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