Bully returns but faces long arm of the Law

After completing 90 minutes for the reserves tonight, City midfielder Lee Bullock should be back in contention for the first team’s trip to Bournemouth this Saturday – coincidently the last opponents he completed a full game against.

A week later he was stretchered off at Shrewsbury and though then-colleague TJ Moncur’s collapse on the pitch attracted the headlines that day, the long term absence of Bullock was felt harder. City have at times struggled to compensate for his loss in the middle with first Dean Furman coming in and taking time to settle before showing some form, only to be injured too and another loanee, Nicky Law, be drafted in. The Sheffield United man, at Valley Parade the season before, was able to find his feet quicker, but with team performances not always as good as results suggested the wait for Bullock to regain fitness appeared to carry increasing urgency.

Then, during the last few weeks, Law has found another level to his game producing two of the finest individual performances of a season where many have excelled. He was simply sensational against Morecambe, his superb goal towards the end capping a performance where he seemed to be all over the pitch instigating attacks and delivering some glorious passes. This level of performance continued against Shrewsbury, where Paul McLaren alongside him was a close rival for man of the match, and what were previously faint calls for Law’s loan spell to be extended became increasingly vocal. Today Stuart agreed a deal with the Blades for Nicky to stay until the summer at least.

Which leaves Bullock in particular facing an uncertain future. Out of contract at the end of the season, the 27-year-old has only managed 20 appearances for City since signing a year ago having suffered two serious injuries. In the early weeks of the season the qualities of Bullock – a regular starter – were the focus of debate from some fans in the way that Paul Arnison, McLaren, Matt Clarke and recently Steve Jones have been at differing times. A couple of trademark late surges into the box saw him deliver goals against Aldershot and Port Vale and, as the team began the season in excellent form, the degree of coincidence between his later absence through injury and some stuttering autumn results was questioned. Bullock may not be a headline-grabber, but he quietly performed an effective job for the team.

Now he finds not one, but two rivals for the midfield jersey alongside McLaren – Furman a little ahead of him in the recovery stakes having impressed when starting against Morecambe – and his chances of a regular run in the team during the remainder of the campaign appear to be decreasing. If Law can maintain his form he will be undroppable and, as McLaren continues to improve, a settled central midfield is increasingly the driving force behind City’s promotion bid. There may be opportunities still of course; the 4-3-3 formation which worked to a point against Morecambe would include room for Bullock or Furman. The rotten luck with injuries is unlikely to be over just yet either.

In many ways Bullock is a loser of the loan system which lower league clubs increasingly rely upon; though it shouldn’t be forgotten he was initially signed on such a temporary deal by City, pushing Paul Evans and Scott Phelan closer to the exit door. Another midfielder who might have hoped for a bigger chance this season, Luke Sharry, has been loaned out almost unnoticed. Playing in the Blue Square Premier for Barrow will be a great opportunity for the highly-rated teenager to gain some experience, though a quote from Barrow joint-manager Dave Bayliss says much about City’s predicament, “Their manager (Stuart McCall) is a bit reluctant to play young lads in his first team because of the pressure at such a big club.”

The pressure of ensuring City do not fail in the quest for achieving promotion this season, of course. The return of Bullock will aid that particular cause, though the team’s evolution in his absence means he is likely to become back-up for the Law.

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