The self-fulfilling paranoia of David Flitcroft


David Flitcroft

In the aftermath of his side’s 3-3 draw away to Crewe Alexandra on Saturday, Bury manager David Flitcroft was confronted by an angry supporter. Rather than ignore him, a man with no obvious experience in management, Flitcroft walked over to the fan and began arguing in a heated manner. The man pointed out, perhaps over aggressively, that when Bury had a 3-2 lead with 24 minutes to play, Flitcroft made the wrong substitution and it cost the team 2 points.

On the face of it, this irate supporter is completely out of line. Because of frustration, he is having a go at a manager who, only 3 months ago, got his club back into League One. And, for the majority of Bury’s match against Crewe, they had been the better side. They had played some excellent passing football, Danny Mayor looking particularly impressive, and created a number of chances. Had those chances been put away, a factor largely out of Flitcroft’s hands, Bury would have taken 3 points, fans would have gone home happy and the whole issue would have been avoided. Throw in the fact that Bury conceded at least 1 of their goals because of poor goalkeeping from Simon Walton, and many people will argue that any direct criticism of Flitcroft is unfair.

And yet, look a little deeper and one can see that the fan, in fact, makes a valid point. He might have expressed his views in a rather undignified way, but he was correct in what he was saying. It was largely down to David Flitcroft’s poorly-judged substitution that Crewe were able to get back into the game.

With Bury 3-2 ahead, Flitcroft feared that Crewe Alexandra would apply the pressure in the latter stages. With that in mind, he took off forward Danny Rose, the man who scored the goal to give Bury the lead, and put on 35-year-old midfielder Chris Sedgwick, a man yet to make an appearance this season. Ironically, it was only when Bury had 5 in midfield and 1 up front, that Crewe were given the time on the ball they needed to impose themselves on the match. The very situation that Flitcroft thought he would help his team avoid by making a defensive change, he in fact created out of paranoia.

Tom Pope

Tom Pope

Bury now had 5 in midfield, with Tom Pope as the lone striker. The problem with this system is that Pope, notorious for his height and strength, does not have the pace to lead the line on his own. Unless his teammates are prepared to make constant runs forward in support of him, which in this case they could not afford to do, Pope will invariably lose the ball. That is not necessarily a criticism of Pope, but he is a striker that must play in a system tailored to his strengths to have an impact.

Bury’s problem was that every time a player received the ball, they did not have a quick runner to pick out, who could carry the ball forward. If they had a speedy attacking player on the field, Bury’s midfield and defence would have had more time to catch their breath, re-organize and push higher up. Instead, they could only clear it to Pope, who would be outnumbered, and Crewe would win the ball back very quickly, thus forcing Bury’s midfield to retreat. The team was under unrelenting pressure between the time of Flitcroft’s substitution, and Crewe’s equalizer with 10 minutes to go. While Brad Inman deserves credit for taking his goal well for the home side, Bury’s midfield and defence simply backed off him.

When forward Hallam Hope came on for midfielder Danny Pugh with the scoreline at 3-3 in the last few minutes, he injected some pace and energy into Bury’s attack. David Flitcroft said after the match that the reason Danny Rose was taken off was because he looked tired, yet if he were to take Rose off, then one would argue that Hope should have been the man to come on. The system Bury were operating with was working well, and there was no reason for them to change.


Kelvin Etuhu

This is not the first time this season David Flitcroft has made an overly-defensive substitution that, to some extent, had cost his team 2 points. In last week’s 2-2 draw with Swindon, he made a double change after an injury to Kelvin Etuhu. The absence of Etuhu in the last 20 minutes against Swindon, and the whole match against Crewe, may have hindered Bury, meaning they lacked strength and tenacity in the middle of the park. However, having put on Danny Pugh for Etuhu against Swindon, he also brought on midfielder Jacob Mellis for striker Tom Pope to go 4-5-1. Just as it did against Crewe, this defensive change of formation coincided with a dip in Bury’s performance levels.

Therefore, when David Flitcroft was confronted by that supporter at Gresty Road on Saturday, he was perhaps fortunate that the fan made his points aggressively, rather than with the sense of reason that the validity of his argument merited. On this occasion, Flitcroft gained the support of the majority of fans, who chanted ‘Flitcroft’s barmy army’ shortly after the exchange. However, he must stop making substitutions that unnecessarily damage the balance of his team.

Bury have a key week ahead of them. They host Premier League side Leicester on Tuesday night, before facing Manchester rivals Oldham on Saturday. Flitcroft and his team must learn to be braver when they are leading, if they want to pick up their first league win of the season.

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