Date: 22nd April 2017 at 5:09pm
Written by:

Less than a month from now – 20th May – marks the tenth anniversary of the most momentous day in Morecambe Football Club`s history. At Wembley, the Shrimps beat Exeter City in the Conference Play-Off Final to book their place in the Football League for the first time ever. It was a different world then: Christie Park still existed and the fans actually knew who owned the club, for instance. One of the few things that remains to cement the connection between what is a very different club these days and the one which existed then is epitomised by one individual: Jim Bentley. Jim was Captain on the day Morecambe beat the Grecians for the first time ever. Today, he is the long-suffering Manager of the team which turned-up at St James Park aiming to derail Exeter`s belated promotion push: Paul Tisdale`s team have overcome poor form at the beginning of the season to find themselves in sixth position in League Two prior to kick-off. The Grecians` form has been unpredictable all season and indicative of this is the fact that they lost their last home game to Newport County: a club seemingly doomed under ex-Preston boss Graham Westley but fighting for their lives now under new manager Mike Flynn. Morecambe`s form, on the other hand, has been almost a mirror-image of Exeter`s virtually since they last met and the Shrimps lost three-nil at home to a team that was then in the bottom two last October. From top of the table early in the season, they have plummeted through the division and only a sudden improvement in form recently has saved Morecambe from the real possibility of accompanying hopeless Leyton Orient back into the non-League wilderness next season.

On a beautiful Spring day on Devon’s Riviera, Exeter probably shaded the first half with the visitors failing to force home keeper Christy Pym into a meaningful save other than when he stopped a shot from an offside Antony Evans after almost half an hour. With both sides passing the ball intelligently on a superb surface, Morecambe had the better of things initially. After nine minutes, Evans cleverly weaved his way down the wing and his dangerous cross was headed away for a corner by Pierce Sweeney which came to nothing. Two minutes later, Michael Rose`s precise free-kick was headed away again by Jordan Tillson and Sweeney again conceded a corner as Evans tried to find Aaron Wildig at the far past with just twelve minutes played. There were panic stations in the City penalty area with a quarter of an hour on the clock as Ollie Watkins carelessly gave away the ball only to see Troy Brown unceremoniously boot it into orbit and away. After another Rose free kick was blocked for a corner, Michael Duckworth`s cross-come-shot after 20 minutes flew harmlessly over the bar. It wasn`t all one-way traffic though and Alex Kenyon made an important interception with his head after twenty-three minutes to stop Jake Taylor`s cross falling to one of two team-mates lurking behind him. As the half wore on, the Grecians started to dominate the possession and the play and Danijel Nizic did well to hold onto a Joel Grant shot with forty minutes played. He was called into action again after 41 minutes when – following a good block by Ryan Edwards – he spread himself well to deny Watkins this time. So the half ended all-square after 45 minutes with Exeter seeming to be building a head of steam.

It took the home team just four minutes to take the lead in the second half. As Morecambe`s defence dithered after a Ryan Harley corner, David Wheeler bundled home the scrappiest of goals to put the Grecians one-nil up. Jim Bentley sent on old stager Kevin Ellison after an hour and his first contribution was a dangerous cross towards Paul Mullin which was cut-out by Brown for another corner. Just two minutes later, Kev produced one of his trade mark volleys, smashing a pass from Mullin past a helpless Pym from the left side of the penalty area into the top right corner of the goal to level things up. Morecambe could have taken the lead after 69 minutes when another substitute – Lee Molyneux – was fed by Aaron Wildig and hit a hopeful shot which Mullin only just failed to turn over the Exeter line. At the other end though, Nizic was judged to have handled a back pass after 73 minutes but massed bodies on the Shrimps` goal-line blocked the indirect free kick from just six yards out. But just as it looked as if they would hold on for a point, referee Lee Swabey first of all decided that five minutes extra time would be played and then pointed to the penalty spot with just one of these played when he possibly harshly adjudged Rose to have upended Reid in the area. Exeter`s substitute picked himself up and duly put the ball past Nizic from the spot to give City the lead they needed to keep up their promotion push. As the visitors threw everything at the Grecians in an attempt to retrieve a point, Exeter caught them on the break again right at the death with another tremendous individual goal from substitute Liam McAlinden with almost the last kick of the game.

On the day that neighbours Lancaster City became champions of the Northern Premier League (good for them) and battling Newport escaped from the relegation berths for the first time this year with a win over Accrington, Orient fell into the abyss after Dave Artell`s Crewe thrashed them three-nil. Morecambe thus returned to Lancashire empty handed but probably thanking their lucky stars that things haven`t been even worse after a dreadful season off the pitch this time around. The loss meant that the Shrimps slipped to eighteenth in the division – Exeter`s injury time win propelled them into fifth position in the table.

Exeter City: 30 Christy Pym; 6 Jordan Tillson; 7 Ryan Harley; 11 David Wheeler; 12 Joel Grant (10 Lee Holmes 87 mins); 14 Ollie Watkins (19 Liam McAlinden 88 mins); 15 Jordan Moore-Taylor; 25 Jake Taylor; 26 Ethan Ampadu (33 Reuben Reid 77 mins); 31 Pierce Sweeney (Y); 39 Troy Brown (Y).

Subs not used: 1 Bobby Olejnik; 4 Lloyd James; 28 Jack Stacey; 29 Luke Croll.

Morecambe: 12 Danijel Nizic; 19 Michael Duckworth; 4 Alex Kenyon (Y) (11 Kevin Ellison (Y) 59 mins)); 6 Dean Winnard; 5 Ryan Edwards (Y); 3 Aaron McGowan; 17 Andy Fleming; 15 Aaron Wildig; 24 Michael Rose (C); 21 Antony Evans (10 Lee Molyneux (Y) 67 mins); 7 Paul Mullin (Y) (18 Rhys Turner 78 mins).

Substitutes not used: 1 Barry Roche; 2 Liam Wakefield; 8 Peter Murphy; 16 Alex Whitmore.

Ref: Lee Swabey