Doncaster Rovers - dead and Bury-ed?
No one can accuse this Doncaster Rovers team of going down not fighting.
But as they sink ever closer to what was not so long ago unthinkable relegation to League Two, battling for 90 minutes provides scant consolation when there is no reward at the final whistle.
At Bury they were better than than they had been for some time. The performance contained all the battling qualities they showed in the draw at Rochdale the previous week, with some decent quality and composure as an added bonus.
But all the positives quickly evaporated when they got into the final third.
The thing lacking from their performance was what truly matters in any game - goals.
And that was all the more galling when a Bury side who had spent so much of the game on the back foot so ruthlessly sliced Rovers open 13 minutes from time.
Failing to take chances edged Rovers closer to joining Crewe Alexandra in exiting League One through the trapdoor - something which could now happen as soon as Tuesday week when they visit Chesterfield.
Eight points is now the margin they must make up in the last five games.
Lack of goals has been a major issue in what is now a crippling 16 league matches without a win for Rovers. During that run they have scored ten goals, four of which came across two matches.
They could hardly have had many more opportunities to improve on that figure at Gigg Lane. They had a remarkable 18 corners and 25 crosses yet managed just one clear cut chance, ironically coming from a mistake by an opposition player.
So there was an incredible amount of frustration as Rovers failed to convert dominance of the ball into anything truly meaningful.
It is difficult to be too critical of any individual player for their performance against Bury.
Darren Ferguson stuck with the 4-4-2 diamond which worked so well against Rochdale as he made two enforced changes - Harry Middleton for the suspended Craig Alcock and Richard Chaplow for the injured Riccardo Calder. Luke McCullough dropped from the defensive midfield role to centre half, performing with similar aplomb to his showing at Spotland.
From the start, Rovers played with real attacking intent.
They swarmed men forward and pushed Bury deeper and deeper. Strong pressing play forced errors from the hosts and ensured Rovers’ pressure was maintained for much of the first half.
The midfield four of Middleton, Chaplow, James Coppinger and Tommy Rowe moved the ball quickly and accurately, finding gaps as they worked their way into the Bury half.
And Gary McSheffrey dropped deep and into the channels to make things happen.
In yet another must-win game it was exactly what was needed. There is no time left to wait for opportunities. Rovers must take every game by the scruff of the neck and they did just that.
A looping shot from a McSheffrey overhead kick and a similarly flighted header from Andy Butler were the best of their first half opportunities.
Bury were largely forced to attack on the counter and regularly launched long balls for Leon Clarke and Tom Pope who both struggled to turn the direct supply line into chances.
But the hosts enjoyed the better of the chances and arguably should have been 2-0 up at half time.
A stunning through ball from Clarke sent Pope one-on-one with Remi Matthews who raced out and brilliantly blocked the shot.
Again Matthews was the hero as he first parried John O’Sullivan’s strike before Tom Soares’ piledriver of a follow up smacked him on the side of the head. Such was the impact, Matthews was forced off with blurred vision and replaced by Thorsten Stuckmann.
The best chance of the game came to Andy Williams after the break. A poor backpass from Chris Hussey saw the Rovers striker released one-on-one with former loanee Chris Neal but Williams rushed his shot and smashed it over the bar, showing the lack of confidence which has blighted him since the turn of the year.
Williams did have the ball in the back of the net when he planted a header from one of the plethora of corners beyond Neal only for the assistant to flag for offside as Coppinger stood in front of the keeper.
And Rovers were also denied what looked to be a good shout for a penalty when McSheffrey was shoved to the ground.
It is a long time since things went Rovers’ way and things went against them soon after, following their 18th and final corner.
Craig Jones worked space to clip forward a clearance which released O’Sullivan on the right. He shrugged off a challenge from Chaplow before curling in a wonderfully weighted cross just in time for the on-rushing Clarke to appear and calmly strike a side-foot volley past Stuckmann.
Rovers could only look on enviously at such ruthlessness.
Bury could easily have been two up moments later. Stuckmann fluffed a clearing kick presenting both Danny Mayor and substitute Ryan Lowe with clear chances which they squandered.
To Rovers’ credit, the hammerblow of the goal failed to floor them as similar setbacks have done in recent weeks. They battled on and it took a fine save from Neal to claw a powerful drive from Rowe off the line.
But Bury produced their most composed spell of the game to see out the win in relative comfort and condemn Rovers to their 21st defeat of the season, pushing survival mission improbable closer to the mission impossible category.
Ferguson has drawn out the commitment, organisation, battle and bottle since the Good Friday horror show.
He now has to find a way of getting Rovers to bare their teeth in front of goal in each of the final five matches.
If they continue to fire blanks, they will be gunned down themselves in quick time.
Bury: Neal 7, Jones 7, Bolger 7, P Clarke 8, Hussey 6 (Pugh 74 6), O’Sullivan 7, Soares 7, Mayor 6, L Clarke 7, Pope 6 (Lowe 68 6), Gardner 6 (Etuhu 46 6). Subs not used: Ruddy, Sedgwick, Delfouneso, Rose.
Rovers: Matthews 7 (Stuckmann 37 6), Lund 6, McCullough 7, Butler 7, Taylor-Sinclair 6, Coppinger 7 (Tyson 81), Middleton 7, Chaplow 7 (MacKenzie 87), Rowe 8, McSheffrey 8, Williams 6. Subs not used: Evina, Davies, Stewart, Mandeville.
Referee: Michael Bull (Essex)
Attendance: 3,233 (474 away)