Whither Little Eric?
Saturday 6th May 2017 17.30 hrs
Attendance: 8399 (187 from Morecambe)
The received wisdom was that the clash between Luton Town and Morecambe on Saturday only had any relevance to the team from Bedfordshire. The Hatters had a chance, after all, to get themselves into the Play-Offs and thus potentially League One at the end of the last game of the League Two season. The Shrimps - on the other hand - had confounded the expectations of many so-called `experts` at the beginning of the season and kept themselves in the EFL, against all odds as things have shaken down. But what have `experts` ever known about anything? On the outcome of today`s game lay the fate of Little Eric: the statuette of Eric Morecambe which has been exiled in Luton for the best part of two years since Town first beat the Shrimps since returning to the EFL from the non-league wilderness. Since then, the Hatters have beaten the Lancashire team twice subsequently and were looking for their fourth straight victory against the Shrimps today.
Barry Roche returned in goal for the visitors and wasn`t seriously tested before Michael Rose pushed up the pitch for the Shrimps and crossed for Antony Evans after 21 minutes and the Everton loanee headed just wide of Stuart Moore`s goal. Six minutes later, Paul Mullin warmed the goalkeeper`s hands with a shot from the edge of the Luton area. But Town`s first effort on target during the first half led to the opening goal: Kevin Ellison conceded a corner after attending to his defensive duties; Luke Gambin slung the ball over; Dan Potts headed it down and Isaac Vassell swept the ball into the net from close range to put the promotion-chasing team one-nil up. Town pressed after this but Roche had only one save to make and the Hatters certainly rode their luck when Potts was lucky to emerge with only a yellow card after a full-blooded lunge at Aaron Wildig with all his studs showing with only one minute still scheduled to play in the first half.
The hosts thus went in at the break one up and with an appointment against Colchester United in the Play Offs on the fixture list next week and Little Eric still exiled in the trophy cabinet at Kenilworth Road. But would it stay like that?
Morecambe pressed the hosts initially as the second half started. But Luton had the ball in the back of the net with fifty-five minutes on the clock only for Glen Rea`s header to be chalked-off for offside. Just two minutes later, Mullin`s threatening foray into the Luton penalty area was abruptly stopped by Scott Cuthbert who was booked for his trouble as referee John Busby pointed to the penalty spot. Michael Rose duly sent Moore the wrong way and Little Eric`s exile dahn sarf must have seemed to be at least possibly coming to an end.
But it wasn`t. Having conceded, Town started to put increasing pressure on the Morecambe goal with Roche having to save from Potts and Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu before Ellison cleared a header off his own line. But when Vassell was substituted by Jack Marriott, the Hatters were soon back in front when he connected with Jake Gray`s pass after 75 minutes to somehow force the ball past Roche from an acute angle almost as soon as he came onto the field. The Shrimps didn`t lie down at this point and when Mullin connected with Ellison`s deflected shot from a free kick shortly after Luton had gone ahead again, Moore did brilliantly to push his effort over the bar. With just four minutes still scheduled to play, Mullin had another golden chance to pin Town back again when - following panic stations in the home penalty area - he smashed the ball well over the bar when he really should have hit the target. But Marriott - whose pace the visitors struggled with from the moment he took to the field - sealed victory for the Hatters after 87 minutes with a fantastic shot from twenty yards which seemed to catch Morecambe`s returning goalkeeper unsighted.
So the game ended with a double over the Shrimps by Nathan Jones` team this season. It`s no disgrace to lose to a team with a huge fan base and a tradition that Morecambe fans can only fantasise about. I`m sufficiently ancient to remember being at White Hart Lane in the 1970s where it was between Luton and Tottenham Hotspur who would be relegated from the old First Division. Leeds United - due to lose in the European Champions` Cup Final in Paris a week later - were the so-called `opposition`. But Jimmy Armfield`s side didn`t turn-up and could have played in the same strip across the channel a few days afterwards because nobody in their team either competed or even tried: Spurs won easily. It was a fix and it was a disgrace and I`ve personally despised both of these teams ever since. Personally, then, I`m delighted that Luton seem to be on the way back to where they probably belong. At the end of the match - with Colchester winning but failing to get into the top seven - Town faced Blackpool in order to progress to the Play Off final and the possibility of being a League One side next season. Good luck to them.
Morecambe`s future is far less promising and if Manager Jim Bentley leaves for whatever reason, it will be a miracle if the club (if it even exists by then) doesn`t follow both Hartlepool and Leyton Orient into the non-league wilderness next season and possible extinction altogether.
And what will Little Eric do then?
Luton Town: 1 Stuart Moore; 36 James Justin (2 Stephen O`Donnell 63 mins); 6 Scott Cuthbert (Y); 16 Glen Rea; 3 Dan Potts (Y); 17 Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu; 19 Olly Lee; 7 Jake Gray; 22 Luke Gambin (24 Lawson D`Ath 78 mins); 20 Isaac Vassell (14 Jack Marriott 72 mins); 28 Ollie Palmer.
Subs not used: 31 Craig King; 4 Jonathan Smith; 18 Zane Banton; 39 Akin Famewo.
Morecambe: 1 Barry Roche; 16 Alex Whitmore; 5 Ryan Edwards; 4 Alex Kenyon; 21 Antony Evans (17 Andy Fleming 70 mins); 15 Aaron Wildig (Y) (25 Ben Hedley 88 mins); 3 Aaron McGowan; 24 Michael Rose; 10 Lee Molyneux; 11 Kevin Ellison; 7 Paul Mullin.
Subs not used: 12 Danijel Nizic; 2 Liam Wakefield; 18 Rhys Turner; 19 Michael Duckworth; 27 Luke Jordan.
Ref: John Busby.