REFEREEING decisions, missed chances and a man-of-the-match performance from opposition goalkeeper Josh Lillis denied David Flicroft’s Bury side a deserved victory against 10-man Rochdale.
That was the verdict from the Shakers manager following a breathless yet ultimately goalless East Lancs derby at the JD Stadium on Friday night.
Flitcroft believes a “tame” performance from match official Darren Drysdale turned the game into a scrappy spectacle.
The Lincolnshire referee sent off Rochdale’s Ian Henderson in the first half after dishing out two soft bookings and then missed a clear Bury penalty for a Peter Vincenti handball after the break.
“It’s a penalty - Peter Vincenti has definitely handballed it and Nults (Jim McNulty) was coming in behind him,” said the Bury boss.
“The referee is going to say there were lots of arms flailing but he’s in a good position and I just think maybe he felt as if he got the sending off wrong and just seemed to handle the second half a little bit tamely.
“It looked like a messy game from the dugout – it never really got going. It was stop-start and I do think the referee has played a part in that.”
Flitcroft was even unimpressed by the sending off – given after Henderson was judged to have deliberately handled a cross on 34 minutes to give himself a shooting opportunity and then pulled back Jake Carroll on the half-way line in the 43rd-minute.
“I don’t think the sending off helped either team,” he added.
“I think with 11 men it would have given us a real derby – and a good game - and I don’t feel as though we were part of one.”
Flitcroft’s reading of what was an end-to-end game was probably at odds to the thousands of neutrals watching it live on Sky and the 6,300 fans inside the JD.
It is fair to say the game went through a number of peaks and troughs, with an injury to Rochdale’s star striker Scot Hogan, which caused his withdrawal in the 17th minute, undermining what had been a whirlwind start for the visitors.
After Bury striker Clive Platt had a second-minute shot blocked from close range, Jack O’Connell, Jamie Allen and Peter Kavanagh all spurned chances for Keith Hill’s side.
Hogan’s substitution and Bury’s switch to a flat back four stemmed the flow of Rochdale attacks.
And while the home side didn’t give the fervent support much to cheer about in the attacking third before the break, striker Daniel Nardiello did open up space for himself in the box to blast a shooting chance just over.
Henderson’s dismissal should have opened the game up for Bury in the second half, and they could have taken control of it had substitute Lewis Young not fluffed a chance when put through on goal or the referee had not missed Vincenti’s handball from a Shakers set-piece.
Pablo Mills could have made that lack of a decision irrelevant had he not put the loose ball against the bar, but Dale continued to pose a goal threat, even with only 10 men.
Michael Rose shaved Brian Jensen’s near post with a wicked free-kick and Cavanagh sent a curling shot just wide of the back stick before George Porter forced a fingertip save from the big Danish stopper with a stinging 25-yard strike.
In between all that, Soares was denied by the first of three point-blank saves from Lillis after the loose ball landed at the midfielder’s feet 10 yards out.
Nardiello should have done better with a Platt knockdown from six yards out as Lillis dived at his feet with eight minutes remaining while the Dale stopper performed acrobatics to tip behind a Carroll header in stoppage time.
It is testament to Flitcroft’s confidence in his side that he was unhappy with just a point, criticising his attackers for not putting a Dale side to the sword that could have gone top of League Two with a victory.
“A great chance fell to Nards and I was expecting the net to ripple,” said Flitcroft, also highlighting the misses from Young, Soares and Carroll.
“It’s that edge, that ruthless edge you need to be a winner. They have got to take the opportunities when they present themselves.
“That’s the next part of the challenge, to beat these top four teams.”
Despite dropping down to 20th place in the table following the weekend’s fixtures, Bury have made undeniable progress under Flitcroft.
They remain unbeaten in seven home matches since his arrival, a run that has included draws against four of League Two’s top six teams.
And a sixth clean sheet in the last 10 matches has provided a firm foundation that is sure to reap rewards when their attacking players click into gear.
BURY: Jensen 9; Veseli 7, Mills 9, McNulty 6; Mayor 6 (Soares 6 46), Sedgwick 6, Miller 6 (Grimes 6 70), Carroll 6; Nardiello 7; Platt 6, Akpa Akpro 6 (Young 5 46).
Not used: Hinds, Forrester, Burke, Charles-Cook.
ROCHDALE: Lillis; Rafferty, O'Connell, Lancashire, Done; Allen (Porter 62), Cavanagh, Rose; Vincenti, Hogan (Donnelly 17), Henderson.
Not used: Eastham, Kennedy, Gray, Thomson, Bunney.
Yellow cards: Bury – McNulty 55. Rochdale – Henderson 34 & 43, Lillis 87, Vincenti 89.
Red cards: Rochdale – Henderson 43.
Referee: Darren Drysdale (Lincolnshire).
Attendance: 6,295 (2,027 visiting).
Star man: Pablo Mills – Bury weathered an early storm from Rochdale when they were forced to switch their formation to a flat back four to stop Keith Hill’s promotion chasers from running riot. Dale continued to ask questions in the second half and it was only through Mills’ determination and leadership that Bury were able to hold firm and stop them from creating any real clear-cut chances. Mills’ form since arriving in January has been overshadowed by defensive colleague Jim McNulty’s stellar performances, but he was the shining light in the Shakers’ backline on Friday night.