A point at Port Vale last week was okay. As ever though, it’s about what we do next that will really decide whether we can view the draw as a game unbeaten or game without a win.

We have long passed the point where we can re-frame poor results with stuff like ‘we were unlucky’, ‘that’s a difficult place to go to’ or ‘on reflection, that was a fair result’. We had the lead against Port Vale, we should have taken all three points. I don’t care how good their equaliser was or how turgid we were, you can’t give up leads at this point of the season.

It means there is all the more pressure on this Bury fixture and given the personalities involved on the other team, it’s not a game I’m looked forward to with any particular relish. Is the immutable law of the ex a real thing? I don’t know but it’s interesting how stuff like this affects teams more when they’re low on confidence rather than when you’re on a good run of form.

Some players who could play for us.

Some players who could play for us.

The new signings seemed to deliver an impact to mitigate what was otherwise a performance that sounded to be desperately lacking in quality last week. Baily Cargill was by all accounts a composed presence at the back, capable of both the physical and technical side of defending at this level. Jack Stephens grew into the game but the return of Romain Vincelot means that if he is to continue in the side, it will be at either right-back or centre-back. Even Darius Henderson made an impact, coming close to securing a win at the death.

Tony Mowbray has suggested in his pre-match interviews that he won’t be replicating the counter-attacking approach of last week for this game. While playing on the front foot brings its own risks, it may be the better approach rather than allowing the opposition to benefit from a tetchy Ricoh Arena crowd getting on the backs of the team. Hopefully having two new ball-playing defenders will help eradicate the nervousness that we’ve had of late with playing the ball out from the back.

Last Time We Met

Back in September Bury had ambitions of being amongst the promotion-chasing sides this season and on the evidence of their performance against us, had every reason for that confidence. To no-one’s great surprise, Leon Clarke (don’t boo him) headed in a Chris Hussey (don’t boo him) free-kick midway through the first-half. Clarke (don’t boo him) then was given a chance to double Bury’s lead from the spot after Reda Johnson left a leg out for Clarke (don’t boo him) to win a penalty.

We eventually got a foothold in the second-half, Reda Johnson got on the end of a corner to make things interesting in the final minutes. The closest we came to an equaliser was via a Sam Ricketts cross-shot that forced a good save from the goalkeeper. Bury though looked to have a good mix of physicality, quality and gamesmanship that successful teams at this level tend to have.

How Are They Doing?

If think we’re in a collapse, I’m not sure what the word is for what Bury are currently experiencing. They have won just three of their last 16 games, losing 10 of those. Despite having one of the most talented and expensively assembled squads in the division, manager David Flitcroft is floundering for solutions to the side’s woes. Having started the season playing seem pretty nice attacking football, Bury have gotten more and more defensive with players being regularly being deployed out of position.

The danger man for Bury is quite clearly their top scorer Leon Clarke (don’t boo him) who is of course playing at the Ricoh Arena for the first-time since his acrimonious departure two years ago. We all know pretty much what Clarke (don’t boo him) offers any time, physical, intelligent and a deadly finisher who thrives on being the man everyone hates. Need I remind anyone how counter-productive booing him would be?

Chris Hussey (don’t boo him) is someone who I think most are well aware is someone who doesn’t have fond memories of his time with this club and would love to strike a blow to our season with a big performance here. Hussey (don’t boo him) showed glimpses of the player he could be during his time here, probably playing a level too high at too early an age in a bad team, before the boo boys got to him  and his game fell to pieces. Hussey (don’t boo him) is a force to be reckoned with from left-back with excellent delivery who could really cause us problems given how much time and space we generally give overlapping full-backs.

Possible Line-Up

Another danger man is winger Danny Mayor who was an influential part of the side’s run to promotion last season. Direct and skilful, Mayor has struggled for form over recent months as the team’s form has disintegrated but should still be watched closely. Bury also have another winger struggling for form in our former trialist Chris Eagles.

The midfield for Bury is a bit of a mess at the moment with the likes of Danny Pugh (don’t boo him) and Reece Brown (don’t boo him) having to fill in and do a job without being specialists in that position. Nathan Cameron (don’t boo him) and Peter Clarke are too physically strong and powerful defenders who represent a threat at set-pieces. Should Bury take the lead, they have players who can soak up pressure pretty effectively.

Prediction

As I mentioned earlier in this piece, there’s something about seeing a team packed with former players while we’re on a bad run of form that doesn’t have me particularly looking forward to this game. With two managers both in the stage of a poor run where they’ll try anything to see their fortunes change, there is a random factor too in anticipating how both teams are going to approach this game and what the pattern of play is likely to be.

With the Shrewsbury game next week postponed, a failure to win here will mean we’re almost certain to be outside of the play-off positions for the next two weeks with plenty of time for the thought of that to stew and manifest itself as extra pressure on the team. Getting the win is absolutely crucial at this moment of the season, there’ll still be time to salvage the season afterwards but it just adds a further desperation factor which isn’t helpful.

I’ve got no idea what state of mind this team is going to be in, there couldn’t be a more opportune time to face Bury but we’ve seen over recent weeks that confidence is ebbing away from ourselves. Will this be the day the slump reverses or the season really gets away from us?

Stalling for no longer, I’m going to predict a useless 1-1 draw.

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