Bury players urged to follow Shirtliff example
PETER Shirtliff has challenged his players to replicate one of the greatest moments of his own playing career and pull off an unlikely escape act.
Bury fell to the bottom of League One on Saturday after a dismal second-half performance saw them lose 2-0 at Portsmouth.
They now go into tonight’s crunch Gigg Lane clash against Scunthorpe United eight points behind their relegation rivals, who are sitting one place above the drop zone.
It’s a daunting gap with only 10 matches of the season remaining, but Shirtliff, pictured, has been in the game long enough to know that anything can happen in football.
“I’ve been in this situation when I was at Charlton as a player, but we didn’t half show some spirit to get out of something like this, and that’s what we have got to do,” he said.
Charlton won three of their last five matches of the 1986-87 season to squeeze into the long-since discarded Division One relegation play-offs.
The Valley outfit, managed by now Wanderers assistant Lennie Lawrence, beat Ipswich in the semis before coming from behind to beat Leeds 2-1 in the final – Shirtliff scoring twice in extra-time of the replay to retain Charlton’s place in the top flight.
Fast-forward 26 years and the Bury assistant admits he has seen little of the qualities in his players needed to pull off a similar feat, following five defeats in their last six matches.
But Shirtliff refuses to give up.
“It was a disappointing day (at Portsmouth) and the story of our season – might haves, could haves and should haves,” he said.
“But there are 10 games left and 30 points to play for, so you never know.
“Sooner or later we’ve got to win four or five on the spin. It’s difficult, but not impossible.
“It’s about belief now. The players have got to believe they can do it. If they don’t then they might as well not bother.”
Bury may be short on form, but upcoming fixtures, on paper at least, offer some hope.
After Scunthorpe, they face fellow strugglers Colchester on Saturday and Stevenage the following Tuesday – all three at home. Only wins will do, and, after Bury controlled the opening half at Fratton Park, Shirtliff has demanded more.
He said: “We’ve got to put in a 90-minute performance to win a football match – not a 45-minute performance. We’ve got to score goals and be ruthless, and do all the things you need to do to win a football match.
“We might do it for half a game, but we’re not doing it for a full game.”
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