Roche versus Rochedale - sorry; Rochdale
Morecambe continued their mercurial form at the Globe Arena on Saturday with a puzzling performance against fellow League Two rivals Rochdale in the first round of the F.A. Cup. The Shrimps have had a poor record at home ever since they moved to their new ground from Christie Park and have lost more games than they have won there in all competitions so far, often against teams they have been able to get the better of on their own patches.
Morecambe beat Rochdale at Spotland in the league just three weeks ago and although they didn't lose this game the one reason they lived to fight again could be summed up in two words: Barry Roche. The Club Captain from Dublin put on a truly heroic performance to keep Jim Bentley's team in the competition virtually single-handed.
After twenty-two minutes, Big Baz did well to use his legs to block a direct Bobby Grant shot which spun away for a corner. From this, Jason Kennedy volleyed the ball faultlessly into the top left hand corner of the Irishman's net and Roche performed a miracle in pushing it away for another corner kick. Although he was helpless after twenty-seven minutes when a free-kick from Grant crashed against the Morecambe crossbar, he made the save of the game after 34 minutes with a truly superhuman reaction high to his left to a seemingly unstoppable effort from Ryan Edwards. Five minutes later, the same two players were involved again as Roche dived at Edwards' feet and the huge centre half kicked him in the face for his pains - a certain amount of argy-bargy between the two teams then ensued with Rochdale's number twenty-two playing a dishonourable part in the proceedings. But more about Bobby Grant later...
In fact, it was Grant who was the next to test Roche's reflexes and once again the Morecambe club Captain came out on top after 41 minutes with another excellent low stop. The second half continued the same way with Rochdale asking all the questions and Barry Roche providing nearly all the answers. The increasingly influential Dele Adebola had the first attempt on goal, missing with a header after 50 minutes when he should have hit the target. The big man at least forced another save from the Morecambe custodian two minutes later shortly after which Roche required prolonged treatment for an injury on the pitch. As the pressure relentlessly continued, Rochdale captain Peter Cavanagh could and should have equalised after 61 minutes but blasted a volley over the bar when hitting the back of the net seemed much easier to do. But Dale were not to be denied much longer. With just twenty minutes left, Grant charged down the Rochdale left flank and unleashed a thunderbolt of a shot from just inside the penalty area which Roche did brilliantly to parry - sadly for the Shrimps' Man of the Match, the lurking Jason Kennedy lashed the rebound past him into the net. And that`s how the match ended.
If other players in the Morecambe team - Lewis Allesandra, Stewart Drummond and Gary McDonald for example - had put in even a fraction of the effort their beleaguered goalkeeper did throughout the contest, perhaps the result would have been different. But Allesandra - a match-winner on his day - was guilty of holding onto the ball too long, performing one clever spin or shimmy too many and wasting possession on far too many occasions. Drummond and McDonald were ineffectual throughout the game and talismanic but temperamentally unpredictable Kevin Ellison was less talis and more manic today and was lucky not to be sent off (again) for a petulant and stupid foul on Bobby Grant with just twelve minutes on the clock. (Grant played like a man possessed after this and was perhaps lucky himself ultimately to receive only a yellow card over the full 90 minutes.) Even more alarming for Shrimps' supporters, though. was the fact that the home team were firing intermittently on about seven instead of eleven cylinders throughout the game and that they handed over the initiative to the visitors once Andy Fleming had found the back of the net with a fantastic strike low down to Josh Lillis' right after eleven minutes. They only started to compete again once former Morecambe hero John Coleman's side had finally equalised. No wonder Jim Bentley shaves his head: he would have torn his hair out if there was any to grab hold of on the strength of this pathetic performance. The discontent of the sparse home crowd was tangible at the end and the manager must motivate his players much better if they have any chance of fulfilling the trip to Coventry which awaits whichever team comes out on top in the replay: if it wasn't for Barry Roche, the Shrimps would have been soundly beaten.
But it could all have been oh so different. To start off with, Morecambe dominated the play and Dale found it difficult to get out of their own half for much of the first period. Rochdale's Number Five can think himself lucky that the referee didn't see his crafty tug on Allesandra in the Rochdale penalty area after just seven minutes and it was no surprise when the seasiders went ahead four minutes later. Three minutes after that, the referee was again lenient to the visitors when ignoring claims for a penalty after what looked like a clear foul by Kevin McIntyre in his own box - and throughout this, Rhys Bennett appeared to be in a state of complete panic most of the time on the left hand side of the Dale rearguard. Fleming was denied a second goal after twenty minutes by a really good defensive block and straight after that Jack Redshaw drew a truly excellent save from Lillis as he rushed through, set-up by a sublime pass from Ellison. But then it all went wrong until the visitors equalised, at which point Morecambe started to press them again. Too little, too late and at the end of the day, Morecambe were fortunate indeed to escape with a draw.
Morecambe: 1 Barry Roche; 2 Nick Fenton; 22 Andy Parrish; 6 Will Haining (C); 16 Stewart Drummond (Y); 8 Andrew Wright; 9 Lewis Allesandra (12 Dan Parkinson 77 mins); 17 Andy Fleming; 18 Gary McDonald; 27 Jack Redshaw; 11 Kevin Ellison (Y).
Substitutes not used: 25 Andreas Arestidou; 19 Joe McGee; 14 Jordan Burrow; 15 Chris McCready; 23 Chris Doyle; 7 Izak Reid.
Rochdale: 1 Josh Lillis; 3 Rhys Bennett; 4 Peter Cavanagh (C) (Y); 5 Ryan Edwards; 7 Jason Kennedy; 12 Phil Edwards; 15 Dele Adebola; 9 George Donnelly; 8 Andrew Tutte; 14 Kevin McIntyre; 22 Bobby Grant (Y).
Substitutes not used: 31 Ben Smith; 2 Joe Rafferty; 19 Craig Curran; 6 Brian Barry-Murphy; 11 Ashley Grimes; 23 Ian Craney; 26 Joel Logan.
Ref: Stephen Martin.