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VERDICT: Bury 1 Northampton Town 1
THE DNA of David Flitcroft’s new-style Bury player may not be running through every member of Saturday’s matchday squad.
But even from this first display under his charge, the imprint of the new Shakers’ boss and his footballing principles were already clear to see.
Craig Jones looks to be the embodiment of what Flitcroft hopes to build.
The influential midfielder was handed the captain’s armband and promoted from his usual wide role to a central position behind the front two.
And the 26-year-old did not disappoint, linking up play between an experienced midfield three of Tommy Miller, Chris Sedgwick and Tom Soares with front two Danny Nardiello and Shaun Harrad.
Former captain Andy Procter looked to be the big early loser, with the no-nonsense midfield stopper relegated to a watching brief from the sidelines.
But the result of the changes, and just a week on the training field with Flitcroft, was there for all to see as Bury passed their fellow relegation strugglers off the park in the opening exchanges.
The Shakers had clearly been told to treasure possession, which they dominated early on, but when they broke they did so with purpose.
Sedgwick created their first real opportunity with a brilliant break down the right following a Northampton corner. The move looked to have broken down as his raking cross-field ball gave Harrad too much to do, but the ball rebounded off the onrushing keeper against the striker and rolled just wide.
When Bury’s opener eventually came, however, it owed much to a dubious decision by referee Nigel Miller, who adjudged Jones’ leap to get on the end of a Harrad centre was unfairly blocked.
Nardiello made no mistake, firing the resulting 23rd-minute penalty straight down the middle to claim his third goal in five games since joining on loan from Rotherham.
But Northampton were gifted a route back into the match six minutes later when Chris Hackett’s free-kick was glanced into the far corner off the head of Shakers defender Dean Howell.
Both sides traded blows after the equaliser as Bury’s dominance slipped and the Cobblers’ more direct style started to pay dividends.
Clive Platt headed just over for the visitors before Soares was twice denied by keeper Matt Duke – the first from a back post header and the second an instinctive stop to claw away a close-range strike.
Yet Aidy Boothroyd’s side looked to have completed the turnaround when William Edjenguele hacked down Izale McLeod in the box in first-half stoppage time.
It was an unnecessary penalty to give away, but Hackett wasted the gift, doing a pretty good impersonation of Chris Waddle’s famous World Cup miss, blazing his spot-kick high and wide.
Bury were less effective after the break, hampered by the forced substitution of Soares with a hamstring strain.
And when Sedgwick was also withdrawn with a nasty cut above his right eye after Joe Widdowson connected with a flailing elbow that went unpenalised, Northampton seized the initiative.
Nardiello’s opportunistic volley was the only Bury effort of the half before the Cobblers wasted a handful of chances.
Brian Jensen spread himself to deny McLeod and Cobblers defender Mathias Doumbe put a lob just wide after both evaded the Shakers’ shaky offside trap.
Boothroyd’s side also had two late penalty shouts turned down following a handball by substitute Procter and a clumsy challenge on Roy O’Donovan.
Flitcroft took some positives from the small strides his players were able to take early in the game, but was less than impressed as their new passing game deserted them after the break.
“First half I was delighted with some of the passing phases, movement and precision. They couldn’t handle us,” said the 39-year-old coach.
“But second half was a grind – a fight and a smash-up – and I don’t believe that is what League Two football needs to be about.
“We got a point and we’ve got something to build off, but the second half didn’t resemble anything I want to see on a football pitch.”
Bury did at least move up a place to 19th in a congested bottom half of the League Two table, but they remain just two points ahead of second-bottom Northampton and the relegation places.
BURY: Jensen 7; Beeley 7, Cameron 6, Edjenguele 6, Howell 5; Jones 8, Miller 7, Soares 7 (Grimes 45 6), Sedgwick 8 (Procter 77 6); Harrad 7 (Mayor 67 6), Nardiello 7.
Not used: Forrester, Navas, Lainton, Walker.
NORTHAMPTON TOWN: Duke; Amankwaah, Reid, Doumbe, Widdowson; Hackett, Morris, Ravenhill, Dallas; McLeod (O’Donovan 79), Platt.
Not used: Collins, Deegan, Emerton, McNamara, Blyth, Norris.
Goals: Bury 1 (Nardiello 23) Northampton Town 1 (Howell og 29).
Yellow cards: Bury – Miller 67.
Referee: Nigel Miller (County Durham).
Attendance: 2,835 (207 visiting).
Star man: Chris Sedgwick – The former Sheffield Wednesday midfielder has had to fight to force his way into the Bury starting XI since his arrival in the summer, but he is slowly becoming an indispensible member of the team. David Flitcroft switched him from an orthodox wide role into a deeper, more central position and he did not disappoint alongside Tommy Miller and Tom Soares in a midfield three. Sedgwick’s calmness on the ball and pinpoint distribution means he ticks all the boxes for Flitcroft and was sorely missed in the latter stages when he was forced to leave the pitch with a deep cut above his eye.
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