Callum O'Dowda came off the bench to earn United three points at ten-man Bury this afternoon. O'Dowda's neat finish with time running out gave the U's a vital win against a Shakers side reduced to ten men after Adam El-Abd was dismissed in an often ill-tempered encounter.
Kemar Roofe, making his full debut in place of O’Dowda, showed some neat touches and plenty of pace on the right, with Alex MacDonald switching to the left flank in a 4-4-2 shape. Roofe’s ninth-minute effort bounced a yard wide of the goal after he had let fly from 25 yards, the first effort of a tight first half.
Chris Hussey’s 13th-minute free kick landed on the roof of the net to signal Bury’s intent but otherwise the U’s had settled quickly and let the Shakers create nothing from open play. United might have had a penalty on 15 when Hylton’s cross clearly struck an arm, albeit at close range, while Hoban’s header on 17 went into the grateful arms of home keeper Nick Pope as the Yellows pressed forward.
Bury are a dangerous side and came into the game more and more after that opening 15 minutes but it took until the 26th for them to get a shot on target, Ryan Clarke making an excellent save to push the ball away. MacDonald, having already been booked, walked the tightrope in the build up to that chance, sliding in for a fierce challenge and risking a second yellow despite ref Kevin Johnson playing an excellent advantage. The decision not to show MacDonald a red card when play was called back clearly angered the Bury bench and the game became a minefield of tough decisions for the officials as tackled started to fly in and the rhythm of the game was constantly interrupted.
In tight games like this you need bravery from every single player and it took a magnificent save from Clarke to keep it at 0-0 early in the second half as a flowing move took the Shakers the length of the pitch and Danny Rose (Bury version) nodded across goal for the unmarked Kelvin Etuhu, who seemed to have the goal at his mercy. The big defender hadn’t reckoned on Clarke, who threw himself at the ball and somehow got it away from danger.
Clarke’s reflexes were then tested on the hour when Rose rose to smash a header at goal and forced United’s ever-reliable keeper to arch backwards and somehow tip the ball over the crossbar to leave yet another opposition striker holding his head in his hands in despair. Two superb saves that played a massive part in the win.
And so we go back to that MacDonald non-yellow… The United winger was taken off at half time with half an eye at least on the peril of a genuine second yellow coming his way. From that moment on there was always a red card in the air and on 64 it came on exactly the spot where that first-half incident occurred. Roofe took on El-Abd who slammed into him. This time Mr Johnson had no doubt and brandished the second yellow card and subsequent red to send the centre-half to the stands and leave Bury to play half an hour with ten men.
Tempers were flaring and on 70 minutes the Yellows had the perfect opportunity to take advantage of their numerical advantage. Hylton slipped as he chased a loose ball after his initial shot had been blocked. As he regained his feet sub Jimmy McNulty closed him down and barged into his back, leaving ref Johnson once again centre stage as he pointed to the spot. There was an almighty long delay before Hylton took the spot kick but Pope was down quickly to his right to get both hands to the penalty and keep it at 0-0. To add to the drama there was then a yellow card for McNulty for celebrating the save in Hylton’s face.
Bury regrouped and needed to show their resilience with ten men as Hoban, hugely influential once again, found space on the edge of the area for a low shot that Pope got down well to save again. However, United were on top now and the only question was whether they could find a goal. With five minutes to go they did just that with a fine effort. Hylton and Hoban created the chance for O'Dowda to race away and bear down on Pope. The keeper did all he could but O'Dowda's touch took him round Pope and gave the young winger the chance to stroke the ball home with his left foot, past two desperately covering defenders.
A fine goal to cap a great afternoon's work. Four unbeaten and another clean sheet for United who continue to fight their way away from any danger. Hitting form when the pressure is starting to build takes character and team spirit. With two home games in a row, against Plymouth and Hartlepool, United now have the ideal chance to build on what has been a highly encouraging run.
Report by Chris Williams, Pictures Darrell Fisher, Stats by OPTA
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