Mullins Makes Muggins of Morecambe
Saturday 20th January 2018 1500hrs
Attendance: 8476 (61 from Morecambe)
Morecambe faced the long journey to top of the table Luton knowing that their hosts have a reputation this term for taking visiting teams to the cleaners at Kenilworth Road. Nathan Jones` team put eight goals past Yeovil in their opening game of the season at this stadium. Since then, the Hatters have demolished neighbours Stevenage 7-1 and thrashed Cambridge United by seven goals as well without reply. This, coupled with outstanding results on the road - such as their 0-5 win at Swindon Town - shows the potency of their main strikers, James Collins and Danny Hylton. Including their efforts, the Bedfordshire club had netted an astonishing 67 goals already this season before kick-off - a record for any League Two club this century.
Apart from the three precious League Two points on offer today, the teams were also competing for the Eric Morecambe Trophy: a miniature copy of the statue of Morecambe`s favourite son whose original can be found on the promenade in the Lancashire seaside resort. Little Eric has been exiled in Bedfordshire ever since Luton beat the Shrimps 1-3 at the Globe Arena during September 2015. On form, he would be staying there today. But the visitors` hopes of pulling off a win and rescuing Little Eric was based on their own recent record, which must have given encouragement to Jim Bentley and his team. They went into the match on the back of three matches unbeaten in the division. Furthermore, the Shrimps had already held the league leaders to a goalless draw back at the Globe Arena last September. This, coupled with the Hatters` shock 2-0 defeat at bottom of the table Chesterfield last Saturday, gave the visitors some basis for hope that they could retreat back up the M1 with at least one point to help them move slightly further ahead of the gaggle of strugglers at the bottom of the EFL.
Best wishes were expressed before the match kicked-off by Morecambe`s players and management for a rapid recovery from testicular cancer for former player and current Plymouth Argyle defender Ryan Edwards. Then there was a round of applause for three former players as well as the incomparable Cyrille Regis who died this week. What an icon. What a man. God bless him. God bless them all.
On a wet pitch and with intermittent rain sweeping across the ground, there was a scare for the hosts after just six minutes when star striker Danny Hylton pulled-up with what looked like a hamstring strain. This happened as he unsuccessfully tried to turn Max Muller on the edge of the Shrimps` penalty area. Despite treatment on the field, he was unable to continue and had to come off shortly afterwards. Bad luck for him but his departure meant a less testing time for the visitors - Danny always is a handful for whoever is up against him.
Play was fairly even before Luton fashioned the first chance of the game after fourteen minutes. Andrew Shinnie won the ball in the Morecambe midfield, strode forward and unleashed a wicked shot from twenty yards out which big Barry Roche in the Shrimps` goal did well to palm away. Straight after this, Luke Berry crossed towards the visitors` back post; the ball was knocked down and substitute Elliot Lee`s shot was blocked at the expense of a corner which came to nothing. Up at the other end, Jack Stacey did really well to put in a tremendous block virtually on his own goal line after twenty minutes just before the ball found its way to an unmarked Aaron Wildig. This followed an accurate cross by Garry Thompson after he had been played-in by Adam McGurk to make good progress down his right wing into the heart of the Hatters` defence. With the hosts probably just about shading the play, Berry tried his luck after twenty-eight minutes but his shot went over the Morecambe bar. Five minutes later, Glen Rea found the ball at his feet following a corner kick but his shot also failed to trouble Big Baz between the Shrimps` sticks as it whistled past a post. With thirty-eight minutes on the clock, Lee played an excellent defence-splitting cross to Shinnie who tried to find James Collins at the far post but the Shrimps defence managed to deal with the danger. In fact, the visitors probably had the best chance of the opening period with just a minute still scheduled to play. Aaron McGowan cut in from the right wing and unleashed a fantastic curling shot which Marek Stech in the home goal did brilliantly to push away to safety. That was the last action of the first period. So it was all-square and Little Eric remained imprisoned in the Kenilworth Road display cabinet as the players trooped back to the Dressing Rooms.
With the sixty-one stalwart travelling fans noisily making their presence felt, the second half`s first notable chance fell to the visitors. McGowan again tried his luck after fifty minutes but this time missed the target. On the counter-attack four minutes later, Lee also missed the target for the hosts. With fifty-five minutes played, Morecambe had an even better chance as Thommo again whipped-in a cross which McGurk controlled well before unleashing a low shot which Stech excelled once more to claw away from the corner of the goal. Three minutes later, the Czech goalkeeper did even better as he managed to divert a shot which had taken no less than three deflections - including a touch from McGurk - away from a corner. But as the visitors continued to dominate the play - with Stech denying Wildig and McGowan in quick succession - they were caught with a sucker-punch when Luton went ahead after 64 minutes. Lee took a free kick on the Luton left and Captain Johnny Mullins beat everyone else to the ball to head home and put the league leaders in front. The Hatters could have gone further ahead after seventy minutes when recent substitute Harry Cornick drew a save from Roche at the cost of a corner. From this, Mullins headed only just narrowly wide. Glen Rea then lost possession to substitute Kevin Ellison but redeemed himself when he worked wonders to deny Kev with a last-ditch tackle as he was about to unleash a thunderbolt after 75 minutes. Shortly afterwards, Thommo knocked the ball down to him and Kev again tried his luck from 20 yards out but missed the target. The best chance of the second half for the visitors arrived after eighty-five minutes when Steven Old produced one of his trade mark headers from just ten yards out following a corner kick. Sadly for the visitors, he also missed. So the game ended with three points for the visitors and the prospect of exile for Little Eric for at least the next few months. The mark of a championship-winning side is to play poorly and still win. This was how Luton`s performance today could best be described. They remain top of the pile with a six point lead over second placed Notts County. Meanwhile, although the Shrimps still found themselves in nineteenth position after the game, they actually slipped back towards the trapdoor at the bottom of the EFL. Their advantage over third-bottom Chesterfield - who won at Yeovil today - shrunk to just two points, albeit with a game in hand for the Shrimps. With Forest Green also winning and bottom club Barnet drawing, Morecambe are still very far from secure as far as their future in League Two is concerned. Having said that, they will again play worse this year and actually win.
Luton Town: 1 Marek Stech; 7 Jack Stacey; 5 Johnny Mullins (C); 16 Glen Rea; 3 Dan Potts; 8 Olly Lee; 18 Luke Berry; 24 Lawson D`Ath (14 Harry Cornick 65 mins); 11 Andrew Shinnie; 19 James Collins; 9 Danny Hylton (38 Elliot Lee 8 mins).
Subs not used: 36 James Shea; 2 James Justin; 10 Jordan Cook; 17 Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu; 39 Akin Famewo.
Morecambe: 1 Barry Roche; 22 Max Muller; 16 Sam Lavelle; 5 Steven Old; 2 Aaron McGowan; 8 Andy Fleming (Y); 24 Michael Rose (C); 14 Luke Conlan (Y); 15 Aaron Wildig (Adam Campbell 69 mins); 7 Garry Thompson; 28 Adam McGurk (11 Kevin Ellison).
Subs not used: 12 Danijel Nizic; 6 Dean Winnard; 17 Mitchell Lund; 3 Patrick Brough; 11 4 Alex Kenyon.