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VERDICT: Bury 1 Oxford United 1
IT is hard to say whether Jim McNulty’s glass will have been half empty or half full after the centre-back toasted his man-of-the-match award following Tuesday night’s draw at home to promotion hopefuls Oxford.
The 29-year-old defender was calmness personified on the pitch as he produced his third near faultless display since swapping Championship Barnsley for Bury.
But McNulty cut a frustrated figure in the press room after the match as he recounted how his new side had come to concede their first goal in 238 minutes of football under his watch, following shut-outs in his first two games for the Shakers against Burton Albion and Wycombe Wanderers.
“I’m content we have got another point, but highly frustrated we haven’t been able to keep another clean sheet to add to the two we managed in our last two games,” said McNulty.
“I’ve loved getting the clean sheets so far and I’m devastated we haven’t got another one because it was a poxy goal we have conceded.
“We all feel that we were doing our own jobs we were given, but a man in transition, who hadn’t been up at other corners, caught us cold.
“No-one was designated to mark him so it’s one of those things, but it won’t happen to us again.”
Josh Ruffels’ back post header off a Danny Rose corner, which brought the sides level just two minutes after Craig Jones had given the Shakers a 56th-minute lead, was the only blot on their copybook all match.
Oxford’s unbeaten away record looked under threat as the managerless side dropped deeper and deeper in the face of relentless Bury possession.
It was a tactic that frustrated David Flitcroft’s side, who could and probably should have taken a 10th-minute lead after Anton Forrester failed to connect properly with a header from Andrew Tutte’s pinpoint cross.
Neither side were able to open up a clear-cut chance for the remainder of the first half, with Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro curling an effort at Oxford keeper Ryan Clarke and Forrester blasting an angled drive over the bar.
At the other end, Ruffels had a fierce shot well blocked, while McNulty provided the highlight of the half, dummying two onrushing attackers on the edge of his own penalty area before striding confidently out of defence.
Ashley Grimes made way for Daniel Nardiello to return from a hamstring injury after the break and it was the substitute striker who provided the cross to break the deadlock.
Clarke failed to claim the ball under pressure on his six yard line and Jones was on hand to fire the loose ball into an empty net.
Sadly for Bury, Ruffels quickly cancelled out their lead, rising highest at the back post to equalise.
And while Clarke did well to turn an instinctive Nardiello shot around his post, the Shakers late barrage on the Oxford goal, extended by seven minutes of injury time after Brian Jensen required treatment to a head wound, proved fruitless.
The fact Bury passed League Two’s third-placed side off the park should have provided McNulty some comfort, but the point did little to ease his frustration.
“We killed them with the goal and if we had just held the lead for 10, maybe five minutes, I think that might have been enough - the momentum was with us,” he said.
“We have got a 1-1 draw, which, in the bigger picture against a team that has conceded the lowest number of goals in the league and is undefeated away, is ok, but they should have been defeated tonight.”
The point did, however, move Bury up three places to 17th in the table and open up a three point gap over Saturday’s opponents – second-bottom Torquay United.
McNulty is now determined to stretch that gap further on the Devon coast.
“It’s a long trip to Torquay, but a long trip for three points - we are determined to go there now and win,” he said.
“A win against Oxford would have made it slightly more comfortable but I do believe we are going in the right direction.”
BURY: Jensen 6; Veseli 7, Mills 7, McNulty 8; Jones 8, Tutte 7, Miller 7, Sedgwick 7; Grimes 6 (Nardiello 7 50); Forrester 8 (Soares 6 80), Akpa Akpro 6 (Platt 6 74).
Not used: Hinds, Procter, Burke, Charles-Cook.
OXFORD UNITED: Clarke; Bevans, Hunt, Mullins, Newey; Smalley, Rose, Wroe, Ruffels, O'Dowda (Kitson 63); Constable (Connolly 63).
Not used: Davies, Marsh, Henly, Long, Lynn.
Goals: Bury – Jones 56. Oxford United – Ruffels 58.
Yellow cards: Oxford United – Newey 14, Hunt 45+1.
Referee: Graham Horwood (Bedfordshire).
Attendance: 2,303 (204 visiting).
Star man: Jim McNulty – The centre-back continued an excellent start to his Bury career with another imperious display at the back. Dropping his shoulder to dummy two on-rushing Oxford forwards as it looked like he would be caught in possession in front of his own penalty box was a highlight of what should have been a difficult night for the Shakers. The fact Bury made holding the promotion hopefuls to a draw look easy was in large part thanks to McNulty’s calming presence at the back.
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