Date: 27th November 2018 at 10:37pm
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Into the Cuckoo’s Nest.

It’s well-known that One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at some point in the past. Tonight, though, Morecambe actually played in it.

What is there to say about the Shrimps’ opponents this evening, Milton Keynes so-called `Dons’?

Quite a lot in all truth. This is the team which proved that a football club is a franchise, not a stand-alone unique institution. Every other team I know of in the EFL and further afield has its own distinct history and progression to or from the Big Time. Morecambe, for instance, have progressed from the Lancashire Combination to the Northern Premier League to the Football Conference to League Two. It has been a long and sometimes difficult process. Our neighbours Accrington Stanley went bust and were thrown out of the old Football League in the early 1960s. They reformed and started the long, hard slog to get back to where they started off right at the bottom of the Football Pyramid in England. Newport County also went bust and fell out of the League during 1989. Their re-birth was severely complicated by the Welsh FA’s (illegal) diktat that all non-league Welsh clubs must resign from whatever competition they were playing in and join the new Welsh League – or else. Or else not play in the Principality at all. So County (as part of the `Irate Eight’ clubs – including Morecambe’s former Northern Premier League fellow members Bangor City – who all opposed the edict from the Welsh FA) had to start all over again not just away from Newport but actually in a different country – hence the `Exiles’ tag. They did this because they realised that membership of the Welsh League would mean an end to any further progression: and they also wanted to get back to where they once were: the Football League. But despite enormous difficulties, they have also achieved this aim. Hats off to them.

So how come MK Dons have never had to do any of this?

How come indeed. Crystal Palace are the Eagles; Norwich City the Canaries; Brighton & Hove Albion the Seagulls. Milton Keynes should be known as the Cuckoos.  They are the team who – to their eternal shame – the football authorities in Britain allowed to initially masquerade as another club altogether and physically move seventy miles up the M1 from where that former club: Wimbledon – could once be found. In doing so, they by-passed the normal gruelling ordeal of winning successive promotions through the lower leagues until the final – and initially very distant – goal of EFL membership is achieved. It shouldn’t have happened, end of story. AFC Wimbledon – the Phoenix of the original club, we must remember – have had to do this the hard way. Even now, they play at someone else’s ground and their plans for a return to spiritual home Plough Lane are by no means assured. But they’ve got to League One and must attract enormous respect for this achievement alone even though they are currently struggling in the division above the team who initially succeeded in stealing their identity. Personally, I hope they escape from the relegation zone and go on to even greater achievements. I also hope that Milton Keynes’ relegation last season is repeated regularly in the future – this club shouldn’t be in the EFL at all and it stinks that they ever have been. Sadly, that doesn’t seem very likely. They managed to prise what was then the EFL’s longest-serving Manager – Paul Tisdale – away from Exeter City in the closed season and Paul has turned the club’s fortunes around. It’s amazing what you can do when you have money to burn, isn’t it?…

Having said all that, the Shrimps’ record against the Cuckoos is nothing to write home about. They lost by the only goal of the game at Christie Park in 2007 and drew the return fixture ten years ago. Recent omens – a scrambled draw at home last Saturday against struggling Notts County preceded by utter humiliation by FC Halifax a week ago in the FA Cup – were not good. And as a result, the clamour from some quarters to have the EFL’s current longest-serving Manager (Jim Bentley) to lose that distinction has become deafening. Paul Ince, anybody? Yeah – why not replace years of dedication to the club and continuing EFL membership against all odds with a man who failed at tonight’s opponents and so many other places that this space is not long enough to list them all? That makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?…

Under new management, however, Milton Keynes’ last game – a derby against Stevenage last Saturday – ended in a 3-2 defeat. From reading their Twitter account before the game, though, it would appear that all the Cuckoos had to do tonight was turn-up to add another three points to their total so far and another win to their record against the team from Lancashire.

MK had the ball in the back of the net after just three minutes but the goal was not given due to a foul on Morecambe goalkeeper Mark Halstead.  The home team had the best of the opening quarter of an hour or so but the Shrimps looked threatening on the counter-attack with A-Jay Leitch Smith and Kevin Ellison looking busy for the visitors. Andrew Tutte drew the first save of the evening from Milton Keynes goalkeeper Lee Nicholls after fifteen minutes from a free-kick. The keeper did well to palm a tremendous shot from about thirty yards out against his own post. Although the home team had most of the possession during the remainder of the half, the visitors had another chance right at the death when Nicholls pulled-off another excellent save to keep out an effort from A-Jay.

So thanks to the man with the Number One on his back, it was all-square at half time.

Rhys Healey had the first chance of the second half, heading over the bar for the hosts when well-placed after four minutes.  Alex Gilbey then opened the scoring for the home team, curling a tremendous effort around a helpless Halstead with almost an hour played. But Milton Keynes didn’t have it all their own way after that although old stager and Captain Dean Lewington would have scored with a stunning volley if Halstead hadn’t done brilliantly to tip the ball over the bar after 71 minutes. With Alex Kenyon firing over the top with 77 minutes on the clock and the Shrimps applying some concerted pressure as they attempted to claw their way back into the match, they were caught on the break by Gilbey again after 84 minutes. He scored his second of the night with another tremendous curling strike which gave the Morecambe goalkeeper no chance. There were half-chances for both sides after this key moment of the game but the home side held out to get the three points they were clearly expecting before the game.

Paul Tisdale’s men moved one position up the table to the very pinnacle of League Two as a result of the win. Morecambe, meanwhile, slipped to twentieth. With Macclesfield winning their second game in a row (away at Exeter of all places), the Shrimps found themselves only five points above the drop zone. It’s not been a good week for the Lancashire club.

Milton Keynes: 1 Lee Nicholls; 2 George Williams; 3 Dean Lewington (C); 8 Alex Gilbey; 10 Chuks Aneke (19 Robbie Simpson 56 mins); 14 Keiran Agard (20 Lawson D’Ath 53 mins); 15 Jordan Moore-Taylor (6 Ousseynou Cissé 24 mins); 18 Conor McGrandles; 24 Jordan Houghton; 26 Baily Cargill; 32 Rhys Healey.

Subs not used: 22 Stuart Moore; 7 Ryan Watson; 12 Mitch Hancox; 37 Dylan Asonganyi.

Morecambe: 21 Mark Halstead; 7 Garry Thompson (17 Liam Mandeville 66 mins); 16 Sam Lavelle; 5 Steven Old; 3 Luke Conlan; 6 Andrew Tutte (14 Josef Yarney 36 mins); 11 Kevin Ellison 4 Alex Kenyon; 12 Jason Oswell (Y)(9 Vadaine Oliver 74 mins); 27 Jordan Cranston; 28 A-Jay Leitch-Smith;.   Subs not used: 13 Dawid Szczepaniak; 25 Ben Hedley; 24 Joe Piggott; 19 Carlos Mendes-Gomez.

Ref: John Busby

5726 (77 from Morecambe)