Torquay began this game in eighth position, just outside the League Two play-off berths. Martin Ling`s team has won both of the games they have played this year, both by 1-2 margins away from home at Macclesfield and Plymouth respectively. Could they make it three in a row against a team both five points and five places lower in the table?
The answer is: yes they could. Intriguingly, they also repeated their winning score for the third time in a row.
For Morecambe, today`s poor performance also repeated a pattern. They have now lost both games they have played at home this year by two goals to one; the previous one against lowly Northampton . Away from the Globe Arena, the Shrimps remain unbeaten in 2012 with a win at Crewe and a last ditch draw at Bradford last Saturday. So how is it that Jim Bentley`s team play so much better away from Morecambe than they do in front of their own fans? On the road, they have only lost two games all season and won six out of thirteen: no other team has a better record in League Two. At home, however, they have lost half of the fourteen League games they have played so far, winning only three of them.
There could be many explanations for this. The suspicion remains that the losses have a lot to do with their new ground. Former home Christie Park may not have had Executive Boxes. It may not have had the name of the Chairman ostentatiously splashed across the front of the main stand. It did not possess state of the art Corporate facilities such as a Conference suite. There were Portakabins there instead of properly built shops. But the one thing it did have in abundance was ATMOSPHERE. The heart and soul of Morecambe Football Club could once be found in the North Stand at the old ground – but (most notably in the undersized and poorly-designed glorified bus shelter where the standing home supporters are currently corralled) that atmosphere has been left behind to leave the Globe Arena virtually as soul-less and sterile as a desert. Despite the valiant efforts of many home supporters to generate passion and noise behind the Morecambe goal, the new ground continues to feels like an away venue to many of them. Ironically, Shrimps supporters make themselves heard far better away from the Globe Arena than they are able to – despite their greater numbers – at the new place. This surely can`t be lost on the players.
And today it showed yet again. For a start – despite quite a number of Gulls supporters making the massively long journey from the South West – there were fewer than 1800 spectators in the ground: by far the lowest crowd in the Football League on the day and smaller than five Blue Square Premier attendances from matches being played at the same time.
From the beginning – playing with a very strong squally wind at their backs – the home team played Route One football far too often. Whereas the visitors kept the ball on the deck and played their way forward with a succession of short, accurate passes, Morecambe too often tried and failed to hoof the ball up to Lewis Allesandra in the centre forward berth. Allesandra is too small physically to play as an effective target man and when he was taken off after 54 minutes, you couldn`t help having at least some sympathy for a man who at least always tries – unlike some of his team-mates. Around him, midfield players also played poorly for Morecambe with perhaps the honourable exception of Gary McDonald. Garry Hunter gave his all – as he always does – but made far too many unforced errors. Veteran dynamo Stewart Drummond again seemed to be trying to find the killer pass far too much of the time rather than taking an easier option and was guilty of continually giving the ball away.
One of the players in the black strip, however, outplayed all three of his counterparts in the red shirts. Danny Stevens is apparently 25 years of age but he looks boyish enough to be playing in Torquay`s youth team. He may look like a boy but Stevens was the outstanding man on the pitch today, though. He prompted much of the Gulls` good work and crowned a commanding performance by deflecting Lee Mansell`s shot past Barry Roche in the seventy-ninth minute for Torquay`s second goal.
Having said that, Martin Ling`s squad played the better football throughout this match and would probably have won more comfortably were it not for the problems Andy Parrish continually caused them by marauding up their left flank. Time and again, Morecambe`s best player took on the visitors single-handedly and occasionally ran them ragged. Jim Bentley`s decision to take him off after less than an hour was thus met by almost universal dismay and quite a lot of barracking from the home fans.
Torquay had the first good chance of the game after quarter of an hour when Eunan O`Kane`s shot was deflected for a corner via the Morecambe bar. From the resulting kick, Mark Ellis bundled the ball home to give the visitors a lead they never really looked like losing. This was despite the best promptings of Kevin Ellison for the Shrimps a couple of minutes later – despite being cleverly set-up by him, Laurence Wilson`s resultant shot went quite wildly wide. Robert Olejnik was actually tested after twenty-five minutes by a good shot from a fair way out by McDonald and fumbled the ball. He might have been at fault again five minutes later when the Gulls` defence had real trouble dealing with a Morecambe corner but the huge orange-clad goalkeeper with the shaved head and a penchant for loud grunting was rarely troubled again. This was partially due to the wind – at least two set pieces from Wilson sailed harmlessly out of play during the first half and the ball blew away when it had been placed to be kicked a couple of times during the second half. But even when the ball didn`t roll away, Morecambe`s set piece routines were generally poor, perhaps most notably when Will Haining lofted the ball straight over his team-mates and also the Gulls` goal line not far from the corner flag after 65 minutes from a promising position. The conditions weren`t wholly to blame, though: when Torquay were awarded set pieces, it was noticeable that they allowed for the wind and used the ball far more effectively on every occasion. They also continued to fashion the better chances and Barry Roche produced the save of the match when he managed to push an excellent strike by Taiwo Atieno away to his left after 68 minutes. From the resultant corner, the Gulls had a shot which went narrowly over the Morecambe bar. Three minutes later, O`Kane was denied a second goal only by the rapid intervention of Haining and a few minutes after that, Stevens gave a hint of things to come when he only just missed the target with a good run and strike after a mistake by Hunter. He wasn`t going to be denied much longer, though and his goal followed just before the eightieth minute. It would appear that Morecambe skipper Will Haining had pulled one back with a thunderous drive from well outside the Torquay area after 86 minutes but the goal was actually awarded to substitute Jevons, who otherwise contributed very little to the game – as has been the case far too often of late. During injury time, Nick Fenton made a valiant attempt to equalise but it was too little, too late and in truth, Morecambe thoroughly deserved what they got out of this game: nothing.
Torquay thus march on into the play-off positions and a fine run of 2012 form. Morecambe continue to march on as well – in the opposite direction.
Morecambe: 1 Barry Roche; 2 Nick Fenton; 6 Will Haining (C); 8 Garry Hunter; 9 Lewis Allesandra (10 Phil Jevons 54 mins); 11 Kevin Ellison (29 Jason Price 86 mins); 15 Chris McCready; 16 Stewart Drummond;19 Laurence Wilson; 18 Gary McDonald; 22 Andy Parrish (30 Danny Carlton 54 mins).
Substitutes not used: 12 Shaun Routledge; 28 Joe McGee.
Torquay United: 1 Robert Olejnik; 3 Kevin Richardson; 4 Mark Ellis; 5 Chris Robertson (Y); 7 Lee Mansell (C); 10 Eunan O`Kane; 11 Ian Morris; 18 Joe Oastler; 19 Danny Stevens; 22 Damon Lathrope; 23 Taiwo Atieno (9 René Howe 70 mins).
Substitutes not used: 13 Martin Rice; 2 Lathaniel Rowe-Turner; 6 Brian Saah; 16 Chris McPhee.
Ref: Carl Boyeson.
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