Despite the ‘friendly’ billing, this pre-season encounter was conducted in the spirit of a fierce local derby with tackles flying in from the start. Nor did the draining weather conditions, with a crowd of nearly 700 able to bask in the sun, deter the two sets of players from battling it out for local bragging rights.
After one loss and two draws in away friendlies to date against teams from lower divisions, the Rams hadn’t exactly covered themselves in glory up to this point. However, it is always deceptive to read too much into pre-season matches which inevitably are about blooding new players and working on developing match strategies for the greater challenges lying ahead.
Playing with three central defenders at the back gave much needed defensive solidity, particularly with the return to the fold of ex-Altrincham player Will Hall, who was in commanding form throughout. In truth, the new defensive line-up was given a thorough testing in the first half by a lively Bury attack that was threatening both from set pieces and open play.
With Rammy’s new keeper increasingly called into action as the half progressed, Bury were only denied a goal by acrobatic saves from Harry Turner and also on more than one occasion by goal-line clearances from defenders. In one frantic spell of play, it seemed like a game of head-tennis was taking place in the home team’s goal-area, with the ball pinging ever nearer to goal only to be kept out by a series of desperate last-ditch interventions.
With Bury enjoying the lion’s share of possession, there was little opportunity in the first half for the tactic of playing wing-backs to have much effect on the pattern of the game. For the most part, new signings Oscar Radcliffe and Kain Bains were confined to defensive roles. Meanwhile, new captain Jamie Rother, accompanied as a holding midfield duo by Michael Fitzgerald, also had their work cut out to do anything beyond tirelessly putting in the tackles.
As for the attack, new recruit Ryan Jennings was an injury casualty fairly early on and had to be replaced. Attacking midfielder Tony Donaldson fought hard to make an impact on the game but, like Domaine Rouse, was not given much ball-supply to work on in the first half.
The second half was played at a less frenetic pace. Possibly the searing heat had something to do with this! The effect though was that ball possession became much more evenly balanced between the two sides, enabling Rammy to commit to a greater degree of attacking play. The decisive moment in the game came in the 66th minute when Domaine Rouse converted a cross from the left with his customary coolness, his well-placed header leaving the Bury keeper clutching at thin air.
While Bury did everything they could to force an equaliser, the home team defence held firm to ensure a first win in a series of pre-season matches scheduled to take place before the opening fixture of the new league season at home against newly-promoted Hanley Town on Saturday 13 August.
In summary, the signs for Rammy from this highly competitive encounter were promising. The defence was stretched but looked efficient as a unit with players attacking the ball and backing each other up at all times. Attacking ploys still need working on but basically the overall team plan comes across as more sharply defined and structured than last season with players appearing to know what is being expected of them. One or two players were missing from the starting line-up for different reasons but another promising aspect of team selection to-day was the successful introduction of players as subs from the club’s junior teams.
Photo: Jake Horrocks