It had all started so well. Victory over MK Dons on September 27th put Bury second in League One, leading up to an appetising meeting with league leaders Scunthorpe United the following weekend.
As accustomed to false dawns as Bury supporters may be, it would have taken an especially pessimistic one to have predicted their form since then. Prior to thrashing Peterborough United 5-1 last Saturday, Chris Brass’s side (admittedly, only for the past month and a half, following the sacking of David Flitcroft) had failed to win in 20 games.
As the Shakers slipped to defeat after defeat over the autumn months, their fate appeared inevitable, but with a number of loan signings arriving to freshen things up, combined with the news that a number of key players are close to a return from injury, relegation to League Two is far from a formality just yet.
The emergence of a number of exciting youngsters has also proved to be a source of encouragement, with teenagers Scott Burgess, George Miller, Callum Styles and Jacob Bedeau all impressing after being thrust into the limelight. The feeling is that with a full squad, the mixture of experienced pros and fearless tyros should be enough to catapult the Shakers away from danger over the last few months of the season.
The bipolar nature of their season suggests that the team’s success is also heavily reliant on confidence. Prior to their disastrous losing run, Bury had won five on the bounce, with Flitcroft also being named as the division’s Manager of the Month. His own fate was sealed in mid-November, but by this point his players’ confidence appeared to have reached such a nadir, that even they didn’t believe they could win a game; performances improved under Brass, but late goals saw them continue to slide towards the lower echelons of the table.
As their performances began to improve even further over the Christmas period, the Shakers were unlucky to face some of the division’s top sides. However, draws at Fleetwood Town and Bradford City, and plucky performances against Sheffield United and Scunthorpe United showed that Brass’s faith in the club’s youngsters had not been misguided.
A victory was always coming, but the manner in which it did was as much of a surprise as the winless streak that had preceded it. After falling behind to an early Tom Nichols strike, an incredible four goals in the space of 20 minutes from former Everton forward James Vaughan put the Shakers 4-1 up after just half an hour. Following months of misery, the Gigg Lane crowd could be forgiven for allowing themselves to get a little giddy as their side went into the interval with a comfortable lead. There was to be no throwing away of a lead this time, as Bury kept Peterborough at bay before the 18-year-old Miller fired home his fourth goal of the season to wrap up a comprehensive victory.
Whether the result can now spark a 20-game unbeaten run is probably unlikely, but with the next six games coming against teams in the bottom half of League One, there is a chance for the Shakers to build on Saturday’s victory. There is no doubt in any Bury supporter’s mind that they will rely heavily on the goals of Vaughan, whose 14 league goals have come at a rate of one every 117 minutes, and with the 28-year-old full of confidence it is time to show that he is a cut above at this level.
The return of a number of key first team players will also come as a major boost to the Shakers’ hopes of survival. Earlier in the season, wingers Danny Mayor and Zeli Ismail had looked unstoppable, causing problems for many an opposition full-back, before injuries struck. With the pair reportedly close to a return, Brass will be hoping that they can get back to their best as soon as possible.
However, goals are not the most important of Brass’s worries, with his side currently the joint-fourth top scorers in League One. Unfortunately, they also possess the second-worst defensive record in the entire Football League, but it is hoped that the arrival of Taylor Moore and Cameron Burgess on loan will shore up a porous defence that has kept just three clean sheets this campaign. Similarly, the re-signing of goalkeeper Rob Lainton, who was released in the summer, appears to have given the whole club a lift, and if they can gel into a solid defensive unit over the next few weeks then that may mean the likes of Vaughan and Tom Pope have to work a little less hard to ensure victory (Bury have failed to pick up a point on five occasions when they have scored two or more goals during 2016/17).
Brass may not have been the man that Bury supporters originally wanted to replace Flitcroft, but if he can steer the club away from the League One relegation zone then few could argue that he has not achieved his remit. It is also a great opportunity for the 41-year-old to make his name as a coach, after a 17 month spell in charge of York City between 2003 and 2004 coincided with the Minstermen losing their Football League status.
The Bury boss will be careful not to get carried away with Saturday’s result. The scoreline flattered the Shakers somewhat, and there is still a lot of work to do if they are to remain at this level next season. The young players may look promising, but it is crucial that some of the club’s more experienced professionals stand up and be counted in the second half of the season. In the likes of Vaughan, Tom Soares, and Leon Barnett, the Shakers have Championship experience and such players will certainly not want to suffer the ignominy of relegation to League Two.
Featured image: all rights reserved by Ronald Schutte
Is the signing of James Vaughan central to Bury’s hopes of League One success?
From a supporter’s perspective, it is difficult to gauge how Bury will get on in 2016/17. Based on what we’ve seen so far, it could go either way. An impressive opening day victory over Charlton Athletic provided hope that we wouldn’t be the divisions whipping boys, but the Shakers then failed to win their next three matches despite a series of spirited performances. A truly dismal 1-0 home defeat to Oldham Athletic set alarm bells ringing and things looked particularly ominous when David Flitcroft’s men went 3-0 down to Walsall within the space of 32 minutes on Saturday.
A second-half comeback followed, inspired by new signing James Vaughan, who found the net on his Bury debut. The game finished 3-3, a result which felt more like a victory than a draw. There had been talk in recent months that Flitcroft had lost the dressing room, but based on the second-half performance at the Bescot Stadium it seems as though the players are still firmly behind him.
The sale of Leon Clarke to Sheffield United has been cited as one of the major reasons for the anxiety surrounding whether the Shakers can stay up this season. The 31-year-old was the club’s top scorer with 15 goals last season and whilst his departure was seen as a necessity due to the high wages he was on, many fans were understandably worried about the gaping void that would be left behind.
The first few games of this season have seen long balls punted in the direction of targetman Tom Pope, who whilst being competent in the air, appeared to be expected to lead the line entirely by himself. This was never going to work; the former Port Vale man is limited at best when the ball is at his feet, but his strength and aerial ability make him the perfect partner for a clinical goalscorer.
It was painfully clear that a new striker was required. In addition to Clarke, Danny Rose, Ryan Lowe and Daniel Nardiello all left Gigg Lane over the summer, and whilst Chris Brown and Nicky Clark were brought in as replacements, their goalscoring records in recent years leave a lot to be desired. Finally, after weeks of watching Pope fight a losing battle up front on his own, Flitcroft moved to bring in Vaughan from Birmingham City last week.
The 28-year-old; who still holds the record as the Premier League’s youngest ever goalscorer, was on the verge of joining Burton Albion before the Shakers hijacked the move at the last minute. Some were initially sceptical about signing a player who failed to score in 20 outings last season, but Vaughan arrives with a pedigree that indicates he could be the man to replace Clarke.
After netting on his Everton debut aged 16 years and 271 days, Vaughan went on to make 47 appearances for the Toffees, scoring seven times. After loan spells at Derby County, Leicester City and Crystal Palace, the team he scored his record breaking goal against, the Birmingham-born player moved to Norwich City in 2011, but made just five appearances during his time at Carrow Road. A loan spell at Huddersfield Town followed and a record of 14 goals in 33 Championship matches was enough to earn the player a permanent move to West Yorkshire.
He looked to have finally found a home, scoring 17 goals in 53 games for the Terriers. However, Vaughan then left to join his hometown club Birmingham City on loan last season and things didn’t go well; he failed to find the net in 16 appearances for the Blues. Most of these were cameos from the substitutes bench, and, growing frustrated with a lack of first-team opportunities, Vaughan decided that it was best for him to move on again.
His time at St. Andrews may have put other Championship managers off signing him, but their loss could well be Bury’s gain. The Shakers have found themselves a player who, up until last season, has proven that he knows where the net is at Championship level and is certainly capable of reaching a tally similar to what Clarke achieved last season. Although many are expecting him to be a like-for-like replacement, Vaughan has a slightly different playing style to that of his predecessor. Both are regarded as natural goalscorers but whilst Clarke relies on his strength and can appear languid at times, Vaughan’s main strengths are his energy and speed.
Vaughan will undoubtedly feel he has a point to prove this season after dropping below the second tier for the first time in his career. His failure to succeed at Birmingham will have hurt and at 28, he will be hoping to make a return to the Championship as soon as possible. At Bury, he will now be the main man and if he can build on the auspicious start he made last weekend then a successful season will be on the cards for both club and player.
One of the most pleasing elements of Saturday’s game was how well the two strikers linked up once Pope came on as a first-half substitute. The two could compliment one another perfectly, with Vaughan looking like the type of player who may benefit from Pope’s physicality and link-up play. It must be noted that Vaughan himself is not bad in the air, so should Flitcroft opt to go with just one up front then the new man looks much more capable of playing the lone role than Pope does.
Next up in League One for the Shakers is Port Vale on Saturday. Bruno Ribeiro’s side have started the season well, sitting in 4th position after picking up 10 points from their opening five games. Bury will go into this one full of confidence following their second-half showing at Walsall and supporters will be hopeful that their new goalscorer can pick up where he left off. It may be too early to make a prediction on where the Shakers will finish come May, but the early signs are that James Vaughan will be crucial to their hopes this season.
Featured image: all rights reserved by Ben Early
Which areas do Bury still need to strengthen following their impressive opening day victory?
After a difficult summer, which involved flogging off the club’s best players to divisional rivals, there is finally something to be positive about at Gigg Lane after Bury’s superb 2-0 victory over League One new boys Charlton Athletic. A new-look Shakers side, featuring five new signings in the starting eleven, shocked the South London side with second-half goals from Neil Danns and Kelvin Etuhu as they won on the opening day for the first time in eight years.
There were plenty of positive for Bury supporters, in particular how seamlessly new signings Neil Danns, Antony Kay and Greg Leigh appeared to slot into the side. Although it was far from a perfect display, the early signs are encouraging that despite the loss of key players, David Flitcroft may well have assembled a side capable of steering the Shakers clear of the League One drop zone. Nevertheless, it was clear that certain aspects of the side still require strengthening before the transfer window shuts, but what areas should Flitcroft be looking to recruit players in if he is aiming for anything more than a low mid-table finish?
Firstly, it is essential that Flitcroft replaces the recently departed Leon Clarke, who joined Sheffield United two weeks ago. Chris Brown has been brought in from Blackburn Rovers, however, his goalscoring record is unimpressive to say the least and does not inspire confidence that the 31-year-old will be able to match up to the 15 league goals that Clarke managed last campaign.
Furthermore, both goals against Charlton came courtesy of midfield players and whilst it is important to have goals coming from throughout the side, Bury looked rather toothless upfront, particularly in the first-half. Flitcroft opted for Tom Pope as the man to lead the line, with support coming from Hallam Hope and Nicky Clark out wide. Pope did the best he could with the long balls that were pumped in his direction, but with support from the aforementioned wide players almost none existent, the Shakers failed to direct a shot on target in the first 45 minutes.
In Pope and Brown, Flitcroft currently has two experienced target men at his disposal. This possibly suggests that the direct tactics employed on Saturday are going to be his plan A this season, with one of the two being deployed down the middle. Whilst both possess an aerial threat, neither are very mobile and with Hope and Clark as the other options, it looks as though goals may not come too easily unless a goalscorer is brought in. A forward with pace and an eye for goal would be an alternative option if things aren’t going Bury’s way and they require a change in approach during games, however, this type of player is obviously not easy to come across and the timing of Clarke’s departure will make Flitcroft’s task of finding a suitable replacement even more arduous.
Another area for improvement is on the wing. With Craig Jones now the club’s first choice right-back, a space has opened up on the right wing. As mentioned previously, Flitcroft went with two inside forwards in the first-half on Saturday, and switched to two conventional wingers in the form of Danny Mayor and Zeli Ismail during the second-half. This seemed to change the game and is possibly how the manager will choose to line his side up over the next couple of games. Should he do so then Mayor is a dead cert on the left if fit, but the other side is still up for grabs.
Former-Everton youngster Hope continues to look out of his depth at this level and should probably be moved on if a bid from an interested party arrives before the end of August. On the other hand, Ismail showed signs of promise on his debut, but still appears raw so a new signing in this position could provide strong competition for the youngster. Flitcroft mentioned last week that he was still waiting to see whether a number of targets will become available for loan and it is possible that a new winger is one of those in his sights.
It would be fair to say that Saturday’s result came as a surprise to many supporters, who probably expected the bad news of the last few weeks to show no signs of abating as they faced one of the promotion favourites. Next up for the Shakers is Burton Albion in the League Cup on Wednesday night followed by a trip to Gillingham on Saturday. On paper it is not an easy start for Flitcroft and his men, but if they keep performing the way they did on Saturday, and with the help of a few more astute signings, 2016/17 may not turn out as badly as was originally feared.
Featured image: all rights reserved by Ronald Schutte
Were Bury right to let Peter Clarke leave for Oldham Athletic?
Quite simply put, no. Bury were not right to let Peter Clarke leave for Oldham Athletic yesterday. However, in order to reach a respectable word count I am going to have to expand upon this in order to put across an opinion as to why letting the defender leave may not actually be a bad thing. It is a bad thing, don’t get me wrong, I just have to produce around 600 words on the subject and I am not going to achieve that by simply stating the obvious.
Firstly, the defender was Bury’s player of the season by a landslide last campaign. A solid, uncompromising rock of a player, Clarke is essentially the archetypal lower league defender. If he had better technical ability and more pace then he wouldn’t have been playing for Bury, but he is very good at defending and that primarily being the main job of a centre-back, was why he was the Shakers key man during 2015/16.
The Southport-born defender moved to Gigg Lane last summer on a free transfer following a turbulent spell at crisis club Blackpool. At Bury he soon found a home, and made 48 appearances as his side finished 16th in League One (it would have been 14th if somebody had bothered to check whether Callum Styles had been registered to play in the league).
With Joe Riley and Chris Hussey already having left the club this summer, Clarke becomes the latest member of the Shakers rearguard to depart from Gigg Lane. Bury may have boasted one of the poorest defensive records in League One last season but many supporters believe that if it wasn’t for Clarke then things could have been far worse for David Flitcroft’s side.
Allowing him to leave to a rival, in both a local and a competitive sense, certainly hasn’t gone down well with supporters, who saw him as key to any hopes that their side had of a successful campaign. Clarke has signed a one-year-deal with the Latics and played in his new side’s 3-1 defeat to Preston North End last night.
Now for the argument as to why Flitcroft may have deemed it necessary to let his best player leave:
At 34, Clarke is no spring chicken and may not have too many years left in him. He is also likely to be one of the club’s biggest earners and with recent accounts showing that the club has been haemorrhaging money for the last two years it is no surprise that Flitcroft is attempting to trim down the wage budget.
It is still frustrating to see him go. In his short time at Bury he became extremely popular with supporters and for a while it looked as though the makings of a good partnership between him and Nathan Cameron were in place, before injury ended the latter’s season in late February. Clarke has made over 600 appearances for seven different clubs and possesses a wealth of experience at League One level. This, along with his sheer presence in defence will be missed dearly and it is important that Flitcroft replaces him effectively.
The man he has tasked with doing so is new signing Leon Barnett. Having spent most of his career in the second tier of English football, the 30-year-old certainly has the experience to match Clarke’s but it is difficult to imagine that he is on a significantly lower wage than his predecessor. Barnett once commanded a fee of £2.5 million when he left Luton Town for West Bromwich Albion in 2007, and has since had spells at Norwich City and Wigan Athletic. It is unlikely that he has come cheap, but he at least seems to have the pedigree to soften the blow of losing Clarke.
The departure of a key player with one year remaining on his contract has certainly left many Bury fans scratching their heads, and whilst it is necessary that the club off-loads some of its highest earners, the defender along with his namesake Leon Clarke, would have been the last players that supporters wanted to see leaving the club this summer. Only time will tell whether letting him go was a good idea, but this could be a decision that Flitcroft lives to regret over the coming months.
Featured Image: All rights reserved by Robbie Jay Barratt
Are Chelsea finally going to see the best of Alvaro Morata?
Sessegnon or Bale? Past or future? Spurs must make right move this summer
Amadou Haidara released by Leeds United, bringing an end to bizarre transfer chapter
Ryan Sessegnon should look at Tottenham pair and make switch
Jack Wilshere’s Everton arrival would surely spell the end for Morgan Schneiderlin?
Tottenham Hotspur3 weeks ago
Tottenham Hotspur must push Toby Alderweireld toward Barcelona
Liverpool3 weeks ago
Jurgen Klopp’s brave January decision is playing off thanks to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Brentford4 weeks ago
Romaine Sawyers – Blossoming in the Championship with play-off contenders Brentford
Liverpool3 weeks ago
Mohamed Salah: Is Liverpool’s Egyptian star the best player in the world right now?
English Premier League2 weeks ago
Liverpool 2-0 Newcastle United: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain growing into role under Jurgen Klopp
Liverpool3 weeks ago
Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold finds himself at the centre of Jurgen Klopp’s plans
Chelsea2 days ago
Are Chelsea finally going to see the best of Alvaro Morata?
Barcelona4 weeks ago
Chelsea 1-1 Barcelona: Three talking points from Stamford Bridge