HOMETOWN camaraderie will be put to one side tonight as Bolton-born managers David Flitcroft and Keith Hill go head to head at the JD Stadium.
Flitcroft, who worked under Hill as his assistant for six years, says he will be going all out to ensure his Bury side take three points off his friend’s Rochdale outfit in front of the Sky TV cameras.
“When it becomes business, believe me I really do focus,” said Flitcroft. “For 90 minutes we have got to try to beat Rochdale and that’s what we will be committed to doing, but then after that I will be committed to being Hilly’s pal for the rest of my life.”
Flitcroft, aged 40, was handed his first coaching role by Hill at Spotland after hanging up his boots in 2006.
He followed the 44-year-old to Championship-side Barnsley, but replaced Hill as manager at Oakwell when he was sacked in December 2012, lasting a year in that position before parting company with the Yorkshire side.
Tonight they will face each other in opposing dug-outs for the first time, with Flitcroft out to protect an unbeaten home record and Hill aiming for the win that will see his side go top of League Two.
But while fans of both sides can expect fierce competition on the pitch, the rivalry between the managers and their families off it will be much more friendly.
“I think with all us lads from Bolton – with me and Hilly, Neil Howarth at Cheltenham, Mike Pollitt, our Gaz (Gary Flitcroft), my younger brother Steve and Paul Moulden – we look out for each other,” he said.
“That’s how I met Hilly, as a Bolton lad, and you just track them and want them to do well.
“You know our families also want them to do well and it’s going to be a good occasion for whoever wins the game.”
There is a fear that both managers know each other and their tactics so well they could cancel each other out.
Flitcroft is not too proud to admit some of Bury’s best performances since he took over as manager have been partly down to Hill, whose advice he says helped earn a point against Scunthorpe United, Burton Albion and Oxford United.
But the apprentice has his own master plan to take points off his friend.
“Rochdale are 4-3-3 and they are the best footballing side in this league, so I don’t think for one game Keith is going to change that philosophy – it’s not his style,” said Flitcroft.
“A lot of teams go to Rochdale and park the bus and try to restrict and restrain them, but nobody has managed to do that.
“I have got a way, though, which I believe we can beat Rochdale and that’s what we have been working on implementing.”
Captain Craig Jones is rated 50-50 to start, despite pulling up with a tight hamstring at the weekend, while forwards Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro and Ashley Grimes will also have their hamstring injuries assessed today.
Kick-off at the JD Stadium tonight is 7.45pm. Holders of a season ticket for any other club can gain entry for £10.