Tip of the Iceberg?
They say that games like this one - end of season affairs with nothing at stake for either side - are boring. But what do they (whoever `they` actually are) know? Where else would you see a Pope strutting his stuff on a football field? (Even if not, in the case of Vale`s number 11 Tom Pope, always infallibly…) Or his team-mate, number 26, the ex-Snooker world Champion - and looking very trim, all things considered. (Particularly the fact that the other Joe Davis died as long ago as 1978…) Or even another dead man walking? (In the case of the referee, he was actually RUNNING most of the time…)
So `they` are right after all: the fact that I have to resort to writing this sort of drivel speaks volumes about the game itself. To be fair, the first half wasn`t bad. Morecambe entered the game with an altered line-up, legendary striker Danny Carlton playing as a Wing Back for the first time in at least my memory. And he made the first mistake of the game - with only seconds on the clock, he was caught in possession and the visitors` Louis Dodds raced through the Shrimps` defence only to see his powerful drive just miss Barry Roche`s right hand post with the goalkeeper clawing at thin air. At the other end, Craig Curran suffered a similar fate after two minutes: his clever run and decent shot just missed Stuart Tomlinson`s right-hand post as well. After eleven minutes, Morecambe`s outstanding player Izak Reid danced his way down Vale`s left flank (as he was to do throughout the afternoon) and slung over a dangerous cross (as he was also to do throughout the afternoon) which Tomlinson did well to catch. A minute later, Gary McDonald found Garry Hunter with a peach of a pass when the latter was well placed but Morecambe`s number eight made a mess of the opportunity. The Port Vale goalkeeper made his first attempt at footballing Hari-Kari after thirteen minutes: his attempt to hoof the ball into the Irish Sea was blocked by an in-rushing Jordan Burrow and he was lucky to get away with it. During the second half, the huge man in yellow did the same thing again after 52 minutes: his clearance hit Jack Redshaw this time and spun backwards over his head only to miss the frame of the goal by sheer luck. In fact, the goalkeeper had a few narrow squeaks during the afternoon - after 17 minutes, he punched a cross weakly away and was fortunate to get away with it; with forty-nine minutes gone, he cleared badly with a poor kick and after 75 minutes - following a mazy run right into the goalmouth by Hunter - the goalkeeper ended-up booting the ball away more by luck than judgement when he suddenly saw it at his feet. Having said that, when he was called upon to actually make saves or catches from crosses, the visiting goalkeeper looked pretty steady and reliable most of the time. It`s in their DNA, I suppose…
After fourteen minutes, for instance, Tomlinson did well to push a shot from Redshaw away for a corner after another good pass from Reid. The same thing happened again after almost an hour when he produced an even better save from the same combination. Redshaw turned provider after 21 minutes only to see McDonald`s excellent shot well stopped by Tomlinson to his left. And it was the Shrimps` Scottish midfielder who produced the best attempt of the match when he blasted a sublime volley from 25 yards out only just over the Valiants` bar. At the end of the first half, it had been virtually one-way traffic: the visitors didn`t win their first corner until one minute from the end and then completely wasted it and Morecambe came off definitely the sharper and more adventurous team.
The second half was a largely drab affair, occasionally lit-up by Reid`s wing play and the even rarer half-chance or display of individual skill such as when official Man Of The Match Redshaw brilliantly turned the Vale defence after 67 minutes only to run into heavy traffic nearer to the visitors` goal. One of the few points of interest to Morecambe supporters was - why did Valiant substitute Chris Shuker play better for his new employers during the final 20 minutes than he did throughout his hopeless Morecambe career all of last season? (Answers on a postcard to Sammy McIlroy please…)
So what did this afternoon`s goal-less encounter tell us about the two teams?
Morecambe repeated a pattern of the season: they won convincingly at Vale Park earlier in the season - as they have at countless other League Two grounds this time out - only to fail to come up with the goods at the Globe Arena. If Jim Bentley can sort-out his team`s home form, the additions he has made to the squad he inherited from Sammy McIlroy last season promise well for next term, when they may be able to maintain the momentum which saw them leading the pack last Autumn.
In a week dominated by recollections of the Titanic, Port Vale`s problems appear to be of the iceberg variety. On the surface, Micky Adams` club looks to be in reasonably sound shape: they have some good players and if he can keep the squad together, they might even improve on their performance this season once August arrives. It`s what lies beneath the surface that must most trouble the Manager and Port Vale supporters. Despite helping hands offered by Robbie Williams and Stoke City Council in terms of cash donations and loans, the club are deep in the financial mire and could conceivably not even exist by the start of next season. I am old enough to remember the Valiants been seriously clobbered by the footballing authorities at the end of the 1960s for making payments to amateur players: a practice - although technically illegal - which was widely practiced by many League clubs at the time. Vale were hit with a huge fine and effectively expelled from the Football League by being forced to re-apply for membership, beginning life in the 1970s in Division Four once they had survived this ordeal.
When Manchester United were found to be doing exactly the same thing, no such utterly draconian sanctions were taken against them. One rule for the rich and all that…
So personally, I`ve had a soft spot * for them ever since and I hope they survive their current tribulations once again.
(* And that soft spot is NOT the quicksands in Morecambe Bay : that spot is reserved for one or two other clubs I can think of…)
Morecambe: 1 Barry Roche; 7 Izak Reid; 6 Will Haining (C); 15 Chris McCready; 22 Andy Parrish; 18 Gary McDonald; 8 Garry Hunter; 12 Craig Curran; 27 Jack Redshaw (20 Joe Mwasile 88 mins); Danny Carlton; 4 Jordan Burrow (9 Lewis Allesandra 68 mins).
Substitutes not used: 23 Chris Kettings; 24 Niall Cowperthwaite; 28 Joe McGee.
Port Vale: 12 Stuart Tomlinson; 2 Adam Yates; 4 Anthony Griffith; 5 John McCombe; 7 Doug Loft; 8 Louis Dodds; 9 Marc Richards(C); 11 Tom Pope; 14 Paul Marshall (18 Sam Morsy 79 mins);17 Sean Rigg (Y) (20 Chris Shuker 79 mins); 26 Joe Davis.
Substitutes not used: 22 Phil Roe; 21 Kingsley James; 19 Ben Williamson.
Ref: Darren Deadman.
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