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How Bury have played their way out of trouble
THE old saying goes one swallow does not a summer make – but back-to-back league victories for the first time for more than a year felt like a massive step forward for Bury.
Kevin Blackwell was at the helm the last time the Shakers achieved that feat, in November 2012.
But after wins against Oldham and Portsmouth, Blackwell’s side managed just one more victory over the next two months, as the whole club unravelled behind the scenes, leading to Bury's relegation from League One.
The first few steps taken by David Flitcroft’s fledgling team look to be on a much firmer footing, and not just financially.
Backing at board room level has certainly helped, but Bury’s 2-1 win at York on Boxing Day and their impressive display in a 3-0 success at Hartlepool on New Year’s Day were founded on organisation and innovation.
In both those games, the Shakers started the match in an attacking 3-4-3 formation and, on each occasion, were 2-0 up inside the opening 20 minutes. And there was no fluke about it.
Right from the off, Flitcroft made it abundantly clear his relegation-threatened side would be playing their way out of trouble; there would be no repeat of the direct style adopted by the previous regime.
The philosophy of the new manager is based upon possession and philosophy – not rocket science, but something that seems to set them apart at League Two level.
While most sides set up two banks of four, Bury’s formation – similar to the one favoured by Roberto Martinez’s sides – allows players to crop up between the lines of the opposition.
It worked a treat against York and Hartlepool, whose players were chasing shadows in the opening stages.
Every Bury player always seems to have two targets to hit when in possession, with pockets of players moving around the pitch in triangles.
Often, they have taken their opponents out with quick flicks around the corner, and look to be able to break with real speed.
While his predecessors complained about the need to strengthen the squad, Flitcroft has managed to get the best out of the players available to him, and often out of position.
Chris Sedgwick has played across the midfield, while winger Danny Mayor excelled in the pocket behind the front two at Hartlepool.
That is a key position in Flitcroft’s favoured formation, linking midfield and attack, and one that both Mayor and club captain Craig Jones seem made for.
Elsewhere, it looks as if the team suddenly has a spine.
Brian Jensen is back to his best and looks to be a rock in goal, while Richard Hinds has provided much-needed experience in the centre of the back three since replacing William Edjenguele.
The central midfield pairing of the all-action Andy Procter and pivotal Tommy Miller has been an ever present for much of the season.
But the change in style has seen Miller re-born as a playmaker and allowed the double act to dovetail much more effectively.
In attack, Flitcroft suddenly finds himself with two proven goalscorers in Anton Forrester and Daniel Nardiello, who now have 11 goals in Bury colours between them.
The Bury boss acted quickly to extend Forrester’s stay to the end of the campaign following the 19-year-old’s quick-fire goal against York in his first start since September.
And it seems clear that, if the pair can stay fit, their partnership looks set to blossom, with both looking capable of hitting double figures before the end of the season, and maybe even passing the magical 20-goal mark.
If that happens then Brian Jensen’s desire to see out his career at Bury with one final promotion could happen sooner than expected.
Of course, all of this enthusiasm could easily be checked by the Shakers’ next game at high flyers Chesterfield on Saturday.
But the feeling is that Bury and Flitcroft are only just getting going.
If the new boss can target his recruitment to find players to suit his system, and provide Bury the cover they will no doubt need as the season progresses, the sky could be the limit come the spring.
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