Pilgrims' Progress at the seaside
Morecambe's Manager Jim Bentley must wish that his team could play all their games away from their new stadium - the Shrimps lost in the league for the first time so far last Tuesday at Bradford but at home, they have now lost the last three of four, having managed only a draw so far against York City.
The Shrimps' utterly dire home form continued today at the Globe Arena as they threw away a two-goal lead after an hour at a point when they seemed to be cruising towards their first home league win of the season. As if this was not bad enough, they visibly fell apart against a team which finally simply showed more determination to win the game when push came to shove than they were able to do themselves.
In front of a crowd of less than two thousand, entertainment during the first half was at a premium after the first three minutes. During this time, however, Morecambe took the lead. Jack Redshaw - playing the role of David to Darren Purse's Goliath - brilliantly wriggled past a man perhaps twice his physical size on the Morecambe left, raced into the penalty area and found the back of the net with a shot which unerringly swerved past visiting custodian Jake Cole.
The rest of the half was a largely forgettable affair with few chances. Neither side seemed able to string more then three or four passes together successfully without the move breaking down and - with the notable exception of Redshaw - nobody really caught the eye.
The key moment of the half - and arguably the match - occurred right at the end of the period when that beacon of hope was nullified.
The Plymouth Captain - having already fouled Morecambe's scorer more than once (most notably after twenty-seven minutes when he should have been booked) finally got in a truly bone-crunching tackle right at the death for which many referees would have shown him a straight red card. He retreated to the middle of the pitch with a yellow. Redshaw was helped to limp to the sidelines.
Unsurprisingly, he failed to re-appear for the second half.
His replacement - bustling loanee centre forward Richard Brodie - made an impact almost immediately. He barged his way down Morecambe's left flank with only a minute played and provided a dangerous cross which should have caused more problems than it did for the Plymouth rearguard. But - showing a determination and confidence throughout the half which few of his team-mates ever emulated - he forced his way between two Pilgrims defenders in their penalty area with three minutes gone only to be brought-down by one of them. Brodie took the resulting spot-kick himself and although Cole made a valiant effort to keep it out, the sheer ferocity of the shot nestled the ball into the net low down to the goalkeeper's right.
At this point, the visitors' heads seemed to collectively drop. But Plymouth had troubled Barry Roche in the home goal a couple of times during the first half: most notably when a fierce shot from Conor Hourihane hit his legs after a quarter of an hour and bounced harmlessly away. The Shrimps' Irish goalkeeper excelled himself by pushing a rocket of a free kick from Robbie Williams away for a corner by diving high to his right just before the Shrimps doubled their lead at the beginning of the second half. With an hour on the clock, however, there seemed to be no way back for the team from Devon: they looked well and truly beaten.
Morecambe took their foot off the gas as a result. This is often fatal in professional football and so it proved today. Having gradually worked their way back into the match as the Shrimps clearly thought it was already over, Plymouth's new on-loan striker Ross Jenkins smashed an unstoppable volley from the left edge of the penalty area from his point of view past a despairing Roche into the top right hand corner of the net after 71 minutes. It was a fantastic strike and it galvanised Plymouth to take control of the game. As Morecambe visibly panicked and - even more alarmingly - completely lost their discipline into the bargain, the visitors built up a head of steam which saw them both equalise and then take the lead from the penalty spot. The first infringement was given - perhaps a little harshly - for handball by Izak Reid after 78 minutes. The second - after which handbags were exchanged in an incident which did not reflect well on the home side - came about with just five minutes of real time left when Andy Parrish clearly brought-down substitute Paris Cowan Hall as the Shrimps' back line was run ragged for the umpteenth time since Jenkins scored the visitors' first goal.
From the home fans' point of view, at least the sun shone throughout the contest. Eric Morecambe would have been delighted. This was a truly beautiful day for a football match and the view over the Lakeland hills across Morecambe Bay from the main stand was truly memorable.
Unlike the game - at least for local supporters.
For Plymouth fans, the long drive home surely would not seem quite so endless - to recover from two-nil down with only half an hour left to play and then win is a fantastic result in any circumstances. In today's, it was a feat worthy of Lazarus. Pilgrims' supporters must have felt that they were on Cloud Nine all the way back to the West Country - and good luck to them all.
For Morecambe fans and individuals in the team, to lose in such a way is not only disappointing - it is potentially completely demoralising. With all due respect, the Pilgrims are not a good side: their lack of confidence was obvious for all to see at the beginning of the game and the fact that Morecambe didn't capitalise on this even more than they did is in itself more than a wee bit troubling.
Jim Bentley must motivate his charges to perform much better - and do so very quickly. On today's showing, the only thing that will save Morecambe from the Bookies' safe bet of a return to the Conference at the end of the season will be the apparently even worse form of rivals such as Barnet, Bristol Rovers or Dagenham and Redbridge.
The Shrimps carried too many passengers today. Richard Wright was anonymous throughout the contest; Gary McDonald was untypically poor and the mercurial Kevin Ellison's only contribution to the game was to earn a fairly typical yellow card for a completely pointless bit of petulance during the second half. The Red Mist seemed to spread to at least Will Haining who - as Captain - really should set a better example.
Against a stronger team, Morecambe might well have never have found themselves two goals to the good. To actually lose this advantage against a side that was clearly there for the taking really does start the alarm bells ringing: Morecambe`s performance today was nothing less than pathetic.
Morecambe: 1 Barry Roche; 2 Nick Fenton; 3 Robbie Threlfall; 6 Will Haining (C); 7 Izak Reid (16 Stewart Drummond 83 mins); 8 Richard Wright; 11 Kevin Ellison; 14 Jordan Burrow (9 Lewis Allesandra 83 mins); 18 Gary McDonald; 22 Andy Parrish; 27 Jack Redshaw (10 Richard Brodie 45 mins.).
Substitutes not used: 25 Andreas Arestidou; 17 Andy Fleming; 20 Joe Mwasile; 23 Chris Doyle.
Plymouth Argyle: 1 Jake Cole; 2 Durrell Berry (Y); 3 Robbie Williams; 4 Maxime Blanchard; 5 Darren Purse (C) (Y); 6 Conor Hourihane; 11 Warren Feeney (Y); 18 Guy Madjo; 27 Andres Gurreiri (7 Paris Cowan Hall 61 mins); 30 Ross Jenkins (Y); 32 Alex MacDonald.
Substitutes not used: 13 Ollie Chenoweth; 17 Curtis Nelson; 23 Jamie Richards; 8 Luke Young; 19 Joe Lennox; 21 Matt Lecointe.
Ref: Tony Harrington.