RYMAN LEAGUE PREMIER DIVISION: Bury Town 2 Grays Athletic 1
Bury Town manager Richard Wilkins was happy to reach his survival target ahead of facing title-chasing duo Wealdstone and Kingstonian.
The Blues travel to the Stones tomorrow (3pm) and host the K’s on Tuesday (7.45pm) — both in the Ryman League Premier Division — having stretched their unbeaten run to 10 matches in all competitions with a 2-1 victory over Grays Athletic.
Talisman Billy Clark bagged both of Bury’s goals on Tuesday night in a hectic encounter at Ram Meadow that saw the home side’s captain Tom Bullard dismissed for a two-footed tackle and Grays’ Jeff Hammond sent off for violent conduct.
Wilkins, whose side have been unbeaten since cash-flow problems first surfaced at the club in early December, said: “We’ve got to 46 points and, now we’ve got that, I feel we will be up in this division next season, whatever happens in the coming months.”
That may sound surprising coming from the boss of the Ryman Premier’s form team, who are just five points off the play-off places with a game in hand, but it is the harsh reality for a squad that have just 10 fit senior players for the matches against the high-flying Stones and K’s this week.
Jordan Patrick rolled his ankle in Saturday’s Suffolk derby triumph at Lowestoft Town and is set to spend some weeks on the sidelines, but Danny Cunningham — who missed Tuesday’s win over Grays having undergone a stomach operation earlier in the day — should return to the starting line-up.
Bury’s resources — and particularly their young, emerging players — are set to be tested further over the coming weeks, with centre-halves Bullard and Adam Bailey-Dennis set to be suspended.
Bullard will miss three matches — starting with the Suffolk derby against Leiston on February 4 — for his red card on Tuesday , while Bailey-Dennis has been found guilty of breaching FA rule E3 — ‘behaving in or around the tunnel area after the end of a fixture in a manner which constituted violent conduct’ — after an angry clash at the end of the reverse fixture between Grays and Bury on September 25.
Bailey-Dennis — who was also fined £400 and ordered to pay £100 costs — denied the charge.
Grays goalkeeper Lamar Johnson was banned for 12 months for his part in the incident, during which the Free Press understands he turned over tables and smashed glasses after Bailey-Dennis made a comment about the custodian’s performance that night.
Both players had the option to appeal and were still weighing that up as the Free Press went to print.
For Tuesday’s clash with Grays, Bury made two enforced changes to the starting XI that won Saturday’s Suffolk derby at Lowestoft Town, with Liam Wales and Anthony Roulston replacing the injured Patrick and Cunningham.
The Blues went in front in the eighth minute when Wales won a free-kick and Clark’s resultant set piece from 30 yards bounced once before evading the grasp of the diving Luke Chambers to nestle in the left corner.
Watching Southend United manager Phil Brown would not have been impressed with the goalkeeping of Chambers — on loan from the Shrimpers — but would certainly have noticed Clark, who remained Bury’s most dangerous attacking threat as he repeatedly found space between the visitors’ defence and midfield.
Chambers spilt a shot from Clark, but it was not until the final 12 minutes of the half that things really kicked off.
Bullard was controversially dismissed for a two-footed challenge in the 33rd minute and Grays used their man advantage to equalise five minutes later through Kenny Beaney’s spectacular bicycle kick.
Joao Carlos had a shot deflected wide as the Essex outfit — who had lost their previous five matches — upped the pressure, but the sides were levelled up when Hammond was sent off for kicking Marcus Garnham and left the pitch without complaint.
Grays remained on top as the first half drew to a close and Garnham made a smart save from Carlos before watching Beaney’s strike from the edge of the penalty area zip just past the upright.
John Kennedy forced Chambers into a fine save early in the second period, while Garnham was equal to two close-range efforts from Ben Osman at the other end, making a particularly agile save at his near left-hand post from the midfielder’s second attempt in a matter of minutes.
Slowly but surely, Bury began to claw their way back into the game and Bailey-Dennis headed the ball straight at Chambers and substitute Ryan Taylor turned Seb Dunbar’s low cross on to the post from six yards before being denied at point-blank range by Chambers with the follow-up.
The winner arrived with seven minutes remaining when Dunbar delivered from the left and the ball fell to the feet of Clark, who rifled it high into the net.