Monkey Business at Morecambe
The Shrimps entertained Chesterfield at the Globe Arena on Tuesday evening looking to win for the first time in any competition this season at their seemingly cursed relatively new home ground.
Jim Bentley's side went into this game on a downward spiral which has seen them lose the last three league games including their most recent home match. Just over a week ago - when they seemed to be cruising to victory at two-nil to the good, they took their foot off the gas and lost their momentum. In doing so, the Shrimps allowed Plymouth Argyle to come from behind and deservedly win with three goals in the last twenty minutes of the contest. On Tuesday, if Morecambe were fortunate enough to find themselves in the same position, the question for the fairly sparse home crowd as they bit their nails even shorter than usual was: would it happen again?
On the other hand, Chesterfield - home of the famous crooked spire - were not on a downward, crooked or any other shape of spiral. Since caretaker boss Tommy Wright replaced John Sheridan in August, the Derbyshire club has been unbeaten with three wins and two draws. For them, however, Morecambe have been a bit of a bogey team since their first meeting when the Shrimps - then a non-league team - won at old Saltergate in the FA Cup ten years ago. The Spireites have won only one of their eight subsequent meetings before tonight, drawing five of them. So for the visitors, the main question must have been whether the monkey they had on their backs as far as the team in red was concerned was stronger than whatever poltergeist, cursed ape or whatever it is that has caused Morecambe to have a much better record away from home than they have enjoyed at the Globe Arena since they started playing there.
The game started promisingly enough for the visitors in their old gold strip. In Craig Westcarr in particular, they seemed to have got a twenty-four carat asset. He was denied a goal with just two minutes gone by an excellent tackle from home Captain Nick Fenton after having a half-chance even earlier. He had other chances too - most notably after 35 minutes when Chris McCready did even better to block a shot which would otherwise almost certainly have bulged the back of the Morecambe net. He took most of Chesterfield's free-kicks and corners until he was taken-off late into the game, for reasons unknown. Before that, he had been the lynch-pin of much of what the visitors offered as well as their most potent striker: the way their forward line linked seamlessly with a very mobile midfield seemed to augur bad things for a home side who were slower to react to the play and appeared to run out of ideas during most of the first period once they progressed to the half way line.
Indeed, Morecambe spent more time picking-out former Chesterfield goalkeeper Barry Roche with back-passes throughout the opening period than they did anyone further forward up the pitch. Whereas it was possible to see the clear 4-4-2 formation the visitors' were set-up to play throughout the contest, Morecambe's shape seemed to be all over the place in the first half at least. Was it 4-4-2; 6-2-2 or 6-4-0?
Actually, it seemed to be basically just 9-1 a lot of the time - with Hats Off to Jack Redshaw, who continually snapped at the heels of far bigger defenders as is his wont in usually vain attempts to take the game to them. Behind him, most of his much larger team-mates preferred to stay safely behind the ball, apparently terrified of making any sort of mistake. This is the trade-mark of a team that has been losing regularly and is very short of confidence. What does a side like this need to turn their fortunes around?
One of the things it certainly needs is a bit of luck. Despite dominating the play early on, Chesterfield rarely really seriously threatened their own former goalkeeper's territory. Big Baz produced a save for the cameras after 27 minutes from Drew Talbot and pulled-off a truly excellent stop in denying best player on the pitch Westcarr after forty once Robbie Threlfall had slipped to allow the Spireites forward in. But with the visitors about to go in on top, loanee Richard Brodie burst down the Morecambe left flank and lofted a superb cross to an unmarked Gary McDonald, who steered the ball into the top right hand corner of Richard O'Donnell's goal with a faultless volley. It was a fantastic strike and it clearly had a dramatic effect on the home team.
During the second half, they were unrecognisable from the tentative, nervous side who looked as if they had never played together before as Brodie in particular excelled repeatedly down the left flank: Chesterfield had no answer to him. O'Donnell was at full stretch to keep out a long-range shot from Andy Fleming with just three minutes of the second half gone. Three minutes after that, Brodie bulldozed his way past Terrell Forbes and slung over a gem of a cross which Lewis Allesandra buried in the visitor's net to make the score two-nil.
Those 'Experts' who know about football - apparently - tell us that 2-0 is a difficult score to defend. But I can tell them that it`s precisely half as difficult to protect as one-nil is.
But how do you measure - statistically - bitten finger nails?
Given recent memories against Plymouth - when it all went horribly wrong - I wouldn`t like to think. But mine were right down to the quick by the time the visitors' had taken their cue and actually won the game then. As I continued to chew tonight once Morecambe established a 2-0 lead, however, Chesterfield showed little sign of a fight-back. Indeed, once they conceded the second goal, the visitors' heads visibly seemed to drop.
They never once threatened Barry Roche's goal during the second half and the only team likely to score again was Morecambe. Allesandra scorned another chance to add to his tally when he totally failed to connect with a dropping ball in the Spireites penalty area just before the hour and hit the side netting with an instant volley just after it. Five minutes later, he missed again with an excellent header from a slightly over-hit cross. In the meantime, Neal Trotman could count himself lucky only to receive a yellow card when his poor control led to Jack Redshaw pinching the ball and the huge defender - as a direct result - crudely brought him down from behind. Later, although he was blameless when ex-team mate Shrimps' substitute Jordan Burrow fouled him - apparently For Old Time's Sake - the Spireites Number Five was even luckier when his reaction (shoving the Shrimps' Number 14 in the chest) was overlooked by the referee.
It's not really fair to single-out individual players but Trotman had a very poor game. If there is such a thing as Chesterfield Rugby Union Club I, for one, would be tempted to sign him up. Many of his tackles were better suited to that code and way he Kicked For Touch at virtually every possible opportunity even when a simple pass to get himself - and his team - out of trouble was available is something his manager definitely needs to do something about and soon.
Maybe it was just a bad day at the office. At the end of the day, Morecambe got their own particular monkey off their backs with three points which lifted them into seventeenth place in the League Two table. Despite the loss, Chesterfield remain two places higher. They apparently hope for promotion back to where they came from last season: League One. It's still early days but there are obvious things they really need to improve if they are going to do so: their defence needs strengthening and their attack seems too one-dimensional: Tommy Wright must find a way to take the pressure off Craig Westcarr; on this performance, Chesterfield appear to be in danger of being a One Trick Pony.
Morecambe: 1 Barry Roche; 2 Nick Fenton (C); 3 Robbie Threlfall (Y) (6 Will Haining 59 mins); 15 Chris McCready; 16 Stewart Drummond; 8 Richard Wright; 9 Lewis Allesandra; 10 Richard Brodie; 17 Andy Fleming; 18 Gary McDonald; 27 Jack Redshaw (14 Jordan Burrow 80 mins.).
Substitutes not used: 25 Andreas Arestidou; 7 Izak Reid; 20 Joe Mwasile; 23 Chris Doyle.
Chesterfield: 13 Richard O`Donnell; 4 Terrell Forbes (Y); 5 Neal Trotman (Y); 6 Sam Hird; 8 Sam Togwell; 10 Danny Whitaker (29 Micah Evans 61 mins); 11 Craig Westcarr (14 Jack Lester 78 mins); 12 Tendayi Darikwa; 16 Liam Ridehalgh; 17 Chris Atkinson (7 Mark Allott 62 mins); 25 Drew Talbot.
Substitutes not used: 27 Ben Wilson; 15 Craig Clay; 18 Scott Boden; 19 Jacob Hazel.
Ref: Andy Haines.
Written by Roger Fitton.