United came from behind to claim another important point away from home as battling Bury gave them a real test in a game full of good football. Having fallen behind to a Craig Jones goal in the second half United hit back immediately with a first senior goal from Josh Ruffels as their recent good run continued.
United switched shape to start with, Callum O’Dowda coming into the side on the left of a 4-1-4-1 formation which saw former Shaker Nicky Wroe sitting in a disciplined role in front of the back four. O’Dowda and Deane Smalley’s roles were crucial, providing width but also coming inside to support lone striker James Constable when possible.
It was Bury who had the first chance, when striker Anton Forrester didn’t quite get enough power on a downwards header after eight minutes, allowing Ryan Clarke to gather comfortably by his left-hand post. However it was an even start and O’Dowda might have easily found the net on 17 as he sidefooted Smalley’s low cross wide at the near post after a great bustling run from Smalley down the right.
The game was a fascinating tactical battle with both sides working the ball around on a sticky surface and probing for an opening rather than trying to barge a way through. Tom Newey, another former Bury man, had a shot from 20 yards which home keeper Brian Jensen smothered with a routine save but 0-0 at half time was about right after both sides had enjoyed decent spells of possession.
If Bury are to pull away from danger then they will do so by playing good football and that brave approach from manager David Flitcroft looked like paying off on 55 as the Shakers took the lead. A deep cross from the left drew Ryan Clarke to try and catch the ball under pressure. There looked to be a foul as he jumped but the ball evaded him and Craig Jones had the simple task of planting the ball home to make it 1-0.
This was now a major test of United’s nerve, but it took them just two minutes to show their character. Straight from kick-off they applied pressure and Bury conceded a corner on their left. Rose, excellent all evening, trotted over to deliver and as players drew the centre halves away towards the near post Ruffles ghosted in at the back to power a downwards header over the line, despite Jensen’s best sprawling efforts. A clever set-piece and the second goal from a corner in two games, something United had not found easy previously.
Bury came back and forced Clarke into his usual worldy, somehow clawing Nardiello’s deflected shot round the post when all seemed lost, then penalty appeals were waved away as Hunt blocked a shot bravely on 64 minutes. The experience of Connolly and Kitson meant that the ball stuck more easily at the other end and a number of half chances were blocked at source at both ends as the game opened up and both sides went for the win. "Best game of the season" said a Bury fan near me as Nardiello saw another swerving shot saved by Clarke. And yet again United had weathered the storm.
Six unbeaten, half of those under Mickey Lewis, and still the only side left in the big leagues unbeaten on the road this season. It is performances like this where they dig in, fight for each other and show their true colours with goals at crucial moments that have got United into this position and as we head for the final quarter of the season it remains game on.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures Darrell Fisher, Stats by OPTA
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