FOOTBALL is a cruel mistress – and BURY found that out the hard way at Bramall Lane last night.
With Sheffield United second after going 13 unbeaten in League One and Bury losing their last eight, few gave the Shakers a prayer as they headed over the Pennines. Even fewer after midfielder Jacob Mellis was shown a straight red card at the end of a first half in which they failed to have a single shot.
Yet while Bury capitulated in their previous three games, losing 4-1 at home to Southend then 5-0 and 5-1 at AFC Wimbledon in the FA Cup then in the league, they put on a brilliant rearguard action.
Last season’s top scorer Leon Clarke, who made a drawn-out move to the Blades in the summer, came off the bench at half-time and had two headers cleared off the line, by Leon Barnett then the superb Antony Kay. Otherwise the hosts created little, with Bury repelling virtually everything that came into the final third.
Left-back Greg Leigh was also sent off, for a second booking with five minutes left, before six minutes of stoppage time were added. And in the third of those minutes Bury’s resistance was finally broken.
After pumping cross after cross into the Bury box, the Blades finally managed to play the ball through the middle and produced the move of the match, which was rounded off by ex-Bury loanee Ethan Ebanks-Landell, who sidefooted home from close range.
That condemned the Shakers to a club-record ninth straight league defeat but it didn’t feel like it. Not after the grit they showed in the second half. If ever there was a morale-boosting defeat, this was it.
Caretaker manager, Chris Brass, said: “It doesn’t hurt as much as you’d think because they gave a performance that gets everybody proud again. That’s what I asked on Saturday (the 5-1 defeat). I said ‘let’s have a look at it, does it hurt?’ And it is a dressing room that’s hurting, but that’s the manner in which you want a defeat.
“The first sending-off was unfortunate. It was a rash challenge. Whether it’s a red card, I’m not sure, but we stuck at it and frustrated them until the last few minutes when we had nine men.
“But I’ve been here many times and I’ve never seen an away team get clapped off by the home fans at Bramall Lane. Sheffield United are gonna go up, they’re a good team, so to be clapped off at the champions-elect is very good.”
Tuesday night’s 1-0 defeat saw Bury slip to 19th in the table, two places above the drop zone. At least the Shakers have some crumbs of comfort ahead of Saturday’s home match with mid-table Millwall as Craig Jones and Tom Pope returned from injury, while youngster Scott Burgess made a rare start.
“We’re getting people back,” said Brass. “They come knocking on my door asking (to play) then that’s what you need. Tom Pope did 45 minutes then I had to use my brain and think what was best for the team. He was going to blow up at some point then we’d have lost a sub, so it was the right decision and we get Tom Pope ready and champing at the bit for Saturday. Out of the madness there are lots of positives tonight.
“I think it could be the turning point,” added the former Bury defender. “That is what I would expect from a Bury side – and that’s what Bury fans expect. I’ve been at this club a long time, in all sorts of capacities, and if you play like that they’re right behind you.
“It was frustrating to concede late on but they’ve put in the hard work and we’ll have to keep doing that. It’s an understanding now of what is needed to move forward. We’ve got a big game now at home and let’s get back to what we are, and let’s do it in front of our own fans – exactly that level of commitment.”