MATCH REPORT: Luke who’s made all the difference - but is it too late?

Luke James in a one to one with the Bury keeper in the 1st half. Picture by FRANK REID
Luke James in a one to one with the Bury keeper in the 1st half. Picture by FRANK REID

HIS shooting was timid, his touch often erratic, but it mattered not – his enthusiasm alone was enough to inspire his goal-shy seniors.

For Luke James, the 18-year-old, had made all the difference.

That it was his first league start of the campaign, however, is a point of frustration, regret almost.

Andy Monkhouse, the 32-year-old scorer of both goals and rightful recipient of the headlines, deflected praise onto his teenage comrade.

The same player, just days earlier, had spoken honestly of the club’s repeated failure to sign a goalscorer over recent seasons.

On Saturday, in another candid offering, Monkhouse relayed what has evidently been the talk of the dressing-room.

“It’s the manager’s choice, of course, but him coming in gave us a belief that he could change it. I thought he was outstanding,” he put, the subtext of his words needing no interpretation.

To the backdrop of a 12-hour goal drought at first-team level, James had plundered four for the second-string, even scooping the division’s Apprentice of the Year award during the same barren period.

He was perhaps the one player on the books boasting reserves of confidence.

Still, though, he remained a spectator for the large part.

John Hughes talks of inspiration, the ability of individuals to spark a reaction among others.

Sadly, for the majority of this season, unless the effervescent James delivered a dressing-room one-liner, his impact has been somewhat suppressed.

At the weekend, though, he was belatedly handed his chance to influence from the off.

And that he did.

Not by means of a furnished finish or a devastating dribble, it was his sheer presence which transformed fortunes.

And this from a slip of a lad who wouldn’t look out of place during the half-time penalty-shootout reserved for the town’s schoolkids.

Up against bandanna-wearing veteran Efe Sodje, James, by half-time familiar with his opponent’s elbow, repeatedly came back for more.

If the plan was to bully the boy into submission, it failed.

From minute-one to his injury-time withdrawal, James chased, pestered and, most importantly, inspired.

For Monkhouse as good as attributed the victory – a first in nine attempts – to the livewire forward.

There must, though, be praise for the scorer.

With the scoreless stretch having ran to 12 hours, 41 minutes and 28 seconds, the winger pounced.

Jonathan Franks’ corner was hoisted high into the area, Peter Hartley climbed to nod down and Monkhouse, reacting sharpest amid bodies, turned a close-range header over the line – just.

For there was a three-second delay as the officials made sure of the score, a Bury defender having desperately hacked clear of the goalmouth.

Within seconds Franks had cracked the woodwork and then, with the goal gaping, the same player somehow contrived to stab wide from six yards, the off-putting presence of defender David Worrall perhaps offering slight mitigation.

James had been the nuisance factor behind that opening.

And a frenetic finale to the first half reached its peak when Craig Fagan, having wrestled with Darren Holden, was shown a straight red card.

Hughes felt Holden had perhaps overreacted, replays, though, suggest Fagan was an unnecessary aggressor.

The second period failed to produce the incident of its predecessor, save for Monkhouse’s smart second on 72 minutes.

Franks crossed from the right and the winger, dashing in front of his minder, steered a firm nod into the bottom corner from 12 yards.

Points sealed, the gap to safety reduced to five.

James made way towards the end, Hughes affording him the ovation he deserved.

Despite his energy-sapping efforts, he bounced into the dugout, congratulated by each of its occupants.

Contented, he settled on the bench.

Unfortunately, it is a position he has populated for too long.