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COMMENT: Writing was on the wall for winless Shirtliff
WHEN pondering where it all went wrong for Peter Shirtliff, it’s tempting to instead ask the question did it ever go right?
No wins and only three draws from nine matches suggests that it started badly and just got worse for Shirtliff after he agreed to steady the ship following Richie Barker’s shock departure five days before the start of the season.
But when you consider the opposition his side faced and the performances they put in, it is fair to say that Bury have flattered to deceive.
Points at home to Brentford, on the opening day of the League One season, and away at Coventry and Sheffield United showed fans that the players were prepared to battle for their caretaker boss.
The Shakers also enjoyed dominant spells of possession against the league leaders Tranmere and promotion chasers Notts County and Preston, while they were desperately unlucky to lose to a late offside goal at Doncaster.
Naturally, as a former defender, Shirtliff pointed the finger at his side’s poor defensive record – conceding an average of two goals per game – for their lack of success.
Yet it is fair to argue that it is actually Bury’s inability to score that has cost them.
On that score, Shirtliff was dealt a difficult hand by his predecessor, who loaned out Shaun Harrad to Cheltenham and failed to include a recall option in the deal.
The suspicion is that he never fancied the forward as a League One striker and was eager to clear space in the wage budget for a proven goalscorer, with David Healy eventually fitting that bill.
You could also argue that Shirtliff would have probably never signed the mercurial Lateef Elford-Alliyu, who has barely figured since Barker left.
Yet to send Andy Bishop out on loan when Healy was injured and end up relying on the stuttering form of Lenell John-Lewis and two untried and untested loan strikers in Mark Cullen and Tom Hopper was a fatal mistake.
Cullen and Hopper may end up being great players, but when a couple of teenagers form your plan A of attack, you are always going to be in trouble.
The first job for Shirtliff’s replacement will be to sort out a settled strik force and decide on a formation that will provide cover for the defence while giving Bury’s flair players the platform to build upon.
It seems like a tall order, but the optimist in me believes that the players in the Gigg Lane squad are more than capable of succeeding at this level, if the new manager can just find that winning formula.