EFL lover Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) assesses a different team every week and this time, Ryan Lowe’s Bury have caught his eye.
One To Watch – Why Bury are automatic promotion contenders
In last week’s League Two quarterly review, I suggested that Bury are play-off contenders.
Having since witnessed them first hand at Crewe – a dominant performance in a 1-1 draw – I will even go one step further: they can be in the thick of the promotion race. Here’s why.
Manager Ryan Lowe is beginning to settle on his best starting XI, six of which can play in a different position to the one they currently occupy.
Chris Stokes, for example, has played at left-back for much of his career but, without much athleticism to his game, he looked limited at Coventry.
Acting as a wide centre-back in a back-three, however, has further highlighted the positive aspects of his game; his close control, his ability to pick passes when given time and space, as well as his positional awareness.
The Shakers, therefore, have the adaptability to switch formation, not only within the same game but even within the same passage of play.
On paper, Bury use a 3-4-1-2 formation but, because auxiliary wing-back Nicky Adams and right-sided centre-back Will Aimson can play right-wing and right back respectively, the duo can push further up in possession and the formation changes to something more akin to 4-2-2-2.
Because so many players are comfortable in so many different positions, Bury can exert control in all areas of the pitch.
The M&M duo
We saw back in 2014-15 that Danny Mayor is a class above League Two and, having overcome an injury-hit three years in the division above, he well and truly back in the groove.
Similarly to Adams, Mayor has one of the most creative brains at this level but it’s crucial that he is both operating in an expansive system and has forward runners close to him, to utilise his vision.
That’s where Callum McFadzean came in. The former Guiseley left-back impressed Lowe on trial and, after Stokes moved to centre-back following Eoghan O’Connell’s injury, he has certainly taken his opportunity.
McFadzean has the pace and stamina to get up and down the pitch quickly but, crucially, he also has flexibility.
Sometimes, the 24-year-old cuts inside from the left to have a shot at goal while Mayor stays by the touchline, or at other times, he will look for a diagonal ball into the forwards.
Mayor and McFadzean interchange beautifully at times and can be very difficult for opposing right-siders to stop.
Bury have conceded just six goals in their last eight games.
A big factor behind that is the leadership qualities of Adam Thompson, who has previously played well in the division above with Southend and certainly brings pedigree at this level.
Another factor is the ball-winning qualities of Neil Danns, who showed the impact he can have in League Two in the 2017 Play-Off Final while at Blackpool.
Danns is not afraid to impose his physicality on opposition midfields and has the ability to cut out attacks early, which means his midfield partner Jay O’Shea has the freedom to break forward.
Bury have ranked positively in terms of shot data since match-day four, when they dominated leaders Lincoln on their own turf for 74 minutes before conceding twice in the final quarter-hour to lose 2-1.
Teams in their position often need one very successful result – like a victory against top opposition or a goal glut – to find confidence at the top end of the pitch and spark a positive run.
A 4-0 home demolition of Notts County, therefore, could be just the tonic.
The Telford-Maynard combo
Come May, Lowe’s decision to start Dominic Telford last time out could be looked upon as a defining tweak.
While Chris Dagnall is a very industrious striker who commits himself to the cause and has a decent goalscoring record, Telford arguably matches the veteran in those departments and offers the extra dimension of pace in behind.
The 21-year-old’s partnership with Nicky Maynard, who has scored three goals in as many games, threatens to catch fire.
The betting angle
At this stage in 2015-16, Bristol Rovers had 20 points – two fewer than Bury do now – and won automatic promotion.
Portsmouth had 21 points in 2016-17 and went on to lift the title, then Mansfield were 13th last season yet became prime automatic promotion contenders by February; they probably would have gone up had Steve Evans not left.
While results are obviously important, 13 games is arguably too small a sample to judge teams definitively purely on W-D-L; performances give us a better idea of a team’s potential over the course of the season and the data on Bury suggests they are a serious promotion prospect.
The Shakers are currently 7/2 with SkyBet to make the Top 3 and we reckon that’s good value.
League Two – Bury to to finish in the top-three (7/2 SkyBet)