Tag: sonpredictions

Bury vs Walsall: Preview

So, ‘real football’ is finally back™.

Bury and Walsall supporters go into the 2017/2018 with very different levels of expectations. At the start of the close season, I thought the Shakers being above the Saddlers come May next year would be an indication of good progress and perhaps even a play-off spot. However, the summer has been far from sunny in a small part of the West Midlands. No sooner had I published my preview for the visitors to Gigg Lane tomorrow, a slightly bizarre statement from the board on the club’s website was issued, an excerpt of which is below:

"The club can confirm that this season’s ‘Playing Budget’ has been increased compared to last season.  While exact figures are commercially sensitive and will not be disclosed, we can confirm it is the biggest playing budget we have ever had in this division.

We can further confirm that funds remain available to the manager for further recruitment."

If taken in isolation, there doesn’t seem to be much more to it. However, it was in stark contrast to what the manager Jon Whitney had stated days before. In an even weirder twist, Whitney revealed afterwards that he had helped to write the board’s statement! The confusion was shared by many of their fans because the evidence (as far as someone can glean without unfettered access to the business accounts) appears to be contrary to that or if it is larger, it’s by an infinitesimal amount. No more signings have come through the doors at the Banks’s Stadium since my blogpost went live on the 26th of July and only five in total have joined the ranks, one of them on loan. From the outs, Walsall accepted a fee for Andreas Makris which was slightly lower than their outlay at this juncture last year.

It is felt in some quarters that the controversial ‘Football Fortune’ policy (an even split of monies made on transfers and cup prize money goes to club infrastructure and the playing budget respectively) needs to be altered in favour of the latter in order to keep them competitive in the third tier, especially given the reports of players’ wage demands increasing because of the trickle-down effect from the divisions above.

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It is on the back of these tensions that the first league game of the season will take place tomorrow.  The only likely changes from my predicted lineup are Liam Kinsella covering for the suspended Nicky Devlin and if Whitney does opt for a flat back four, Kieron Morris could be tasked with providing width in attacking areas. The squad is not exactly flush currently with natural centre back or options on the wings but the problems are most acute in defence – James O’Connor has been told in no uncertain terms he can leave, which would mean that there are just two real options if he’s not being considered whilst still present.

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For Bury, a smoother ride has been had compared to their opponents leading up to the curtain-raiser… but not without one or two casualties of their own; former Saddler loanee Eoghan O’Connell is out for the best part of three months and Alex Whitmore has been drafted in from Burnley on loan until January to cover for the likely first choice pairing of Nathan Thompson and Tom Aldred in his absence and Nathan Cameron’s ongoing restricted training régime. Right-back Phil Edwards is also out of contention due to injury but might make the bench in the local derby against Wigan Athletic a week on Sunday. Craig Jones will step in for him and on the other flank, it’s a toss-up between the more conservative stylings of Joe Skarz or the pacey, greater attacking impetus of Greg Leigh.

Lee Clark has dropped his biggest hint yet that Hong Kong central midfielder Tsun Dai will get the nod to perform a box-to-box role alongside captain Stephen Dawson, stating that “he has been the standout player in pre-season”. Chris Maguire might have to be satisfied with a place on the substitutes’ bench initially as his fitness is a touch behind some of the others. Nicky Ajose is in a similar boat but could still partner Jermaine Beckford.

As for a prediction, most eyes will naturally be on Erhun Oztumer for the Saddlers but don’t completely discount Amadou Bakayoko, who, if he can reproduce the form he showed in last season’s EFL Trophy, will provide a stern test of the Shakers’ new-look centre back partnership. It will take a while for Clark’s side to hit their stride and even though prospects on paper are dim for their opponents for the season, they are good value to snatch a 1-1 draw. Whilst the scoreline isn’t as thrilling as the two 3-3 matches in 2016/2017, I think most supporters travelling up the M6 would probably take it as things stand. The home faithful might need to have a bit of patience before things come together.

A quick word on the Son Predictions: they will be coming back in an ‘improved form’ later in the season. Watch this space!

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Southend United 1-0 Bury: Mini Review

 

  • On Sunday’s evidence however, Lee Clark’s admission that his side had “limped over the line” was an understatement. The Shrimpers managed to keep the attacking trio of James Vaughan, Tom Pope and Ryan Lowe extremely quiet and the visitors didn’t manage a single shot on target, which is a particularly damning statistic given the very high stakes of the match. In contrast to my preview, captain Anton Ferdinand shrugged off both his recent poor form and the potential threats against him and his fellow defenders with consummate ease. George Miller was similarly dominated when he came on for Pope early in the second half and it will prove to be a harsh learning experience for the youngster.

 

  • The midfield shape that had worked well against Northampton for Clark was found wanting against a more organised, quicker and skillful unit. With Lowe often too far in advance of Andrew Tutte and Paul Caddis, Phil Brown’s men were able to play in between them effectively and hog possession in more penetrative areas. Ryan Leonard was desperately unlucky with a snapshot from outside the box in one such passage of play to hit the outside of the post with stopper Joe Murphy beaten at his near post by the pace of the ball.

 

  • The hosts’ midfield dominance made for a solid platform for Simon Cox and Marc-Antoine Fortuné to stay as high up the pitch as possible and look for pockets of space in between the centre backs and draw fouls from them on the turn. With three of Bury’s back five issued with yellow cards, proceedings increasingly played into the strikers’ hands.

 

  • Stephen McLaughlin’s terrific half-volley for the only goal at Roots Hall was a reminder of the effectiveness of late runs into the area from midfield in open play. Very rarely this season have the Lancashire outfit had more than two lurking from crosses and although Leon Barnett’s poor headed clearance was straight into his unmarked path, it underlines how important the second ball can be from such situations from both a defensive and attacking point of view. Most successful teams know when and where to get bodies forward to hurt their opposition. Southend have frequently managed to do this throughout 2016/2017 and even with several injuries of their own to key players, they look to have the squad to push on next season and go higher.

 

  • There were only two small silver linings for the away supporters to hold onto (other than retaining third tier status). Danny Mayor made a cameo from the bench after such a long spell out and whilst clearly not 100% yet, he showed flashes of why he has been so sorely missed. The second green shoot of promise was having Will Ferry named alongside him after another excellent showing for the U18s in the penalty shootout defeat to Blackpool in midweek. Like Mayor, he carries a threat in the final third in wide(r) areas that has been lacking and it would be no surprise to see him feature heavily in Clark’s plans next season and he is bound to be joined by at least several of his teammates given the manager’s emphasis on handing sustained opportunities to talented players regardless of age.

 

  • I managed to narrowly triumph over my 19 month-old son with score predictions from when this blog started at the end of January. I’m not sure I deserve much of an award for it though!

Southend United vs Bury: Preview

This is it. After Port Vale’s not-at-all unexpected triumph over a youthful Walsall side, the pressure is back on both teams at Roots Hall in the Sunday lunchtime kick off to attain a positive result.

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For Phil Brown and Southend, they must go all out for a win to snatch the final play-off place from Millwall, with Rochdale ready to pounce if they both slip up. The Lions and Dale have on paper tougher fixtures but even that must be called into question with Bristol Rovers out of the picture and Bradford assured of at least fifth place (but with one eye on gaining a second leg clash at home in their semi-final). The Shrimpers’ vastly superior goal difference could still prove to be a key factor, too.

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At the other end, a draw would mathematically see the Shakers safe but that is a dangerous mentality to have when your opponents have a lot riding on the outcome. Immediately below them in the standings, Gillingham have a visit to Northampton with former boss Justin Edinburgh in no mood to give them any quarter.

The Valiants have the daunting task of preventing one of the stories of the EFL this season from having an extremely happy ending for Uwe Rösler’s Fleetwood. The Cod Army are chasing promotion to their highest ever level of professional football but are heavily reliant on rivals Bolton falling to defeat against a schizophrenic Peterborough outfit who wax and wane from dominant to hopeless seemingly at the flick of a switch. With an insurmountable goal difference to make up, they will nevertheless have to push forward from the start, which could leave gaps for Vale to exploit.

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Southend could line up in the same fashion as their last game. Form has been erratic in April but they have had former Bury loanee Christian Walton to thank for keeping them in the hunt for points whilst losing. The Brighton stopper can consider himself a bit hard done by during his time between the sticks for the Lancashire side and could have a point to prove.

The centre back pairing of Antony Ferdinand and Adam Thompson are competent but not commanding, so look for the usual schitck of Tom Pope occupying one or both to create space for James Vaughan in behind.

On the right, Jason Demetriou will prove a more difficult proposition for his opponents. He is quick, adept at crossing and relishes a physical battle and getting forward.

Speaking of agile, Ryan Leonard will cover lots of ground behind the rest of the midfield and hoover up any loose balls and win possession back for the Shrimpers and spread it to both wings.

Will Atkinson and Demetriou make one of the more potent partnerships down a flank in the third tier, so Greg Leigh will have his work cut out to contain both of them.

Up top, Nile Ranger has had a productive season on the pitch and has had a rapport with both his manager and Simon Cox. The summer signing from Reading has largely gone under the radar in terms of end of season awards dished out but his contribution to his side’s cause has been massive, with 16 goals and eight assists to his name. If Southend do make the top six, they will need to call on his vast experience and end product to make it two promotions in three years.

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Lee Clark has claimed that proceedings going down to the wire hasn’t changed his approach to Sunday’s game, so that should be reflected in the lineup as well.

For all his shortcomings, Ryan Lowe has big match experience and is a harasser for the ball and opportunities to manage the game to Bury’s advantage and ought to retain his place.

As for a prediction, I don’t think any of the three teams still threatened with relegation will lose. However, I have a sneaky suspicion that Port Vale will pull it off at Fleetwood in a tense tightly contested affair. Gillingham should get something at Sixfields and there is enough wherewithal in Bury’s squad to claim a share of the spoils. For the reasons stated above, I’m opting for a 1-1 draw, which won’t prove enough for Southend to scrape into the play-offs but will prove sufficient for Clark to plan an assault on the top half of the League One table in 2017/2018.

Exile Jr. believes it will be a 2-2 draw. In both cases, Gillingham are the team we have to go down and Rochdale will leapfrog into sixth. I hope we’re right at least about Bury’s survival!

Bury vs Northampton Town: Mini Preview

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Bury play their final home game of 2016/2017 tomorrow against Northampton Town, with both sides on six match winless streaks and requiring maximum points to make survival more likely in the former case and certain in the latter.

Creditable though the Shakers’ point at the Macron was, it further underlined how one dimensional and increasingly reliant they are on top goalscorer James Vaughan as other reasonably potent sources have completely dried up in the past month. Manager Lee Clark must find a way to reverse that recent trend to avoid a very nervy seaside sojourn to Southend on Sunday week.

As for the visitors, only an improbable combination of results will see them drop to the fourth tier but visit Gigg Lane with four fewer options than they had at the start of their 1-1 draw with relegation rivals Shrewsbury.

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With doubts lingering over the entire midfield diamond that ‘starred’ against Rochdale, we will more than likely see a repeat of the entire matchday squad as on Tuesday but with more emphasis on taking the game to their opponents. Look for captain Antony Kay to play slightly ahead of his central defensive partners when in possession and more onus placed on Scott Burgess to break from midfield to support the strikers and give the marauding wing backs another target to aim for.

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With both stalwart David Buchanan and the talismanic John Joe O’Toole suspended, coupled with the recall of Greg Wylde and Luke Williams to their parent clubs, a big chunk of the consistency and creativity from open play in particular will be absent.

Lewin Nyatanga and Zander Diamond are threats from the commanding set pieces dished out by Matty Taylor and the Cobblers could try to soak up the pressure with a deep defensive and midfield lines and play direct to Marc Richards, with the captain and still effective outlet hopeful of extending his stay beyond the end of the campaign. Much of the link-up play between midfield and the forward line will go through Paul Anderson and Taylor Moore will need to be watchful of his forays forward on the counter.

As for a prediction, I’m going for a 2-0 victory for the men in white. As long as they can stick as diligently as they did on Tuesday to the task of defending from expert dead balls, Northampton shouldn’t be quite the threat they were in the reverse fixture and have less to play for but will nevertheless still push Bury all the way. Exile Jr. has gone for a very similar scoreline of 2-1. I hope we’re right!

Bolton Wanderers vs Bury: The Big Preview

I deliberately left writing this preview as long as possible (until after today’s League One matches) to ensure the information was as accurate as possible.

Bury travel the very short distance tomorrow evening to the Macron Stadium to face Bolton Wanderers in a derby match with huge implications for both sides at opposite ends of the League One table.

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Proceedings were going very favourably for Phil Parkinson without even kicking a ball after the lunchtime fixture between champions Sheffield United and Bradford, with the former running out convincing 3-0 winners (with Bury’s leading goalscorer from the previous season, Leon Clarke, bagging a brace). That elation was slightly tempered, however, with Fleetwood triumphing over Millwall. Whilst promotion is still very much within the Trotters’ grasp even with a defeat tomorrow, they can no longer seal their second tier status for 2017/2018 in the most cruel way from a Shakers point of view. Indeed, the majority of the very same set of travelling supporters will be begrudgingly willing their local rivals to put Port Vale to the sword this coming Saturday.

Their final game of the campaign is a favourable home time against a Peterborough United side that seemingly left for the beaches several months ago, should they require a result to confirm their immediate return to the Championship.

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As for visitors, they can be extremely thankful that, on the whole, the two rounds of fixtures that have played in between their guileless 1-0 derby reverse to Rochdale and this clash still have them with their collective heads above water by a point; they also still have the ‘best of the worst’ goal difference, which could still prove to be a key factor over both the two teams above and below them in the current rankings.The extra half a day or so rest and preparation time over their hosts for the 20:00 start might also be a small boost.

Bolton vs Bury

As ever with a Parkinson side, the system Bolton employ has been with the bedrock of a completely solid, reliable defence. None of the trio of Mark Beevers, David Wheater and Dorian Dervite are likely to win foot races against many forwards in this division; the reality is that this has rarely been allowed to happen in any case. Much like Oldham, they take a relatively deep line to compensate for this and with the first two of the aforementioned three particularly in mind, they very rarely lose any physical battles, do the basic duties extremely well and have stood as two colossi when teams have attacked them. Added to that, they have been dominant from set pieces in both boxes, with Beevers and Wheater both bagging seven goals each in the league, which is frankly staggering. It was therefore no surprise to see both of them named in the overall team of the season and the Trotters can boast the best defensive record, with less than a goal a game conceded.

As for elsewhere in the likely starting XI, the withdrawn winger/advanced wing back berth on the left is going to be a battle between Dean Moxey and the returning Andy Taylor. Both are tough customers and will look to nullify any threats down their side, which is probably going to be a very familiar face to many Bolton supporters. Derik Osede has begun to make the destroyer role his own in recent months; the men in black and neon green will need to be much more inventive in their approach play than as of late to get past the former Real Madrid II defensive midfielder, as he recovers well and is yet another player for the home side who relishes an aerial war.

The pair in front of him need little introduction. Both Darren Pratley and Jay Spearing have a decent amount of Premier League experience and possess touches of class on the ball with a penchant to shoot from long range.

The versatile Josh Vela came through the ranks seven years ago and has added goals to his skillset this season with nine; he is not a playmaker when featuring in an advanced role and he is more likely to look to win the ball back aggressively high up the pitch than play an inch-perfect pass for Adam Le Fondre, which has also gained him no shortage of yellow cards. That is not to disparage him in any way as his ever-presence has been another foundation of Bolton’s likely successive assault on the promotion places and his style of play helps to take pressure off the defence.

Of course, the standout player since joining at the very end of the winter transfer window (arguably in the league as a whole) is Filipe Morais and he is the biggest headache facing Clark and the Bury XI. He is not blisteringly quick but his game is much more than that in any case. He is very calm on the ball and can whip an accurate cross in from deeper areas as well as the byline. His quality from set pieces is the biggest strength he has and given the Shakers’ malaise, it doesn’t bode well. The eye-watering number of assists he has in a white shirt in just two and a half months is testament to his overall ability and it will be interesting to see what happens to him next season, given that Bolton aren’t exactly awash with money (a tired old refrain for both clubs, especially in recent times).

Le Fondre’s technique is excellent for this level and he will be more than well supplied by his team-mates. With Gary Madine probably not making it in time, he is expected to lead the line and only needs one or two presentable opportunities to add his name to the scoresheet. Cameron Burgess and Leon Barnett will have to be extra vigilant of his movement.

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With Tom Walker ineligible to feature against his registered club, Clark will probably persist with the narrow ‘diamond’ in midfield, owing to a chronic lack of width available to him not called Jermaine Pennant. Greg Leigh, who has shone despite recent form, will have licence to roam forward. Reece Brown will need to combine with C. Burgess to plug the gaps behind him with a marauding Filipe Morais pushing forward whenever Bolto gain possession back.

Clark has called on more risks to be taken in midfield to create openings both for themselves and James Vaughan and his strike partner, which could rotate again (I have a feeling Ryan Lowe will start). To this end, Callum Styles and Jacob Mellis will be tasked with getting beyond at least one of the forwards and somehow drawing out Wheater and Dervite. Beevers against Lowe will be an interesting duel if it takes place; whilst no stranger or shirker from physicality, the Liverpudlian has a propensity to go down easily and winning free kicks in favourable areas could be a strategy that pays some dividends, if only to relieve pressure in a match where the home side are likely to dictate the tempo for much of it. Again, the former Kilmarnock manager is demanding ingenuity from set plays but it remains to be seen whether anyone can step up to the plate – Lowe himself is competent with direct free kicks and only Brown out of the others has shown a glimmer of output this season.

As for a prediction… despite today’s other results, I still fear the worst for Bury. Leigh will have his hands full with Morais, which will in turn negate his own effectiveness from an attacking point of view. The Trotters are deadly from attacking set pieces and will be up against a very ordinary and largely inexperienced midfield regardless of shape employed. Pratley and Spearing will be hard to win the ball from and I have already waxed lyrical about their defence. Despite a recent drought in goals and some especially wayward finishing, I have no doubt in my mind Bolton will score and I have sadly gone for a repeat of the drubbing they dished out back when they last clashed in the league in BL6 under the ‘auspices’ of one Neil Warnock: 4-0. Exile Jr. is much more positive, however. He somehow ‘thinks’ it will be 2-1 to the Shakers. In truth, anything from the game will be a massive boost to a squad that has looked particularly gutless in derby matches this season.

Bury vs Rochdale: The Big Preview

Bury still have their destiny in their own hands but that will only remain the case with a long-awaited league victory over local rivals Rochdale, with both sides needing maximum points for very differing reasons.

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The wheels have fallen off the Shakers’ revival of late, with the dreaded combination of goals drying up in attack and the defence springing a leak once again. The pressure is now really on manager Lee Clark to get his players performing to a higher standard (especially between both boxes) with their third tier status depending on the final four games.

Only a single point separates the three sides immediately above the drop-zone and Port Vale, who still have a game in hand away at Walsall in the same week as the last round of fixtures of the regular season. The Valiants still have to play the top two at home but defeats in either or both of those clashes cannot be relied upon to take place. Similarly, Shrewsbury and Gillingham stopped the rot with positive results on Saturday, with the former coming against Rochdale.

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The 1-0 reverse at the Greenhous Meadow Stadium dealt a hammer blow to Dale’s play-off prospects and manager Keith Hill didn’t hold back in his post-match interview, lambasting their away form and even stating that some of his players whose contracts are expiring at the end of the season will take no further part in the first team.* Indeed, they have only won five on the road and accrued the same number of points as their hosts tomorrow evening, which is the chief reason why they’re unlikely to be still playing into May.

All that being said, I would give almost anything for Bury to be run in the same way as Rochdale; chairman Chris Dunphy runs a very tight ship, they’re much less reliant on selling academy graduates before they have firmly established themselves for a number of seasons in the first team and because of the relative success of a lot of their signings in recent history, when they do leave and are sold on again, the deals are structured in such a way as to guarantee their continued operation on an even keel.

There is also much to admire about the managerial philosophy of Hill himself and how he sets out his teams. They rarely hit and hope, value incisive wing play and have had shapes in the past where the deployment of three players in forward positions didn’t detract from their strategy. Like Clark, he is completely unafraid of extensively using academy players if he feels they are of sufficient quality and that has been the bedrock of a lot of Dale’s success. He is also a man who clearly holds the club close to his heart and in my view, is one of the best managers outside of the top flight. The challenge for him is to push on next season and claim at least a top six spot after two (probably three) near misses in successive years. It will just take a bit more consistency.

vs Rochdale

With Craig Jones out injured yet again after a 30 minute cameo, Taylor Moore will regain his place. As I have written extensively before, the game will be won or lost in midfield. Expect to see Kean Bryan come in for one of Jacob Mellis or Callum Styles to plug gaps in front of the backline. Paul Caddis is likely to be the pivot and could gain confidence from having another more defensively minded player alongside him. A lot of the attacking onus will fall on Greg Leigh and whoever the most advanced midfielder is. Styles created Bury’s best openings against a tight Bradford defence but Mellis has more big match experience and is stronger (but not necessarily any better) in challenging for the ball and there are bound to be some crunching tackles during proceedings.

Rochdale vs Bury

Hill promised to ring the changes ahead of the derby match and with that in mind, I have tried my best to predict what those will be. The immediate oddity is of course Calvin Andrew at left back; he has plied his trade as a mobile target man for most of his career in the lower leagues, with occasional stints playing in the right channel off the front one or two. However, he has been asked to play a very unfamiliar role due to Joe Bunney’s injury and Joel Taylor not featuring for two months. Whilst that would ordinarily be an exploitable weakness, it remains to be seen whether Bury will be able to. Without Jones or a winger to press higher, there is less chance that he will be pinned back and could roam forward quite far without really being challenged.

Former Shaker Jim McNulty will cover for Andrew; however, his partnership with Harrison McGahey has been shaky and numerous individual errors from the defence as a whole have cost Dale points, with 60 goals in total shipped. The hosts must look to unsettle the back line of their near neighbours as much as possible. George Miller might have to settle for another substitute appearance after fluffing his lines last time out. Tom Pope could come back in and provide the foil that James Vaughan has been missing as of late.

It is probably midfield where Rochdale are strongest, which will in turn make tomorrow night extremely difficult for Bury. Callum Camps is a young star able to fulfill several wildly different roles in the middle of the park more than comfortably. Capped at youth level by Northern Ireland, he has a bright future ahead of him and will look to carry the ball from one transition to the next and take the game to the opposition.

Camps is likely to be flanked by a rotation of Peter Vincenti, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing and Reuben Noble-Lazarus. The ‘middle’ of those three has already scored against Bury this season and his pace and trickery will test Greg Leigh and Moore’s collective mettle. Vincenti is the slowest of the group and whilst he has only been selected sparingly in 2016/2017, he is more than capable of hurting the opposition and his goal record in the blue and black shirt is proof of that. Noble-Lazarus has good feet and his ‘weak’ right is better than most in the third tier.

They will be the supporting cast to acting captain Ian Henderson and possibly Steven Davies. The latter has been utilised from the bench frequently and his physical presence will be something to look out for, especially from crosses and set pieces. The former likes to work the left channel and is very creative; he manages to combine that with a deadly eye for goal, with admirable composure in one-on-one situations. With a combined tally of 22 goals and assists in League One (13 and 9 respectively), he is in the vaunted company of Vaughan and the three Player of the Year finalists in terms of output.

As for a prediction, I’m going to plump for a scoreline that will suit neither team. Even on the road, Dale rarely remain goalless after 90 minutes and against a very accommodating midfield and defence that likes to back off, they’re going to get numerous chances to add to their goals for column. However, with defensive jitters of their own and the stakes so high, Bury will at least restore a modicum of confidence before the daunting trip to the Macron Stadium to face Bolton next Tuesday with a 2-2 draw. Exile Jr. has opted for a 2-1 win for the home side, which would shift all the pressure back onto the five sides currently below them. Here’s hoping…

On a more serious note, the 15th minute will mark a round of applause for Joe Thompson, who is fighting cancer for a second time at the age of just 28. Having played for both sides and returned to the visitors, his battle is a great reminder of the power football can have to bring fans of even bitter rivals to get behind a common cause and I wish him all the best and for a speedy recovery. I would also like to express my admiration for the way Rochdale have continued to support him.

 

 

 

 

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Bury vs Bradford City: Preview

Bury go into Saturday’s clash at Gigg Lane against play-off contenders Bradford City boosted by results on Tuesday after last week’s shellacking away to Oxford United threatened to dent to seriously dent their survival hopes. As it is, the Shakers still sit in 17th position but the gap is down to three points:

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The Bantams will of course do the Lancashire outfit no favours as they jockey for position at the top of the play-offs for the often crucial home advantage in their second leg tie (should they manage to maintain their decent run of form into the remaining five fixtures). Manager Stuart McCall, in his second spell in charge following Phil Parkinson being lured to Bolton before the campaign kicked off, has been nominated for the League One Manager of the Month award for March. He has also managed to consistently keep the claret and amber army in the top six since only the third game of the league season, which is testament both to his own skills, as well as that of his charges and being able to regularly choose the same players week in, week out; a ‘luxury’ no Bury boss has had for at least three years.

vs Bradford

Playmaker Callum Styles could return to the XI after his absence was keenly felt in the previous game. Craig Jones has trained for the past several weeks and is in with a shout of reclaiming his place in a role that is a more immediate fit for him than Taylor Moore. Moore could be left vying for a more central position with Leon Barnett and it is a toss-up as to who will ‘win’ that particular battle. Expect to see Cameron Burgess back from international duty with Australia and slotting back into the defensive five; he should be a more outwardly physical and assertive presence than the versatile Kean Bryan but the whole line looked shaky with the directness Oxford offered.

Bradford vs Bury

As for the visitors, both full backs are menacing for different reasons. The pace and willingness to get forward of James Meredith will keep Jones occupied all game long; the Australian left back has had an excellent 2016/2017 and beat off some serious competition to be named in the Team of the Season. On the right, the experience of Tony McMahon, coupled with his dead ball ability, will be just another threat to consider in a plethora of them in Bradford’s ranks. The duo of Nathaniel Knight-Percival and Rory McArdle will look to physically impose themselves in every possible situation; Romain Vincelot will sit just in front of them and is yet another player who relishes attrition in a Bury midfield three distinctly lacking in that department.

Mark Marshall is another winger with blistering speed and an eye for goal. His crossing ability will be the weapon of choice for striker Charlie Wyke, who has made the step up from the fourth tier with no shortage of ease after signing late in the January transfer window from then-promotion chasing Carlisle. Billy Clarke will cut in from the channels and must be watched carefully by both Barnett and Bury captain Antony Kay so that he doesn’t wreak havoc between the lines.

McCall has a number of tasty options from the bench to call upon: Nicky Law, who scored in the reverse fixture between the two sides, is recovering from a recent injury but could still play a part in deciding the outcome and has six league goals this campaign. Jordie Hiwula, another direct runner, is an excellent substitute against any tiring defence and has more than proven his worth during his loan spell from Huddersfield with a dozen in all competitions in his best season to date.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Bury will bounce back from the crushing disappointment against Oxford and the Bantams will run out 3-1 winners. Their physicality, coupled with their potency and dominance from corners and free kicks, will help to all but secure their play-off berth. The large travelling support will also give their men plenty of encouragement whilst there will be many nervous glances at smartphones for the white and blue faithful during the game. Exile Jr. is much more confident of a result, opting for a 2-0 victory for Bury. The two derby days are likely to go a very long way to deciding which tier the Shakers will be plying their trade in at the start of August and any potential setback from Saturday must be quickly forgotten about for them to be safe before the final day.

Oxford United vs Bury: Mini Preview

Although most U’s eyes will be on their upcoming trip to Wembley to face Coventry in the EFL Trophy final on Sunday, they know that anything other than a win against Bury will likely scupper any remaining play-off hopes and a chance of successive promotions. It is fair to say that a lot of scepticism greeted Michael Appleton’s appointment after a pretty dismal track record at clubs higher up the pyramid at the time. He led them to 13th in League Two in his first season before employing an exciting brand of football (and some very astute signings) to roar them to promotion last term, although not without ridiculously boasting that the Yellows were “the best side in the league” despite finishing a full 13 points behind runaway leaders Northampton.

He has, however, continued to build on their success and could rest one or two players (such as striker Kane Hemmings) whilst still carrying threats to sully the visitors’ streak of clean sheets.

Oxford vs Bury

Exciting talent and EFL Young Player of the Year nominee Ryan Ledson remains with England U20s, so will miss out tonight. Both full backs who might start (Joe Skarz being yet another familiar face to Shakers’ fans) are adept at tucking in and nullifying direct dribbling and running into the channels. Again, an interesting battle will be Greg Leigh versus either Christian Ribeiro or Phil Edwards. Both Oxford right backs can physically dominate their men and the former Man City wing back will need to continue his rapid improvement to best his opponent.

If physical strength is the hallmark of the U’s defence, passing range is the centre of midfield’s calling card. Both John Lundstram and the versatile Josh Ruffels are very happy to sit in front of their back four and dictate the tempo, while Joe Rothwell and Liam Sercombe will provide only nominal width and are likely to cut inside at every opportunity to give the hosts numerical advantage in the middle and cut off Bury’s means of picking out the wing-backs at the source.

Robert Hall might play off Toni Martínez and could even constitute the fifth midfielder in their XI when out of possession. The former Bolton misfit has found his home further south and possesses electric pace, comfortable dribbling and shooting with either foot and an end product to boot and will be the biggest danger regardless of where he plays.

vs Oxford

Should James Vaughan not recover from a tight hamstring in time, expect to see Ryan Lowe leading the line with Hallam Hope working the channels. Antony Kay might make more forays into midfield to deal with Sercombe in particular and help Bury gain vital possession of the ball.

As for a prediction, I’m going with a 1-1 draw – this might be the best time (if there is such a thing) for Bury to play Oxford – some players will doubtlessly be looking to stake their claim for the Wembley trip but others might go into it with the mentality of protecting themselves just a little to prevent injury. It’s hard to say for certain but it should be a more flowing game of football than of late for the Shakers; Exile Jr. also thinks it will be a draw but 2-2. It’s difficult to see Joe Murphy concede more than one but he’s been correct before with such a prediction…

Bury vs Fleetwood Town: Preview

Update: It has been brought to my attention that Conor McLaughlin has been called up for Northern Ireland’s World Cup Qualifier on Sunday against Norway.  Joe Davis or Victor Nirennold are likely to deputise and both of them are a touch more comfortable at centre back first and foremost, so it will be fascinating to see what difference it makes to Fleetwood’s strategy.

Since completing their remarkable rise up the FA pyramid to be included in the top 92 clubs in England (& Wales) several years ago, Fleetwood Town have enjoyed having a bit of an Indian sign over Bury, having never lost to their hosts for tomorrow’s match in any competitive tie.

On paper, they look unlikely to give up their dominance over the Shakers and sit in an extremely impressive third place despite being quoted with odds of 12/1 and longer prior to the opening weekend of the season to be promoted. Uwe Rösler has to be given a lot of credit for the success the Cod Army have had thus far and it was no surprise to me that he was announced as Sky Bet League One Manager of the Season earlier this week. Relative to the expectations of the club, the lateness of his own appointment just prior to the curtain-raiser and fanbase size, they deserve all the plaudits they are currently receiving regardless of what happens between now and the end of the 2016/2017 campaign. Rösler was harshly sacked by both his previous clubs (Wigan and Leeds) and is someone whose progress as a manager I have been keeping a close eye on and on at least two occasions, I have wanted him and his methodical approach to be employed at Gigg Lane.

The Lancashire side’s form has taken a little bit of a wobble by their extremely high recent standards, having gone 18 league matches unbeaten before succumbing to resurgent promotion rivals Bolton 4-2 at the Highbury Stadium and now look up at the Trotters four points off the pace and with an inferior goal difference. Nevertheless, they can be confident of coming away from Greater Manchester with at least a point and can boast one of the most settled sides in all of the divisions.

Fleetwood vs Bury

There are no new injury concerns for Rösler to contend with and central midfielder George Glendon will still be available for selection despite serious off-the-pitch allegations made against him. Alex Cairns is a goalkeeper blessed with excellent reflexes and he marshals his defenders more than competently.

Cian Bolger and Ashley Eastham are familiar names to Bury fans for differing reasons; the former was part of a Shakers side that arrested their poor form and finished 2015/2016 in a safe mid-table position. For his part, he looked comfortable if not spectacular. Eastham is remembered for less glowing reasons, with his nadir coming in a televised game away at Notts County in 2012/2013, being culpable for three of the Magpies’ four goals. However, along with loan signing Ben Davies from Preston, they have shut out many of the third tier’s most dynamic attacks, including runaway leaders Sheffield United. Davies’ versatility helps him cover for the foraging runs made by Amari’i Bell. Bell is an explosive talent at left wing-back and a big threat crossing from the flank. It is no surprise that he has continued to attract interest from higher leagues and he will provide Taylor Moore with his toughest challenge yet in a Bury shirt.

On the other wing, Conor McLaughlin also cannot be ignored. His place in the Team of the Season was more than warranted despite Kieron Freeman’s prolific scoring record from a similar role. He isn’t blessed with as much pace as Bell but can still rove up and down the length of pitch more than happily and chip in with a few goals of his own.

Markus Schwabl, a January signing from the 3. Liga in Germany, is not a natural defensive midfielder but has slotted in nicely in that role and offers another layer of protection when teams press Fleetwood high up the pitch or look to play on the counter.

Bobby Grant, a stalwart in the red, white and black and fresh from signing an extended contract, will drive forward at every opportunity afforded to him and ask questions of the Bury rearguard. He has seven goals to his name and is an ever-present figure in the side this season.

Up front, David Ball is just as happy attacking from a deeper position as he is leading the line and he offers plenty of support for forward runners and his strike partner, which is likely to be Ashley Hunter. The latter can play anywhere across the front of an XI and again, that versatility can assist him in finding pockets of space and drawing men to the ball.

vs Fleetwood

As a result of the Cod Army’s many threats and the relocation of Andrew Tutte to the injury table yet again, I expect that Lee Clark will give the visitors a lot of respect and blunt his own squad’s attacking ambitions up to a point. Greg Leigh and Taylor Moore will of course still be tasked with providing all the width but Moore in particular with his hands full with Bell and will need to call on Leon Barnett to assist him in stopping as many lofted passes into the area coming in as possible. Captain Antony Kay will have to keep Grant’s scheming and Kyle Dempsey’s direct dribbling in check and that could mean fewer opportunities to play the ball out from the back.

Paul Caddis, now fully up to speed, will be the most natural choice to drop back as and when required. The impressive Kean Bryan probably won’t start as Clark continues to manage his recovery from long-term injury, so most of the onus will fall on the former Birmingham utility man’s shoulders from a defensive point of view. Callum Styles should return after being taken out of the firing line against Milwall last Saturday and along with Jacob Mellis, they both need to balance positional discipline with creating goalscoring opportunities for James Vaughan and Tom Pope, which were severely restricted at the Den.

As for a prediction, I’m going to go for a low-scoring draw of 1-1. Most of the threats both teams possess, coupled with largely matching shapes, will cancel each other out. Exile Jr. is once again of a different opinion – he thinks it will end up 3-2 to Bury. A point would represent a very good result and most eyes in the home end will be glancing at their phones to keep abreast of Port Vale’s match with MK Dons and willing the away side to victory almost as much as their own boys in white.

 

Millwall vs Bury: Preview

League One Manager of the Month for February Neil Harris leads his Lions into tomorrow’s encounter with Bury 14 matches unbeaten in the division; not since before Christmas have Millwall tasted defeat. As a result of their FA Cup exploits, they also have three games in hand on most of their play-off rivals and a maximum haul would take them level with Fleetwood in second place.

Harris can also boast a fully fit squad to choose from, which no manager at the Shakers’ helm has had for at least two years.

Millwall vs Bury

Goalkeeper Tom King, if selected, will be looking to make amends for the manner in which he conceded the sixth goal against Tottenham in the FA Cup last weekend. That error and his proclivity to punch the ball might be something Lee Clark instructs his front five to test him on, especially from dead ball situations in the latter case. To even get that far, they will have to breach one of the meanest defences of 2017 first.

Millwall Run

Spurs aside, the above shows the platform on which Harris’ men have roared into the top six, including shut-outs against Premier League opposition in the cup run. King will be very well protected by a mostly conservative back four; the key battle in the game could centre around Tony Craig and Taylor Moore. Craig isn’t exactly the paciest of full backs but makes up for that with his positional sense. He will be more than ably helped out by his defensive teammates, not least of whom is Byron Webster, one of my picks for the League One Team of the Year (look out for that in a future blogpost). He normally manages to stay on the right side of physical and can outmuscle almost any striker in the third tier – another war of attrition could be fought with either James Vaughan or Tom Pope.

Shaun Cummings will look to bomb up the flank in support of an array of possible candidates. It could be Jed Wallace, on loan from Wolves. Wallace has struggled in the old gold shirt to make the right wing berth his own but he would give Greg Leigh and Cameron Burgess plenty to think about with his crossing ability and forays into the channels. On the opposite side, Shane Ferguson is more defensive minded and could be deployed narrower to make up a midfield three when out of possession to match Bury’s shape and win it back quickly. Central midfield duo Ben Thompson and Shaun Williams take turns to shuttle between the back four and front two and that dynamism is something else the visitors will have to be watchful of and contain when possible.

Up top, penalty expert Lee Gregory is likely to lead the line. It was his spot kick in the reverse fixture after Niall Maher handled at the near post that kickstarted Millwall’s comeback to win 3-2 after being three down with 20 minutes on the clock. Better in the air than with the ball at his feet, he is also quite agile and will rove between Antony Kay and Burgess in an attempt to be goal-side of them when the crosses come in (mostly from the right flank). Again, it’s uncertain who he will playing alongside but if it’s precocious talent Fred Onyedinma, as a pair they would offer a lot of movement for the London side.

There are also many options from the bench to consider, which is always the hallmark of a team gunning for promotion. Everyone at Bury is already aware of what David Worrall can do; alongside him are likely to be target man Steve Morison and versatile inside forward/support striker Aiden O’Brien, who each have 10 league goals to their names to complement Gregory’s 14. If things aren’t panning out too well, there is a lot of ammunition on the sidelines to affect the outcome.

vs Millwall

As for the Shakers, I have a sneaky feeling we might see Kean Bryan start for the first time since being sent off in the derby debacle against Rochdale back in October (and he was subsequently injured in training during his suspension). He will add more bite to what is bound to be another hard fought contest and is more defensively inclined than any other Bury midfield option fit and/or still being considered for selection. That would allow Callum Styles to be a choice to have on the bench if a spark of creativity is required. Jacob Mellis might also return to the squad but I think this game will come too quickly for him to feature prominently.

Much like with my Bristol Rovers prediction, I suspect that the Lions will come out on top but not without a fight: I am going for a 2-1 victory for the home side. Exile Jr. has opted for a 1-1 draw, which I would take if offered it right now. All eyes down at the bottom will be on Port Vale’s tussle with Shrewsbury – a draw or win for the Shropside side would mean that even a defeat wouldn’t be too alarming for Lee Clark. There are bound to be a few more twists and turns yet and a thousand other clichés.