawson and Neil Danns, but once more, that will undoubtedly improve with time.


  • In an obvious reaction to last Saturday’s draw with Forest Green Rovers, Bury did shoot far more from outside the area when allowed to. There was however, still a noticeable reluctance to do so when they managed to penetrate the hosts’ 18-yard box, and it only changed when the situation became desperate in the closing stages. Compare and contrast that with the shot that led to the penalty, even though it was never likely to be heading in.


  • Well before that, the pre-season favourites were always going to create something. Jason Shackell was impressive at both ends of the pitch, and his header looked goalbound until Joe Murphy clawed it away, the reaction from the crowd drowned out by the infamous air raid siren that plays whenever Lincoln have a corner at Sincil Bank. He also stood up well to spells of sustained pressure, leading his teammates superbly.


  • If there was a defensive failing though, it was certainly evident in Eoghan O’Connell being allowed two attempts at a shot before being rewarded for his efforts with his second stab. Yet again, it originated from a set piece, and underlined Adams’ importance in this regard. The Irish ball-playing centre back was the only one to react to his initial headed effort being blocked, and also seems to be gaining confidence that he can be someone for the opposition to watch out for when attacking. He also leads the in-house goal tally with two…


  • The second half was inevitably going to have a different narrative. Chapman surprisingly made way for Harry Anderson, and this allowed a reversion to a 4-4-2, as well as allowing Bruno Andrade to be much wider on the left flank. The south Lancashire outfit had to contend with an abundance of whipped crosses, the vast majority of which were dealt with decisively. Their greater retention of the ball allowed the quietly effective Tom Pett to impose himself more visibly on the flow of the match. This was further enhanced by the further substitutions; Shay McCartan has a completely different skillset to Rhead, and it also succeeded in pushing back Bury by a good five yards at least.


  • A home win didn’t seem at all likely until the penalty was awarded to them – correctly. Aimson obviously knew that the ball was being fired towards goal, and getting up from the floor to block, whilst admirable, ran the risk of it being called for handball and another yellow card. John Akinde, on for the ineffective Rhead, waited for Murphy to move to enact a carbon copy of the previous spot kick goals he’d scored in a red and white shirt.


  • The reshuffle at the back caused by the red card had Stokes playing on the left side of a three, with Callum McFadzean, on a sub for Omotayo, in his place at wing-back. This is something I’d like to see repeated at the weekend in Essex, rather than Saul Shotton being drafted in. This is because it provides better balance on that side, and McFadzean’s pace and instincts are more honed to getting forward (successfully) than Stokes will ever be in a five-man defence.


  • Easy to say with hindsight, but even at the time, I thought Byron Moore coming on for Dagnall was a mistake. Although the winger is certainly quick and direct, he is not someone who’s going to lead the attack in any context, so it effectively meant that there were no strikers left on the pitch whilst Dom Telford, a forward similar in approach to Moore, remained unused on the bench. This move highlighted the tactical deficiencies Lowe still possesses. Dagnall had run himself ragged, but Telford could’ve made Lincoln think twice about bombing forward with their man advantage with abandon. It ensured that the ball kept coming back towards Murphy, who misjudged one such instance in spectacular fashion. Lee Frecklington, like Pett, had by this stage gained a stranglehold on midfield, and his calm and collected finish into the empty net whilst still being put under pressure should not go unnoticed.


  • I prefer to see the positives of the match; the negatives are largely what they have been to date in every game. The Shakers lived with a side that will perform better on many occasions this season, even without gaining points in a few of those that their efforts will warrant. Defensively, they largely kept some of the best talents in the entire division at arm’s length for 75 minutes. They had at least the same number of chances to win the game. They have now been to two of the bookies’ three favourites for the title and been at least equal, even if the scorelines haven’t in the end reflected that. Yes, goals are still at a premium, and it’s unlikely to change overnight, but they can look to the next two matches as good opportunities to rectify that. Crawley Town and Morecambe have been more ‘accommodating’ than most with their defences, and the former have a threadbare squad stretched to breaking point by a red card of their own on Tuesday. Either way, Bury now need to regain that winning feeling, even if it means sacrificing being credited by the opposition in the process.


Milton Keynes Dons 1-0 Bury: Review

  • I’m normally disinclined to comment on the atmosphere and crowd at a match I attend, but I feel it’s necessary to point out how surreal it came across to me on Saturday. It was my third visit to Stadium MK, but the first where it was so quiet in the stands, almost resembling a pre-season friendly at times. The stated attendance of just short of 7,000 seemed a gross exaggeration, drawing incredulous reactions from Bury fans all around me, and the biggest cheer from the home supporters prior to the dying embers of the encounter was for a ball chipped from the seating area over a player, waiting to take a throw-in.


  • Regarding the action itself, Paul Tisdale opted for a back five in the opening period, which had the knock-on effect of ensuring most of the battles were fought in midfield, and neither side had the creativity to get in behind packed defences. I counted just one occasion in total, and it came in second half stoppage time, with the Shakers piling forward for an unlikely equaliser. The change of tack to a flat four during the interval did help MK come into proceedings a touch more, nullifying some of the freedom Danny Mayor and Nicky Adams enjoyed in the process, and giving Jordan Houghton more options from his holding role to aim for, instead of his teammates hitting it long to debutant Dylan Asonganyi.


  • The pace of Asonganyi and Kieran Agard in attacking areas certainly gave The Shakers’ rearguard food for thought; the strategy to go on the outside of the wide centre backs was reasonably effective, particularly down their right, insofar as it ensured that they had to stay quite deep and hit it long more often than not, and Will Aimson was the most guilty of wasting his passes under little to no pressure. Adam Thompson isn’t the speediest, but he normally had a few yards’ head-start on his man, more often than not shepherding the hoofed ball out for a goal kick or to Joe Murphy. Again, this tactic morphed during the second half, sometimes resulting in the men in white and gold swapping positions or holding up play at the edge of the ‘D’, with greater numbers coming up in support of them than had hitherto been the case.


  • A notable and frequent occurrence throughout the match were the quick, short free-kicks taken by Bury. The two sides both had very well organised defences, so it was certainly understandable for Ryan Lowe to instruct his charges to attempt to disrupt the time the hosts had to reset their shape. This didn’t have the desired outcome for two reasons: firstly, there was a noticeably comparative lack of pace in dark blue to make the most of the set pieces. Secondly, the communication wasn’t quite there yet between the taker and intended recipient, so you’d see a good pass hit into one of the flanks without it being read early enough.


  • An injury around the 40th minute to right wing-back Tom Miller left Lowe with a quandary. The bench, whilst appearing strong and experienced, only contained one defensively-minded outfield player – Callum McFadzean, who operates on the other wing. It left him little choice but to switch the formation, opting to bring on Gold Omotayo to partner Chris Dagnall in attack, and shifting Adams back into the position Miller had inadvertently vacated. The knock-on effects were twofold – Adams was evidently unsure of which positions to take up when defending, and it also negated his effectiveness against the slow Dean Lewington. I also think it played into Tisdale’s hands to a degree, as Houghton only had Mayor to contend with from then on, and this almost certainly precipitated the tactical changes from a home perspective soon after.



  • Callum Styles was appearing for the first time since immediately being sent back to Gigg Lane on loan from Barnsley; the encounter proved to be a telling snapshot of where he is in his development. What was plain to see is that he has indeed added some muscle to his short frame, and he was able to win a few more challenges than he might have done at the same point last year. He always looks to receive a pass to feet, very rarely wastes the ball when he does get it, has a good range of techniques to ensure his own pass reaches its intended target… but the tempo does signficantly slow down when he’s in possession. That isn’t always a hindrance, but I’m not sure if it’s the best match for what Lowe is trying to emphasise in 2018/2019. He doesn’t have the right personnel either behind him (anyone at all) or in front of him (a more direct playmaker and/or a striker who plays on the shoulder of the last defender) to fully accentuate all the positive attributes he does possess.


  • Dom Telford’s cameo wasn’t the best first impression I’ve had of him in the flesh. Whilst Chris Dagnall predictably toiled when alone up front in the face of three centre backs and wayward long balls, he does have the requisite first touch and experience to at least bring others into play when he does manage to get hold of possession, even if it comes at a cost of being penetrative with it. The former Bristol Rovers loanee looked lost; his partnership with Omotayo hasn’t reached beyond the embryonic stage, and both were guilty of being positionally poor, costing Bury dearly when mounting attacks. Each of the two had a half-chance to score; Omotayo’s header was too close to Lee Nicholls, and Telford’s turn and shot was far too tame. It’s difficult to foresee either dislodging Dagnall if Lowe persists with a 5-2-2-1, based on that evidence.


  • One very welcome part of the match was Jay O’Shea’s introduction from the bench. Talk of high wages aside, he offers a different threat behind the forwards than either Adams or Mayor, although both starters had good games and were unfortunate not to score: the former had a free kick that rattled the post, the latter had a goalbound effort headed off the line by a defender with Nicholls beaten. Mayor will start on the flank and bring the ball inside at a right angle to the penalty area. O’Shea is much more direct, and will run straight into the 18 yard-box on the dribble. I think he should be afforded more minutes tomorrow evening against Nottingham Forest, and is a more than capable alternative to the current starting pair.


  • The winner for MK was harsh on their opponents, coming as it did from the one lapse in concentration I can recall them making. A cross-field pass was played to the right, and the superb George Williams (my personal choice for man of the match) was unmarked, and he controlled the ball with one touch. Oussenyou Cissé, the towering substitute who had challenged Chris Stokes for the aerial ball, immediately drifted inside the area. Stokes remained in situ to try to cut any attempted pass, but Cissé was unmarked when he guided it into the far corner, leaving Joe Murphy no chance.


  • In summary, both managers can be satisfied that they had set up their defences well. This is a particular filip for Lowe, as the current unit look as though they fully understand their responsibilities. The concerns are further up the pitch; both sets of attackers appeared quite blunt, and the invention from midfield was missing something. I liked that Bury weren’t cowed in any way by their opponents, and, despite their starting formation, definitely didn’t come to Buckinghamshire seeking a point. If they can retain their solidity in the league (the game against Forest is tantamount to a ‘free hit’), there’s every reason to suggest they can kick on and achieve a respectable standing in the table. Tisdale will also be a mixture of relieved and encouraged that MK Dons have taken two wins from two against fellow relegated outfits, without having played spectacularly well, and in the latter match, missing some key players.

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.

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 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 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.