FOOTBALL LEAGUE expert Mark O'Haire (@MarkOHaire) shares his thoughts on Thursday night’s televised EFL Cup action from Gigg Lane.
Bury v Sunderland | Thursday 10th August 2017, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Improvements were expected in Bury last season but they never materialised and the Shakers were fortunate to avoid the drop come May. It’s fair to say that, without James Vaughan’s goals the Gigg Lane club would have dropped down to League Two.
Vaughan moved on to Thursday night’s opposition Sunderland in the summer but Bury have been on an extravagant spending spree, bringing in 18 new recruits including attacking hot-shots Jermaine Beckford, Chris Maguire, Nicky Ajose and Harry Bunn. Vaughan shouldn’t really be missed.
With Lee Clark assembling a strong squad that’s capable of challenging the top-six, optimism around the Greater Manchester club is high. However, doubts remain over the sustainability of the project with Bury spending well beyond their means.
From the outset it appears like promotion or bust for the Shakers but on the pitch the club made a decent start to 2017/18 when dispatching Walsall 1-0 here on Saturday. Clark – who presided over seven clean sheets in 14 outings last term – saw his side miss two penalties despite claiming maximum points.
Vaughan’s replacement Beckford grabbed the only goal of the game and Walsall were restricted to just two on-target attempts despite Clark fielding eight new signings in his starting XI. The display pleased the boss and the Geordie has now set his sights on toppling Sunderland.
Sunderland starting well
Many expected – I included – that Sunderland might make a sluggish start to life back in the Championship but the Black Cats deserve plenty of praise for an encouraging performance on Friday night against Derby.
The Wearsiders edged the content and manager Simon Grayson has clearly worked tirelessly on the training ground to drill his new club in the off-season. Although the fixture ended all-square, Sunderland came out of it better.
Post-match Grayson was philosophical about the situation at the Stadium of Light, admitting “I haven’t got a magic wand, I can’t suddenly turn this club into a real positive, happy-go-lucky club playing free-flowing football – they’ve got to earn the right, but it’s about taking those small steps.”
Small steps were taken on Friday night but it’s difficult to trust the Black Cats here knowing they face a tough trip to Norwich on Sunday. The squad is painfully thin – evidenced by the fact Grayson didn’t make a substitute against Derby – so a number of youngsters might be thrown into the mix at Gigg Lane.
Grayson’s job this term is all about achieving Championship stability and possibly even pushing for promotion back up to the Premier League. Progression in the League Cup wouldn’t be dismissed but it’s unlikely to be high on Grayson’s priority list right now.
The betting angle
Bury (13/5 William Hill) were excellent when entertaining League One’s lesser lights last term but struggled to W0-D1-L8 when welcoming top-nine opposition and lost more home games than any other team in their division last term.
Those stats, combined with the price, mean I’m far from sold on the Shakers here as a punting proposition. However, the discontent in the Sunderland camp makes the visitors poor and vulnerable 15/13 (Unibet) favourites for the contest.
So rather than risk taking sides, have a play on goals instead where Both Teams To Score can be backed at 7/8 (188BET).
Last season six of the eight encounters between League One sides at home to Championship opposition at this stage of the League Cup saw BTTS pay-out and with question marks hovering over the validity of the two teams’ chances, this selection feels like a relatively safe play.
Bury v Sunderland – Both Teams To Score (7/8 188BET)