LEE Clark was quick to issue an apology to Bury supporters following Tuesday night's 5-1 defeat at Oxford United.

Goals from Marvin Johnson, Joe Rothwell and a Conor McAleny hat-trick condemned Clark to his second defeat as Shakers boss.

James Vaughan pulled a goal back with his 22nd strike of the season but there was no hope of a comeback as Bury missed a chance to extend their four-point cushion over the drop zone.

“First of all I would like to apologise to the fans that turned out for us tonight, well even the fans back home, because that’s just an unacceptable performance, certainly the first half,” Clark said.

“We will take responsibility, me being the manager, my staff and the players.

“For the first time since I came through the door we didn’t do many things, if any thing, right on the pitch.”

Bury’s defensive solidity of recent weeks, which had kept four consecutive clean sheets, disappeared as they faced a bombardment of 21 shots.

Oxford played with a point to prove ahead of their Checkatrade Trophy final this weekend and bossed the game from start to finish.

Mistakes were made in abundance by the Shakers, particularly at the back, but Clark took a portion of the blame after the game and insisted the team would take the result on the chin together.

“We go together,” Clark said. “We win together, we lose together. We all take collective responsibility for the performance.

“They (the players) are very disappointed. I didn’t see it happening but I’m learning all the time about the group and you sometimes learn in adversity about their real characters.

"Tonight was an adverse situation and I’ve learnt a lot of things.

“I obviously know Marvin Johnson from the SPFL (Scottish Professional Football League).

"We talked about his hammer of a left foot and we knew we had to engage him – we didn’t do that and that set the alarm bells ringing.

“You can be rest assured that at half time and after the game we were telling each other that it wasn’t acceptable.

“We were not prepared to accept that kind of performance.

"There were bits of improvement in the second half but they still had way too many chances.”

However, the evening could have been much worse for Bury.

Ryan Lowe made a crunching tackle on Johnson three minutes before half time, uncharacteristically plunging through the back of the full-back.

Despite protests from the home side calling for a red card, referee Andy Haines only flashed a yellow.

Lowe was substituted at the break and his manager issued a stern warning about the type of aggression he wants his side to show.

“If it was for me, I think he’s lost his head,” Clark said of Lowe’s foul on Johnson. “If I was Michael Appleton then I would be asking why there wasn’t a red card shown.

“We got beat 5-1, if we were a man down who knows what would have gone on after that.

“I’ve been there myself. You lose your head a little bit, you’re not happy with how the team are playing and you get the red mist.

“He understands that, he is a very experienced player. I want aggression but I want controlled aggression.

"It’s hard enough to win a football match with 11 men, it’s doubly difficult with 10.”

Young midfielder Callum Styles was the shock exclusion from the squad as he suffered with hamstring cramp.

Scouts from 33 clubs, many from the Premier League, were left disappointed at the youngster’s absence, as was Clark who rued the unavailability of Styles and defender Cameron Burgess, who remained away with the Australian Under-23s squad.

Clark added: “You would probably say tonight we missed big Cameron Burgess, he gives us that balance.

“Young Callum Styles had tightness in his hamstring. He is obviously a big player for us even though he’s so young.”

In a bid to force a way back into the game, Bolton loanee Tom Walker was introduced from the bench at half time alongside George Miller.

It was Walker’s first involvement in the squad for four months and Clark was impressed with the winger’s contribution – his corner was headed home by Vaughan.

He said: “Tom has got lots of ability. He just needs to learn the other side of the game. You have seen with his delivery from the corner that he has a lovely left foot.

“We have seen improvements in his training and to do the basics.”

Match ratings

Bury (5-3-2): Murphy 2; Moore 2, Barnett 2, Kay, 2, Bryan 3 (Hope 67, 4), Leigh 3; Caddis 3, Mellis 3, Pennant 2 (Walker 45, 5); Lowe 3 (Miller 45, 4), Vaughan 5. Subs not used: Lainton, Beadling, S Burgess, Pope.

Oxford (4-4-2): Eastwood; Edwards, Nelson, Dunkley, Johnson (Skarz 82); Hall, Lundstram, Ruffels, Rothwell (Sercombe 65); Hemmings (Martinez 65), McAleny. Subs not used: Stevens, Ribeiro, Long, Raglan.

Referee: Andy Haines (Tyne & Wear).

Attendance: 6,552 (185 visiting).