PLAY without fear but do not make yourself too comfortable was the challenge Shakers manager David Flitcroft posed to his players after they all but secured their place in League Two.
Back-to-back wins at second-bottom Northampton Town on Saturday and at home to Bristol Rovers on Tuesday night catapulted Bury into the top half of the table for the first time since last August.
They now take a 10-point cushion above the drop zone into this weekend’s visit of Exeter City, but while Flitcroft wants his squad to enjoy the final six games of the campaign, he will not be allowing them to coast.
“The players can now play without anxiety, without fear and enjoy it,” said Flitcroft, whose side are unbeaten in four matches since a defeat at bottom-club Torquay saw them briefly flirt with the relegation dogfight.
“There has been a lot of pressure to play a certain way but we have had to win ugly and that’s what we have done since the Torquay game.
“Since that defeat I have purposefully changed the style and we have dug in.
“But while I want my players to go out and express themselves now, I don’t do comfort zone. I can’t stand comfort. I don’t like the word comfort.
“I will make sure that this group of players maintain high standards – maintain the unbeaten home record that we have got and keep going away from home with a verve to bring back points.”
Bury’s squad had shown signs of flagging during a run that has seen them play 12 matches in six weeks, but a double striker swoop last Thursday, on loan window deadline day, provided a timely boost.
Hallam Hope – a 20-year-old Everton forward – hit the ground running with a goal in each of this week’s games, while Flitcroft’s other signing, Barnsley front man Danny Rose, also 20, came off the bench to score on his debut at Northampton.
The loss of Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro, who was recalled by parent club Tranmere after the loan window closed, now looks immaterial as Flitcroft prepares to start planning for next season.
“It’s been a mad 14 weeks, there is no doubt about that,” he said.
“I might reflect in the summer about what a difficult job this has been. People may forget where we were at the start of my tenure, but I am proud of what this group of players has achieved.
“Phase one was to consolidate and we have nearly achieved that.
“Now we will speak with the board and the chairman and really knuckle down and get some planning right for next season.”
That planning actually started on Monday, when Flitcroft released all but one of his final-year academy scholars, offering Navid Nasseri an extended trial with the first team before deciding his fate.