Date: 6th April 2021 at 9:19pm
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Southend – Shrimply the Worst? Not Tonight…

In the immortal words of Frank Sinatra: “I’d rather be a Shrimp than a Shrimper.” And who wouldn’t? – particularly at the moment. Morecambe have played the leaders of League Two in their last two matches – narrowly losing at Cambridge last Saturday but beating Cheltenham the week before with a full complement of players still on the field at the end of the game. That is becoming something of a novelty in itself. They had won, lost and drawn the three league games before that to put them in sixth position in the division with realistic hopes of promotion one way or another at the end of the season.

But what of tonight’s visitors, Southend United? Well – in some ways, the Shrimpers have a better record than tonight’s hosts. They have only lost one of their last five league games, for a start. Morecambe have lost two.  They have drawn three of the others. Morecambe have drawn just one. But they have only won a single game of their last five: Morecambe have won two. This loss was last Saturday, when Carlisle United won 0-2 at Roots Hall. To rub things in, Simeon Akinola missed a penalty when the Shrimpers were only one goal adrift and – in doing so – sealed a pretty grim statistic: five home games played in a row; not a single goal scored.

 So what realistic hope did United have of taking any points from tonight’s match in North Lancashire?

The omens weren’t good. If any incentive was needed, the Shrimps knew – after yesterday’s League Two results – that three points tonight would push the club into the automatic promotion positions. On top of that, Morecambe are Southend’s all-time bogey team. The Shrimpers lost the reverse fixture in Essex last September and in their ten previous League Two clashes, United have managed only a single draw, having lost every other time that the two clubs have played each other. But Needs Must. Southend are firmly stuck in the hurt locker at the bottom of League Two; six points adrift of their nearest neighbours Colchester (who have played a game more) and a massive seven adrift of our nearest neighbours Barrow, who have played one game less. In all truth, the club who are most often mistaken for ourselves on television and opposition websites alike look doomed. The run-in seems to be merely a struggle between them and Grimsby Town – just one point behind at the very bottom of the table but unbeaten, astonishingly, in their eight league matches – as to which of the two clubs will end up with the Wooden Spoon at the end of this campaign. Last season, the Shrimpers were in League One. But they looked destined to be relegated almost as soon as a ball was kicked. And so it proved: and things have not improved since. Earlier this season, they faced a winding-up order from HMRC and their only hope of financial survival at least is to sell their home ground to pay all the bills.

But for the grace of god…

Anyway, with Liam Gibson suspended because of his sending-off at Cambridge, Derek Adams had to re-shuffle his pack tonight. Having served a six-game ban in total for homophobic abuse of an opponent, Yann Songo’o was available for selection tonight. Derek, however, preferred to put Alex Kenyon into the first team and Brad Lyons – also returning from a recent injury – onto the bench. Yann’s fellow-Frenchman, Timothée Dieng, had also returned from the Naughty Step for the opposition after being banned for two games for getting Jordan Clarke of Scunthorpe United sent-off for `simulation’ – cheating – two weeks ago.  He surely should have been banned for longer: Yann used a word that is unacceptably offensive and he shouldn’t have done it – but he didn’t get anyone else sent off, did he? Reducing the opposition to just ten men is surely a far more serious offence: it could make the difference between survival and relegation for some clubs in the mire at the bottom of the division, after all. So how does this discrepancy in punishment make any sense? (Please write to the EFL, not me…) Before the game, DA said this:

“Both of us are fighting hard; Southend are fighting to stay in the league and we’re fighting to get promoted. I think that always sets up an interesting game. Our home form has been very good so we’re looking forward to it. We just have to continue pushing to get wins.”

Meanwhile, `Sarfend’ Manager Mark Molesley chose to put Dieng straight back into the starting eleven. He must have told his players that previous history means absolutely nothing; that Morecambe’s expectation of an easy win could lead to complacency in the home side. Most of all, though, he must have told his troops that – with games steadily running out – they needed to get out there and take the initiative. They needed a win – with their own wretched home record, a draw would not do. However, Mr Molesley would have to soldier on without loanee James Olayinka, who has returned to Arsenal for a scan of an injury and there were doubts about the fitness of veteran ex-PNE midfielder Alan McCormack as well. He was on record as saying:

“Morecambe will be a big challenge. They’re a play-off team that are pushing and it’s tight up there. Both teams have got everything to play for and it’s going to be a really tough game. We’ve got to react quickly. The games are running out and we’re well aware of the situation, and that’s why it was so bitterly disappointing to see on Saturday that we didn’t get to the heights that we needed to. Saturday was a stark reminder that if you think you can take your eye off any element of our game, you get hurt in this league.

To the media, the Shrimpers’ boss had said after the Carlisle defeat:

“We’re not out of anything, but we’re going to have to show a lot more at the same time for the next game – we need a big reaction and quick.”

Would he get one? Depressingly for Shrimpers’ fans, even their own kith and kin doubted it. These are three pretty typical remarks from Twitter:

“Molesley MUST do the honourable thing and resign now. Our results and league position don’t lie… I get it, has to remain upbeat, if not he’s signs his own P45. He says we’re not out of anything. Really??!!…being upbeat is one thing, being delusional is more worrying! No quality, no desire, no urgency. Table doesn’t lie folks!… He has to go. End of. Should have gone weeks ago. No experience at this level. Out of his depth.”

The final word in this litany of despair must go to `Ron The Bossa Nova Duck’. Ron the Duck can’t spell Mark the Mole’s surname but identifies the Chairman of the club as being equally culpable for the situation it finds itself in currently:

“Wanted for the murder of Southend United – Ron Martin and Mark Moseley.”

But would the Shrimpers get murdered tonight?

There had been very strange weather in Morecambe today – bright sunshine one moment; a blizzard the next. But the wind – even when it was sunny – had a real bite to it. The visitors kicked-off and it soon became apparent that they hadn’t read tonight’s script. For the first half an hour, they were the better and more assertive team. With four minutes played, Tom Clifford tried his luck from a free-kick – and blazed the ball hopelessly wide of the target. Two minutes later, Nathan Ferguson also walloped a wild effort high and wide of the home goal. And when a Southend throw-in after eight minutes ended up going straight out of play, you wondered if this was the best that a team who clearly had nothing to lose could actually do. A minute later, a panic-stricken Shaun Hobson made a desperate lunge at the ball in the United penalty area and whacked it against Toumani Diagouraga – it was lucky for the visiting defender that is bounced harmlessly away. This again made you wonder if United had already shot their bolt. But not a bit of it. The Shrimpers played some decent football at times and, as a physically big team and with men as tall as Greg Halford in their ranks, looked like they might cause Morecambe trouble in the air. And so it proved. Just over a quarter an hour had been played when the visitors found themselves pressing in the Shrimps’ half – not for the first time. Excellent work saw a cross sent over which Timothée Dieng (it had to be him, didn’t it?) headed home beautifully to give Kyle Letheren no chance at all. Morecambe were running around like headless chickens at this point and they didn’t seem to realise that they were actually in a game until about half an hour had gone by. Twenty- seven minutes had passed before they even looked like threatening the away goal. Then, Aaron Wildig played-in Cole Stockton on the Morecambe left. He was challenged by a defender but got off a shot from close in which went into the side netting at the near post. A few minutes later, Cole had another go, spinning and shooting from the right to just miss the far post this time. The Shrimpers struggled to clear a Shrimps’ free-kick after 34 minutes but when the ball was finally booted clear and then chipped back in, Harry Davis got under it and headed way over the bar.

So half time came and the game had not been exactly a classic to watch. But the visitors had definitely shaded it and went in with a winning margin which nobody could begrudge them.

Words must have been said at half time because the hosts came out and immediately went onto the front foot. `Toums’ did well to draw a corner on the Morecambe left after four minutes of the restart. From this, the ball found its way to Stockton, whose shot was on target but a combination of defenders and goalkeeper Mark Oxley kept it out. Then Diagouraga forced another save from the goalkeeper after 53 minutes – but he was offside. As the pressure on the visitors increased, Kelvin Mellor attacked down the Morecambe right after 55 minutes. His cross into the Southend penalty area was headed clear but Cole was waiting for it in the centre of the pitch and volleyed an unstoppable shot home to bring the home side level. Southend conceded a number of free-kicks and corners in succession after this and there was a decent shout for a penalty as Carlos Mendes Gomes appeared to be impeded with just over an hour on the clock. (After the game, Derek Adams was in no doubt that this was not a penalty in his opinion.) Oxley did well to catch a corner kick after 61 minutes but a minute later, another corner was cleared to Wildig who shot just over the bar from the edge of the area. But the visitors weathered the storm and – to be fair to them – started to play on the front foot again. Dieng drew an excellent save from Letheren low to his left after 64 minutes. Three minutes later, the always-combatative Southend Skipper Jason Demetriou was booked for a crude foul on Carlos on the halfway line. From the resulting free-kick, Oxley did well to punch the ball away. But seconds later, Demetriou caught Wildig with a high challenge on the edge of the penalty area to give away another foul. If he hadn’t already been booked, he could have expected a yellow card for this. When he then brought-down John O’Sullivan on the Morecambe right after seventy-one minutes, Manager Molesley wisely intervened and hauled him off: Oxley took over the captaincy. Good move – every time I have seen him play, the Southend Skipper looks just one rash challenge away from a red card and he was lucky to stay on the field tonight.

The game more or less petered-out in the latter stages with no clear-cut chances for either side. The result was disappointing from Morecambe’s point of view and the single point would not help Southend a lot either. But anyone who claims they don’t play with spirit and a plan has not seen the team I witnessed tonight.

The win pushed Derek Adams’ team up to fifth. As for Southend; with their rivals for relegation Colchester and Barrer drawing against each other yesterday and Grimsby also grinding-out a point, they found themselves basically in the same position at the end of play that they had been at the beginning.

Let’s give the final word to Southend United’s Chairman, though. Just ten days before the Shrimpers were to be beaten by Morecambe at Roots Hall, property developer Ron Martin announced on the sixteenth of September last year after he’d got rid of the higher earners in his playing staff:

“I repeat we do not want any player at the club that does not want to be here. Mark and his management team are here to quickly change the culture from which the club has suffered over the past two seasons. We now have an energetic and highly motivated management team who are all focused on improving the current squad and supplementing further players to ensure success. I am asked “what are our ambitions for this year”… “are you happy to remain in League Two”. The answer is absolutely not. “

As far as remaining in League Two is concerned, it looks – with several levels of irony – like he’s getting his wish, doesn’t it? Poor old Shrimpers – it looks as if their one century stay in the EFL is all but over. I really empathise with their long-suffering supporters: the pain is clearly far from being finished yet and – very sadly – there is a real possibility that the club may not survive at all. Let’s hope they do. No, not just for the guaranteed six points for Morecambe every season in the foreseeable future – says he flippantly – but in all seriousness: that could be the stark reality facing any one of many clubs in the EFL: including ourselves…

Morecambe:  1 Kyle Letheren; 2 Kelvin Mellor; 3 Stephen Hendrie; 5 Sam Lavelle (C); 8 Toumani Diagouraga; 6 Harry Davis; 14 Alex Kenyon; 9 Cole Stockton; 10 Aaron Wildig; 11 Carlos Mendes-Gomes; 16 John O’Sullivan.

Subs not used: 12 Mark Halstead; 4 Nathaniel Knight-Percival; 19 Liam McAlinden; 15 Brad Lyons; 18 Ben Pringle 21 Ryan Cooney; 23 Freddie Price.

Southend United:  1 Mark Oxley; 2 Elvis Bwomono; 24 Jason Demetriou (C) (Y) (28 Richard Taylor 73’); 5 Shaun Hobson; 6 Tyler Cordner; 8 Timothée Dieng; 12 Tom Clifford; 17 Reeco Hackett-Fairchild; 20 Ashley Nathaniel-George (30 Ricky Holmes 57’); 23 Greg Halford (18 Emile Acquah 73’); 44 Nathan Ferguson.

Subs not used: 13 Harry Seaden; 10 Brandon Goodship; 11 Terrell Egbri; 27 Harry Kryprianou.

Ref: Scott Oldham.