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VERDICT: Bury 2 Bristol Rovers 1
6:00am Thursday 3rd April 2014 in Sport
A LATE Tom Soares winner propelled Bury up to the dizzy heights of 12th place in League Two and earned an almost cast-iron guarantee of league survival.
The Shakers are now closer to the play-offs than the relegation places, with a 10-point cushion over second-bottom Northampton and a nine-point gap to seventh-placed York City.
But with safety all but assured, manager David Flitcroft could be forgiven for being satisfied by the prospect of playing out the remaining six games in mid-table obscurity.
That seemed a distant dream when Bury slipped into the drop zone following defeat at Plymouth just a week into his tenure.
“To keep the team in this league has been relentless,” said the 40-year-old boss, who has virtually rebuilt the team from scratch during his three-and-a-half months in charge, guiding them to seven victories, 11 draws and just four defeats in his 22 games at the helm.
“I do believe the players and my staff deserve a lot of credit. Everyone is pulling in the right direction.
“I am delighted for the football club because we may not have deserved the win – Bristol might think themselves very unfortunate – but I do believe that over the time I have been at the football club we deserve to be in 12th place.”
Tuesday night’s victory – following on from a resounding win at Northampton on Saturday – catapulted Bury up six places in the table and extended their unbeaten home record under Flitcroft to 10 matches.
Yet it did not look like Bury would claim a place in the top half of League Two for the first time since August when Bristol Rovers bounced back from conceding an early Hallam Hope opener to level just before the break.
Hope had given the home side a dream start, cracking in a half-volley in only the third minute to score on his home debut following his loan move from Everton.
The 20-year-old striker, who also scored in the win at Northampton, showed great poise to control the loose ball on his thigh before rocketing his shot into the corner from the right-hand edge of the box.
Bury remained in the ascendancy for the opening half an hour, centre-back Pablo Mills heading a Chris Hussey corner over in the 22nd minute before Andrew Tutte saw a 25-yard drive whistle past the post.
Hope was then unlucky to see his pull-back to an unmarked Daniel Nardiello cut out after a powerful run to the byline, and Nardiello fired a clean strike just over the bar before Rovers barged their way back into the game.
Brian Jensen used his legs to block a John-Joe O’Toole effort from six yards on 44 minutes and Kaid Mohamed put the rebound over.
The Rovers striker was in the right place at the right time though to claim the equaliser in the first minute of stoppage time, deflecting in an Ollie Clarke shot from the edge of the box.
Jensen had no chance with that effort, but he pulled out a top-drawer save just a minute later, flinging out an arm to turn away Matt Harold’s header on the line.
The visitors continued to create chances after the break with Harold diverting a Lee Brown cross just wide of the far post and Michael Smith flashing a 25-yard shot across goal.
Bury slowly came back into it after the hour as Nardiello’s low shot was deflected just wide of the far post.
And the late introduction of Soares finally made the difference as the former Stoke midfielder lost his marker to glance home a header from Hussey’s 80th-minute corner.
“I got quite few things wrong and I have apologised to the players,” said Flitcroft.
“I changed tactics after half time to match them because they had quite a few chances.
“We had a look at it and changed it, but for 20 minutes at the start of the second half we couldn’t get near them.
“We flipped it back up and swapped it around and we got the last 20 minutes right. “But the character shown by the players in the first 20 minutes of that second half – that’s what has won us the game because we stood firm.”
BURY: Jensen 8; Veseli 6, Mills 7, McNulty 6, Hussey 7; Jones 6 (Rose 6 71), Tutte 6 (Soares 7 78), Sedgwick 6, Mayor 6; Hope 8 (Procter 6 81), Nardiello 7. Not used: Hinds, Platt, Charles-Cook, Obadeyi.
BRISTOL ROVERS: Mildenhall; Woodards (Clucas 46), Parkes (Santos 82), McChrystal; Smith, Clarke (Gillespie 85), Lockyer, O’Toole, Brown; Harold, Mohamed. Not used: Clarkson, Harrison, Harding, Gough.
Goals: Bury 2 (Hope 3, Soares 80) Bristol Rovers 1 (Mohamed 45+1).
Referee: Michael Naylor (South Yorkshire).
Attendance: 2,314 (179 visiting).
Star man: Brian Jensen – Hallam Hope’s explosive opener gave Bury the ideal platform to go out and claim their first win at home since February 1. But manager David Flitcroft rightly highlighted his team’s character in standing firm as the key to victory. A superb save by Jensen just before the break embodied that spirit, flinging out an arm to stop Matt Harold’s header on the line. Rovers were in the ascendancy at that point after equalising in first-half stoppage time and could easily have gone on to win the game had they got their noses in front.
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