Gulls Do It From A Great Height At Morecambe...
Torquay United must wish they could play Morecambe every week. If they did, they wouldn't be worrying about their League Two status, as they were when they arrived for this game today. The Shrimps have a poor record against the Gulls, having won only two of their previous seven games against the club from the Devon Riviera. Today, the home team started with a vastly changed line-up. With various regular defenders unavailable due to injury, Morecambe's midfield dynamo Stewart Drummond started as centre half up against Morecambe Old Boy René Howe. To his right, the Manager of the Shrimps' Reserve Team found one of his regular players, Chris Doyle, starting a League game for Morecambe for the first time ever. It was to prove to be an eventful game for both of them...
In the middle, the fussy and ineffectual man in the yellow top seemed to have a different book of Laws of the Game to most other referees on the planet. He seemed to believe that every time the ball ended-up within or even close to the centre circle, it is necessary to blow your whistle and award a free kick. He must have done this at least twenty times during the match and this whistle-happy individual seemed to be awarding free-kicks for one reason or another on average every ninety seconds or so throughout the game. The concepts 'advantage' and 'discretion' don't seem to have any place in Mister Darren Bond's vocabulary and his performance at the Globe today was not good enough for a game of this importance: his constant stopping of play and inability to let even minor infringements go spoilt the efforts of both teams to produce either a watchable or fluent game of football.
The team in the black strip produced the first chance of the game with a shot which went harmlessly wide within thirty seconds. With less then ten minutes on the clock, Drummond did protégée Doyle no favours with a poor defensive header that left the young defender with little choice other than to commit a foul and draw the inevitable yellow card it technically merited. Yet Mr Bond did nothing when Kevin Ellison was floored by a crude lunge by Joe Oastler after nine minutes and completely overlooked the very obvious elbow which connected with Ryan Williams' face after ten: nothing happened again in terms of punishment for the offender, Lee Mansell even though the young victim had to leave the pitch for treatment and change his shirt due to blood dripping from either his mouth or nose as a result. Approximately twelve or fifteen free-kicks later - after 22 minutes - Chris Doyle clearly pulled back Elliot Benyon and Darren Bond sent him off. By the letter of the law, this was a correct decision but it begs the age-old question - where is the consistency? Mansell's foul on Williams was much worse then either of Doyle's and Oastler's lunge at Ellison was almost as bad yet nothing happened to either of them.
With only ten men on the field and over an hour to play, Jim Bentley's team were truly up against it. Yet, with midfielder Andy Fleming dropping back into defence and acquitting himself manfully for the rest of the game, Morecambe continued to play the more progressive, fluent football. Having said that, the constant whistling from the man in the middle meant that there were very few direct threats to either team's goal. Howe huffed and puffed and committed the occasional oh-so-familiar sneaky foul up front for Torquay whilst his opposite number, Lewis Allesandra, had a poor game by his standards for the Shrimps today. As the brass band in the home stand loudly blasted out 'Bring Me Sunshine', a deeply black comedy moment which will probably haunt Barry Roche for the rest of his career duly arrived after twenty-seven minutes. Under no pressure whatsoever, the home goalkeeper contrived somehow or other to completely miss his clearance of a tame back-pass from Drummond and - to the considerable horror of the Morecambe supporters behind his goal and elsewhere in the ground stood - apparently frozen in time - as the ball slowly and seemingly inexorably trickled away from him and nestled in the back of the net. As I said at the beginning, United must wish they played Morecambe every week: they will even score for you if you can't manage it yourself...
As the free-kicks mounted up and Darren Bond finally penalised the visitors when he brandished a yellow card at Aaron Downes after a particularly bad foul on Jack Redshaw just before half time, Morecambe still looked the most likely team to score.
The second half followed a similar pattern - free-kick after free-kick to the point of utter tedium - yet with the team composed of only ten men still looking the most likely to score at the right end of the field this time. Drummond had a chance to redeem himself with a free header from a set piece within a minute of the re-start but his effort went disappointingly well over the bar. Several free kicks later after fifty minutes, Mr Bond again showed a novel twist on how to give refereeing a bad name when he literally wagged his finger for some time in the face of Damon Lathrope. You could almost hear him saying 'You will go and sit on the Naughty Step if you do that again!' - he should have booked him instead. Bizarrely, he then chose to shove a yellow card in Williams' damaged face after a truly innocuous foul three minutes later. With fifty-five minutes played, Michael Poke flapped at a corner from the Torquay left and was a spectator when Andrew Wright smashed a volley against his left hand post as United failed to clear their lines. A couple of minutes later, Howe was unlucky when his low shot went right across the Morecambe goal and none of his team-mates was able to redirect it. With almost an hour gone, Ryan Jarvis produced a good effort from the left hand edge of the Shrimps' penalty area which only just cleared Roche's bar. At the other end, a speculative dipping volley from a long way out by Ellison only just failed to drop into Poke's net after 63 minutes. Straight after this, Howe played Bodin in but his shot hit the side netting instead of the goal. Visiting Manager Alan Knill sent Ashley Yeoman into the fray after 67 minutes and the substitute had an almost immediate impact. Within a minute, he raced down the Morecambe right with the ball at his feet and unleashed a fantastic shot from the edge of the penalty area which beat Roche all ends up to effectively seal all three points for the visitors. The nearest Morecambe came to reducing the arrears was after 78 minutes, when Gary McDonald was clearly pushed over in the Torquay penalty area. The only person in the ground who didn't seem to see this was... Darren Bond.
It would be unfair to blame the referee for Morecambe's loss - they effectively shot themselves in the foot with the first goal. However, Jim Bentley must be encouraged that his scratch team played with more spirit despite having only ten men on the pitch than has often been the case at home this season with a full complement on show. The result threw a bit of a damper on the post-match parade of the playing staff in front of the die-hard supporters after Morecambe's last home game of the season. But at least Barry Roche didn't blot his copybook even further by dropping the very small baby he carried round the pitch at the end. Sorry Baz; I couldn't resist it... Good luck to him next season - good luck to everyone.
Morecambe: 1 Barry Roche; 3 Robbie Threlfall; 23 Chris Doyle (R); 8 Andrew Wright (C); 16 Stewart Drummond; 17 Andy Fleming; 18 Gary McDonald (21 Aaron McGowan 84 mins); 10 Ryan Williams (Y); 9 Lewis Allesandra (14 Jordan Burrow 60 mins); 11 Kevin Ellison; 27 Jack Redshaw (20 Joe Mwasile 84 mins).
Substitutes not used: 25 Andreas Arestidou; 19 Joe McGee; 24 James Short; 26 Chris Holroyd.
Torquay United: 1 Michael Poke; 2 Joe Oastler; 3 Kevin Nicholson; 4 Aaron Downes (Y); 5 Brian Saah; 6 Damon Lathrope; 7 Lee Mansell (C); 8 Ryan Jarvis; 9 René Howe (Y); 15 Billy Bodin (19 Danny Stevens 90 mins); 26 Elliot Benyon (23 Ashley Yeoman 67 mins).
Substitutes not used: 13 Martin Rice; 16 Angus MacDonald; 21 Thomas Cruise; 11 Ian Morris; 20 Nathan Craig.
Ref: Darren Bond.
Written by Roger Fitton.