HIS name did not appear on the scoresheet but Kevin McDonald was the architect of this emphatic victory at Gigg Lane.
The former Scotland under-21 and Burnley midfielder was without a club and facing an uncertain future in the game when Sheffield United offered him a route back into football during the early weeks of the season.
Five months on and McDonald, who created two of the three goals which ensured Danny Wilson’s team enter Saturday’s meeting with League One leaders Charlton Athletic second in the table, is emerging as the creative force behind the visitors’ efforts to regain their Championship status at the first attempt.
The secret behind McDonald’s resurgence, Wilson insisted, is all in the mind.
“Kevin brings things to the table that you rarely see in this division,” he said.
“He can do things which, with all due respect, not many other players at this level can.
“When you see him perform like that then it does make you wonder why he didn’t have a contract anywhere in the summer.
“In truth, I don’t actually think he appreciates quite what he’s capable of.
“We’ve told him what we think of him and what we know he can do.”
McDonald first rose to prominence by scoring twice in a Carling Cup tie against Arsenal at Turf Moor in 2008 before later helping the Lancastrians achieve promotion to the top flight.
But Wilson said: “Kevin came to us lacking a little bit of self-belief. He’s got a quiet, unassuming personality, which I know is unlikely for a footballer but that’s the way he is.
“He’s really settled in here, though, and credit has to go to the rest of the lads for bringing him into the group. They’re enjoying themselves and he’s really fitted in.
“Kevin is training much better than he was and his workrate around the pitch, especially off the ball, has come on leaps and bounds.
“He’s a superb player, he really is.
“But Kev’s still a youngster and there’s plenty more from him to come yet. He’s getting his rewards, though, and that will continue to be the case so long as he carries on applying himself.”
McDonald daubed bright splashes of colour across Bury’s grey, antiquated stadium.
Spraying passes around a pitch surrounded by away supporters on three of its four sides, the 23-year-old oozed class and conviction as he went about his business throughout what, despite the final outcome, was at times a far from routine contest.
Aided and abetted by the influential Michael Doyle, McDonald excelled while Matthew Lowton and Stephen Quinn combined well down the flanks and Richard Cresswell showed his experience by dictating
the rhythm when required. It was Cresswell who was responsible for breaking Bury’s stoic resistance when, having inexplicably missed from close range only moments earlier, he caressed the ball home following McDonald’s defence-splitting pass.
Ched Evans, again profiting from McDonald’s vision, claimed his 18th goal of the campaign with a rasping drive which proved too hot for Bury’s Cameron Belford to handle before Lee Williamson continued his prolific run courtesy of another expert finish.
However, the most impressive aspect of a performance which means United have now won 11 of their last 12 matches, was
the single-mindedness and sense of purpose they demonstrated before moving into the lead.
Bury, now a far more formidable proposition than the team brushed aside 4-0 at Bramall Lane in September, asked several questions of their opponents throughout a gritty opening period which saw Doyle and Cresswell both flattened by robust challenges while Lowton and Quinn had penalty appeals turned down.
The raw but incisive David Amoo should have done better on at least two occasions while United full-back Lecsinel Jean-Francois produced an excellent tackle to prevent Andy Bishop from handing Bury the lead. But United never looked back once Cresswell had pounced and ended the afternoon as deserving winners.
“We always knew Bury were going to be a tough team to beat,” said Wilson. “Other people might under-estimate them or not give them the respect they deserve but we definitely don‘t.
“Credit to them, because they absolutely ran themselves into the ground out there and gave absolutely everything.
“But we worked exceptionally hard too and that also pleased me.”