FIRST QUALIFYING ROUND
Bury Town 1
Player-assistant manager Russell Short is delighted to be back involved on the field as improving Bury Town finally begin to hit their straps.
When the Blues’ nine-game winless run culminated with a dour 1-0 loss at home to East Thurrock United on October 18, few would have expected them to push third-placed Hendon all the way in this FA Trophy tie.
However, substantial progress has been made since then and the Blues looked favourites to go through when Phill Weavers cancelled out Belal Aite-Ouakrim’s opener — only for Lee O’Leary and Aite-Ouakrim to take advantage of second-half goalkeeping errors from Steve Fenner to send the visitors through.
“I thought we more than matched a team who are flying in our league and were unlucky not to get anything out of the game,” said Short, who has endured an injury-hit season to date. “It’s always disappointing to lose, but we’re pleased with the progression we’ve made.
“With a bit of luck, if something had fallen for us and we had taken the lead, I think we would have gone on and won it.”
Reflecting on his return to action, Short added: “I’ve had a few injuries, which have been frustrating, but it’s been good to watch from the side as well and work with the boys from that aspect.
“It’s great to get back on the pitch though and I hope to start again soon.
“Hopefully we can kick on now. As everybody has seen, we look more of a threat going forward, so hopefully we’ve turned a corner.”
Bury made one change to the starting XI who overturned Tonbridge Angels seven days earlier, with John Kennedy back from injury in place of Callum Bennett, who dropped to the bench.
The Blues, perhaps still marvelling at their excellent performance against Tonbridge, were slow out of the blocks and fell behind in just the second minute.
Weavers failed to take control of the ball in the centre circle and Aite-Ouakrim broke away to tee up Leon Smith, whose shot cannoned back off the post into the path of Aite-Ouakrim to tap into the empty net.
From then, Bury set about putting that damage right as the game ebbed and flowed from end to end, but mainly in the home team’s favour.
Seb Dunbar, playing left-wing-back in an unfamiliar 3-5-2 system, headed at Hendon custodian Ben McNamara as the Blues upped the ante and — when it looked like the hosts’ best move of the match had broken down — Joe Benjamin sent a first-time strike crashing against the crossbar.
Hendon remained a danger and Aite-Ouakrim drilled wide before Steve Fenner smothered at the feet of Kezie Ibe, but — at the other end — Chris Benjamin sent a dipping volley over the top and Jordan Patrick’s rising drive also went over.
Chris Benjamin could not take advantage of a collision between Chris Seeby and Elliott Braithwaite as he dallied over his shot before finding the gloves of McNamara.
Sam Murphy’s free-kick from inside the D was palmed away by Fenner and the Blues also had to react en masse when they failed to mark properly at a corner and Dave Diedhiou had the time and space to tee up Lee O’Leary, whose shot was blocked by one of three or four flailing Bury defenders.
The Suffolk side’s deserved equaliser arrived a minute before the half-hour-mark when Jack Willbye’s inswinging corner was met by a throng of players at the near post and Weavers got the final touch to force the ball over the line.
They would have led at the break had it not been for a tremendous reaction save by McNamara, who stuck out a left paw to claw Patrick’s deflected shot around the near right post.
Ibe fired wide under pressure from Smith and Fenner before McNamara was in top form again to block from Chris Benjamin after Willbye had won the ball deep in Hendon’s half.
Aite-Ouakrim thumped a waist-high volley over the top and Chris Benjamin steered Patrick’s low cross wide as a pulsating encounter continued to move from one end of Ram Meadow to another.
However, Hendon got their noses back in front in the 58th minute and were finally able to shut the game down.
Oliver Sprague’s left-wing corner was whipped into the six-yard box and O’Leary — who was later stretchered off with a serious-looking knee injury — rose above Fenner to thump a header down into the net.
Although Patrick headed Dunbar’s cross over the top, the contest was over when Murphy’s curling ball into the box was pushed into the path of Aite-Ouakrim by Fenner and the striker again could not miss from close range.
Bury kept going, but the stuffing had been knocked out of them as they slipped to an unfortunate defeat that leaves them with just the league to concentrate on.