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VERDICT: Bury 2 Doncaster Rovers 0
IF success in football is all about building up momentum – then Saturday’s victory and performance represented a major step in the right direction.
All talk before kick-off was about Bury’s nine-match winless streak, yet, come the final whistle, the focus turned to three matches unbeaten and a second consecutive clean sheet.
Bury went into the match against second-placed Doncaster – who boasted the best away record in the top four divisions – with only five players on the bench and no defensive cover.
Manager Kevin Blackwell left out Efe Sodje and also had to do without makeshift full-back David Worrall, who suffered a thigh strain in training on Friday.
Yet, with three out of their back four making home debuts, Bury somehow managed to put in their most dogged rearguard display of the season.
Carl Regan, who signed non-contract terms on Friday, proved an able replacement for Worrall at right-back, while the new central defensive pairing of Stephane Zubar and Ashley Eastham picked up where they left off at Shrewsbury last time out.
Yet it was another “debutant” who made the headlines.
Nicky Ajose revived memories of Bury’s victorious charge to League Two promotion, setting up the opening goal for fit-again Andy Bishop before scoring himself on his second debut at Gigg Lane.
It was a throw-back to the 21-year-old forward’s first loan spell at his hometown club two years ago, when he returned from injury in the run-in to inspire the Shakers to a successful late surge.
The Edenfield-born player, loaned from Peterborough, helped break the deadlock on 25 minutes, latching on to Joe Skarz’s quick throw to dink a cross from the byline on to the head of Bishop.
It was an expert finish, steered across goal by the 30-year-old striker in his first start in eight matches.
Bishop had another decent shot blocked 10 minutes later, but Ajose was on hand to dispatch the resulting Skarz corner, turning the deep cross in at the far post.
Bury didn’t have it all their own way, and James Coppinger served warning of a difficult 45 minutes to come with a stoppage-time strike that whistled just past the post.
Yet, with Zubar looking every inch a young Sodje and Ethan Ebanks-Landell patrolling just in front of the back four, Bury were able to soak up waves of Doncaster pressure to restrict Bryan Flynn’s promotion-chasers to just four second-half chances.
Coppinger had the best effort, forcing a wonder save from Trevor Carson with a stinging shot from the edge of the box.
David Cotterill, who was lucky to be on the pitch after picking up a yellow card for seemingly pushing the assistant referee, also went close for Doncaster, curling a shot wide and putting a free header over.
While centre-back Jamie McCombe skied a good chance.
Bury had opportunities of their own, with Doncaster keeper Gary Woods standing up well to deny Bishop a breakaway goal. Woods also parried a late Tom Soares effort to the feet of Zac Thompson, who somehow contrived to put over the rebound.
The miracle of momentum, however, vastly improved Blackwell’s post-match mood.
“What excites me is that I think this team can do something, but right now I’ve only got one thing on my mind, and that’s to get out of trouble,” said the 54-year-old Bury boss.
“We’re solidly climbing our way out. We just need seven wins and a few more draws and we won’t be far away.”
BURY: Carson 7; Skarz 7, Eastham 8, Zubar 9, Regan 7; Ebanks-Landell 8, Thompson 7; Tom Soares 7, Schumacher 7, Ajose 8; Bishop 8.
Not used: C Jones, Carrington, Healy, Belford, Carole.
DONCASTER ROVERS: Woods; Quinn, McCombe, R Jones, Spurr; Cotterill, Keegan, Syers (Fowler 52), Bennett (Paynter 56); Coppinger, Brown (Sinclair 84).
Not used: Martis, Maxted, Griffin, Harper.
Referee: Tony Bates Attendance: 3,618 (1,381 visiting)