It was a proverbial game of two halves at Gigg Lane on Saturday as Bury turned around a lacklustre first half performance into a swashbuckling second half to win 3-0 against Irlam, writes James Beedie.

Bury manager Dave McNabb made only one change to the side that beat AFC Liverpool the week before with Harry Wright reclaiming his place between the sticks after being absent through illness.

With heavy rainfall in the week already postponing one match Bury turned out onto a difficult Gigg Lane pitch that did pose some problems. In opposition Irlam were no pushovers, their lower mid-table placing belying the fact that with so many games in hand still to play their true position in the league ought to be around the edge of the playoff places. Without a doubt the Shakers would have a difficult task in overcoming the visitors and so it proved.

In a first half Bury might prefer to forget they were consistently on the back foot. Ethan Cartwright and Mwiya Malumo both fired early efforts over Harry Wright’s crossbar while Millen Brown and Joe Rothwell had shots that flashed across goal as a sluggish Bury defence struggled to keep the Irlam attack at bay.

There were some chances for the home side, a Billy Reeves free kick landed on the roof of the Irlam net while the same man managed to break through the Salford side’s defensive line but his shot on goal was parried away by goalkeeper Lee White.

Harry Wright continued to be the busier of the two keepers saving shots from Malumo and Mason Everton as the Shakers who had put in some impressive performances of late looked decidedly off the pace and were perhaps grateful for the break at halftime.

There were some concerns that the second half may continue to be a hard slog for Bury as pressure from the visitors forced a shot by Malumo that had to be saved by Wright, however following that early chance the Bury keeper was rarely called upon for the rest of the match.

Bury began to impose themselves, first Andy Scarisbrick and Jordan Butterworth saw decent efforts deflected wide before Scarisbrick played in on goal from a Briggs header saw his shot well saved by White. As the Shakers began to create increasingly promising chances for themselves it felt like only a matter of time before the deadlock was broken and it arrived from the penalty spot.

Referee Justin Walton ruled that Bury’s Tom Moore had been dragged down in the penalty box and pointed to the spot. Up stepped Dec Daniels. The Bury striker had joined the club from Irlam and had scored 33 times in 27 matches for the visitors but had no hesitation in taking the penalty against his former side. Lee White went the right way and got a hand to the ball but could not prevent Daniels from scoring Bury’s first goal of 2024.

After Bury took the lead the floodgates opened. Scarisbrick fired over the bar from a Comber cross while another centre into the Irlam box by Comber was scrambled clear by the defence. Bury grabbed a second goal shortly afterwards. A misplaced backpass by Jacob Holt was intercepted by Andy Briggs and facing a one on one chance against White Bury’s top scorer found the bottom corner to double the Shakers lead.

It was the third time in four matches that both of Bury’s forwards had got onto the scoresheet and the Shakers’ productive frontline were high on confidence. Daniels attempted an audacious long range effort that whistled past the top corner of the goal, missing by inches. Shortly afterwards he was played in by Briggs to shoot again and nearly scored at the near post, White deflecting the shot into the side netting.

Bury could have extended their lead further when Scarisbrick, whose efforts did deserve a goal, found himself with another good opportunity one on one. White however was equal to the task saving another goalbound strike. The overworked Irlam keeper was called upon once more to save a shot from Briggs from close range as the Shakers ran rampant in the closing stages.

Stoppage time dragged on as a match all but won entered the closing stages. The six added minutes had already elapsed when defender Gaz Peet unchallenged by an exhausted Irlam romped in to the box and fired a shot to the bottom corner. White saved the initial shot but the rebound fell to substitute Joe Hobson who tapped home Bury’s third of the day.

At full time Bury could look back on another crucial three points, a clean sheet and a goal for each of their strikers. The day was won in a blistering last half an hour that changed the course of the match. Coupled with results elsewhere that largely went in Bury’s favour meant it was a perfect start to the year for Dave McNabb’s side.