It is just over three months since Morecambe last travelled to Gresty Road for a League Two game. Then, having managed to weather the storm for 89 minutes, they succumbed to a goal scored for Crewe by their own former top scorer Shaun Miller. It plunged them into the relegation dogfight which they finally won literally at the eleventh hour at Coventry on the very last day of the season.
Today, on the first day of the new campaign, only four players who featured in the Shrimps’ first team in Cheshire during April lined-up anew against the Railwaymen: indeed, no less than four of them have left the club since then. The question which is in every football supporter’s mind right across the planet at the beginning of every new campaign, though, is this:
Is the current crop any better than the old one was?
Hopes were high before the game – but hopes are usually high for all fans, whichever club they support. But expectations sometimes don’t survive first contact with the enemy and the acid test is what happens on the pitch.
For Crewe, this is equally true – as Wordsworth might once have quipped. Their line-up also showed several changes since last time the clubs faced each other. Jim Bentley’s opposite number and former Morecambe team-mate Dave Artell has also rung the changes over the summer. The Railwaymen’s crowd would also be hoping for a more positive campaign this time out to that they experienced last term.
As all football fans know, it really IS the hope that kills you. New season; old slate wiped clean – here we go again. Being drawn away from home doesn’t have to be the end of the world. If you lose one-nil, the imaginary glass of optimism remains almost full. Two-nil and there’s the merest dribble of spillage – particularly if the lads put on a decent show. Three-nil though and the glass really has a lot of stuff missing from it. Four-nil and there’s not much left. Five-nil and only the dregs remain – all the liquid and with it hope itself has disappeared. But at six-nil even the glass itself has gone.
And so it was at Gresty Road today. The 336 of us who had come to witness the first game of the season were all in fine fettle – and fine voice – prior to kick-off. Many of the multitude sported this season’s shirts – a gesture in itself a testament to the belief they had that this time around, the team they support will not be struggling to survive in the EFL next May as was the case this year.
Pre-season matches tell nobody much about what is likely to happen once the gloves are off for real. Beating non-League teams is one thing but Morecambe’s 1-3 reverse to Joey Barton’s Fleetwood last Saturday at home must have rung a few alarm bells somewhere; the Cod Army are admittedly in a higher division but the win was far too easy for them even bearing this in mind.
So what a difference an encounter with the reality of actual League Two football made today: all hopes for the next nine months were completely dashed in a mere ninety minutes.
Many of our number had already departed long before the ninety minutes were up and a lot of those who remained jeered their own players after this absolutely dreadful display.
Things started quite brightly for the visitors. The passing and movement was sharp if not incisive and the Shrimps had most of the ball. Harry Pickering welcomed Liam Mandeville to Crewe with an appalling tackle after three minutes for which he should have been booked. But novice referee Alan Young – apparently officiating in his first ever EFL game – let it go. If the foul was intended to intimidate Morecambe’s new acquisition, it worked a treat: he was virtually totally anonymous after being fouled and was taken off in the second half. To make things worse, in virtually their first attack, the Railwaymen went ahead. Alex Kenyon – not for the last time – failed to deal with a one-on-one situation on the left hand side of the Shrimps’ penalty area; Paul Green got past him and slipped the ball to Charlie Kirk who converted with ease. Three minutes later – with the Morecambe defence all at sea – Alex Nicholls headed a routine second one. But Jim Bentley’s men didn’t let their heads drop. After seventeen minutes, new boy Rhys Oates only just missed Dave Richards’ right hand post with a header. Four minutes later, another Morecambe effort was blocked almost on the goal line. At the other end, though, the Shrimps looked shaky every time Crewe attacked. Kenyon was outsmarted again on the Alex left (no pun intended) after 27 minutes and was lucky to get a free kick to get him out of trouble. Three minutes later, Barry Roche worked wonders to palm away a cross-come-shot which was heading into the net from the Crewe left. On 34 minutes, the referee again failed to punish a bad foul by Eddie Nolan on Vadaine Oliver, just as he failed to produce yellow cards when Dave Artell’s players deliberately kicked the ball away when penalised and one of them clearly handled the ball later in the half. Having said that, it would be unfair to blame Morecambe’s utterly abject performance today on the referee. As debutant central defender Andrew Tutte clearly struggled to keep up with the pace of the game, Crewe could have gone even further ahead during the first half. An unmarked Pickering missed the target with a wild shot after 40 minutes when he could and should have done better and Jordan Bowery had an even better chance just before the break but tamely shot straight at Barry Roche instead of burying the ball in the back of the net.
Having gone in at half time two goals adrift, the Shrimps not only failed to regroup in the second but actually gradually began to visibly come apart at the seams.
They had chances – which Vadaine Oliver squandered – early on and later in the game. Mandeville narrowly missed with a volley after 56 minutes but after giving away a sloppy ball which could have set-up Alex for yet another goal a few minutes later, he was hauled off. In the meantime, though, it was mostly one-way traffic. For the record, Crewe’s four goal haul in the second half was provided by Nicholls again after being easily fed by Kirk after just over an hour. James Jones netted with a long-range shot after 72 minutes. Chris Porter headed home from close range with just three minutes scheduled to play. And – just to rub it in – Jones scored his team’s sixth during injury time right at the end of the game.
So Morecambe end the first day of the season right at the very bottom of the EFL. Crewe, conversely, are right at the pinnacle of League Two. But will this still be the case nine months hence? Crewe’s destiny is difficult to predict but they won’t have many easier games then this one today. As for the Shrimps, if they don’t improve both immediately and dramatically they might as well throw in the towel right now: today’s performance was simply not of Football League quality.
Crewe Alexandra: 13 Dave Richards; 14 Alex Nicholls (Y) (7 Chris Porter 75 mins); 10 Jordan Bowery; 8 James Jones; 3 Harry Pickering; 15 Ryan Wintle; 20 Charlie Kirk (11 Callum Ainley 75 mins); 17 Paul Green; 12 Eddie Nolan; 5 George Ray (C) (29 Nicky Hunt 30 mins); 2 Perry Ng.
Subs not used: 1 Ben Garratt; 6 Michael Raynes; 24 Lewis Reilly; 16 Tommy Lowery.
Morecambe: 1 Barry Roche (C); 2 Zak Mills; 4 Alex Kenyon; 6 Andrew Tutte (15 Aaron Wildig (Y) 65 mins); 5 Steven Old; 27 Jordan Cranston; 18 Rhys Oates (22 James Sinclair 77 mins); 17 Liam Mandeville (12 Jason Oswell 62 mins); 8 Andy Fleming (Y ); 11 Kevin Ellison: 9 Vadaine Oliver.
Referee: Alan Young.
Attendance: 3559 (336 from Morecambe)