IT is too early to tell whether Bury will come to rue Saturday’s defeat at Cheltenham, but manager David Flitcroft clearly felt it was an opportunity lost.
The Shakers went into the match full of confidence after back-to-back wins on the road had stretched their unbeaten run to six matches.
A third straight victory would have moved them up to 12th place in League Two and left Flitcroft’s side just eight points behind Southend United in the final play-off spot, with two matches in hand and a trip to Roots Hall still to come.
But after Clive Platt handed them a 16th-minute lead with his first goal in Bury colours, the hosts levelled through Ashley Vincent two minutes later before substitute Byron Harrison bundled in a late winner eight minutes from time.
“I said to the players before the match that it was a bit of a crossroads game – you can win it and start driving up the league or you can lose and look over your shoulder,” said Flitcroft, conscious of the fact 16th-placed Bury are only six points clear of the drop zone.
In the end, the Shakers boss admitted he would have been happy with a draw.
But rather than point the finger at the defence, which had only conceded two goals in their previous six matches, he blamed his side’s lack of attacking intent for the dropped points.
“Yes, we didn’t keep them at bay long enough at 1-0, but we didn’t really show a ruthless edge in front of goal,” said Flitcroft, after seeing his players run riot in a 4-1 win at Mansfield last Tuesday.
“There wasn’t enough conviction or intent when we got into that last third - it’s something we got right against Mansfield, but didn’t here today.”
Cheltenham’s fourth home win of the season may well have come as a shock to their supporters, coming hot on the heels of a 4-1 thrashing at the hands of league leaders Chesterfield.
And when Platt side-footed home Daniel Nardiello’s low centre it seemed a matter of how many the in-form visitors would score.
But Robins striker Jamie Cureton had other ideas, putting Vincent in behind the Shakers defence with the ball of the game. And while Brian Jensen got a hand to the midfielder’s shot across goal, the Danish stopper couldn’t keep it out.
Bury then lost captain Craig Jones to a suspected hamstring tear, which curtailed their attacking endeavour.
Although new-boy Jake Carroll came close to scoring a second goal in as many matches before the break, controlling and teeing up a high ball for a spectacular volley that was deflected wide.
Danny Mayor and Nardiello tested the Cheltenham keeper with decent shots after the break, while Nardiello had a strong claim for a penalty turned down after being obstructed as he prepared to shoot.
But the withdrawal of Platt for Forrester and the Robins’ introduction of Harrison changed the flow of the game as Cheltenham started to get on top.
Jensen came to Bury’s aid on more than one occasion in the closing stages, punching away a swerving Sam Deering drive before making a flying fingertip save to turn away a header from Harrison.
The Robins substitute was not to be denied, however, forcing home Jermaine McGlashan’s cross from a yard out.
And Harrison - Cheltenham’s top scorer - could easily have added to his season’s tally of 12 goals but for an unbelievable point-blank save from Jensen in stoppage time.
Flitcroft was adamant, however, that he would not let just a second defeat in 11 matches derail his side’s recent improvement as Bury prepare for their first home match since a 1-1 draw with Oxford United on February 4.
The fact it will be against his former club Rochdale in front of the Sky TV cameras just intensified the manager’s determination.
“We are going to win football matches in this league, there’s no doubt about it and we’ve got another opportunity tomorrow night,” he said.
“They don’t come any bigger than this in terms of focus and arguably playing the best footballing team in the league, so we will look forward to it and embrace it.”
CHELTENHAM TOWN: Scott Brown; Ihiekwe, Troy Brown, Elliott, Jombati; McGlashan, Deering, Richards, Vincent (Kotwica 81); Gornell (Taylor 86); Cureton (Harrison 63).
Not used: Roberts, Braham-Barrett, Williams, Brundle.
BURY: Jensen 9; Veseli 7, Mills 7, McNulty 7; Jones 6 (Sedgwick 6 37), Tutte 6, Miller 6 (Young 6 78), Carroll 8; Mayor 6; Platt 7 (Forrester 5 68), Nardiello 7.
Not used: Hinds, Procter, Burke, Charles-Cook.
Goals: Cheltenham Town 2 (Vincent 18, Harrison 82) Bury 1 (Platt 16).
Yellow cards: Cheltenham Town – Deering 20, Jombati 29, Vincent 31. Bury – McNulty 51.
Referee: Andy Woolmer (Northamptonshire).
Attendance: 2,737 (331 visiting).
Star man: Brian Jensen – Bury’s defence has looked invincible in recent weeks, with five clean sheets in their last nine matches. But whenever Jensen has been called upon he has never let his side down and did not deserve to be on the losing team on Saturday. The big Dane was unlucky not to keep out the Robins’ opener after getting a hand to Ashley Vincent’s shot and could do little about Byron Harrison’s winner. And Jensen kept Bury in it right to the end after pulling off a number of late saves including a tremendous point-blank block to deny Harrison.