Date: 12th October 2019 at 8:24pm
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City go third

Old rivals Bradford City visited the Globe Arena today for the first time in a while, bringing with them a player who will not have fond memories of his experiences with the Shrimps at Christie Park earlier in his career. Clayton Donaldson was York City’s outstanding player in the Football Conference Play-Off semi-final against Morecambe during 2007. He was flattened by Shrimps’ goalkeeper Steven Drench during the first half in a collision which saw Steven carried from the pitch with a dislocated elbow: the impact didn’t do Clayton any favours either. Controversially, the referee chose not even to book Drench, let alone send him off – a curious decision at the time to say the very least. York scored to put themselves ahead in the tie from the resultant penalty but two wonder goals from Wayne Curtis saw Morecambe finally victorious – and the rest is history as they say… (Er: they went on to beat Exeter City at Wembley and enter the Hallowed Ground of the EFL.)

Wayne scored again in the final game Donaldson played at Christie Park. On this occasion, Barry Roche brilliantly saved Clayton’s penalty at a point when Andy Parrish had been sent off for fouling him. If he’d scored, Crewe would have gone 1-4 up against the ten-man Shrimps. In the end, his team lost 4-3 (with several levels of irony, current Crewe Manager Dave Artell scored the winner for Morecambe during injury time). So one player at least would have very good reason to get the better of the Shrimps today. Having said that, I thought the way he bared his backside to the massed ranks of Shrimps fans in the old North Stand who had been daring him to do precisely that en masse for ages during the Crewe game was one of the funniest things I have ever seen at a football match. Fair play to him for his tremendous good humour: it’s just lucky that the Referee clearly didn’t see what he did…

Gary Bowyer’s team arrived at the Globe on the back of three wins, one loss and a draw from their last five games. As far as Morecambe are concerned, the Bantams had won seven of fifteen previous meetings and lost four. City were sixth in League Two before the game and hoping for a rapid return to League One, from which they were relegated last season.

Compare this with Morecambe. Jim Bentley’s team have lost three and drawn two of their previous five league fixtures. In the campaign so far, they have won just one of their twelve games altogether. This explains why only Stevenage lay between them and the oblivion of the National League before kick-off today. So – on current form – there was only going to be one winner. The Bantams are a big club from a large city. Their average home crowd is over 14,000 and the fact that they sold-out their allocation for this fixture almost two weeks ago (more tickets at over 1600 than Morecambe’s average home gate) speaks volumes about the enormity of the gulf between the day-to-day realities of these two clubs. (In reality, lots more than the official gate from Bratfud were in the ground. About eight people sitting adjacent to Yours Truly were clearly Bantams supporters and I spotted more than one Bradford shirt hidden under over-clothing as people streamed away from the Morecambe end at the end of the match. But we must remember that the town was known as Bradford-upon-Sea due to its direct railway link to the West Yorkshire city years before it was re-named after the adjacent Bay..,)

Defying the weather forecasts, it was breezy but bright by the side of Morecambe Bay today. Not for the first time, 35-year-old Bradford native Clayton Donaldson was named Captain for today’s clash and he led his home town team out under unseasonably blue skies. The biggest roar of the tie before half time was when City approached their massed ranks of supporters prior to kick-off. From that time on, they were more or less silent, reflecting their team’s performance. Any neutral watching what happened would be hard-pressed to recognise that there were almost twenty places between these two sides. Right from the off, the Shrimps played bright, incisive football. The combination of A-Jay Leitch-Smith and Shaun Miller looked potentially potent up-front. In the centre, the midfield seemed far less disjointed than usual. The defence – bar a couple of bad lapses by Steven Old – kept the visitors relatively quiet too. Having said that, actual chances for either team were at a premium. Visiting goalkeeper Richard O’Donnell made the first, relatively easy save after five minutes. Alex Kenyon shot high, wide and not very handsome on a couple of occasions. Tom Brewitt outdid him after half an hour when he blasted a wild shot right over the stand roof under which the Bradford fans were gathered. At the other end, Zeli Ismail found Callum Cooke in the centre of the pitch after twelve minutes and his instant shot went just wide of the post with Barry Roche scrambling to his left. Captain Donaldson had probably the best chance of the half but headed wide when he might have done better when a cross from the City right reached him at the far post after eighteen minutes.  He clearly hurt his left foot a while after that and spent quite some time having it treated on the pitch. But half time arrived with the home team looking lively, the visitors perhaps a bit lethargic but the match scoreless. But with news that Stevenage were beating Grimsby to shove the Shrimps to the bottom of the EFL at half time, the home fans were hoping for an even better display from the men in red during the second half.  Instead, the visitors took the lead almost immediately after the re-start. Dylan Connolly caused problems on the right – as he started increasingly to do; rode a potential foul in the Shrimps’ penalty area and drew a save from Big Baz. Sadly for the Morecambe goalkeeper, Hope Akpan was the first to react to the loose ball and he fairly walloped it home. The goal totally changed the atmosphere in the ground: it woke-up the travelling masses and they started a racket which continued long after the final whistle had blown. Going ahead also seemed to wake-up the visitors and they played at a faster pace and with a lot more energy than they had so far. Having said that, finding themselves behind did not cause the Shrimps’ players heads to drop. A nicely worked free-kick after 49 minutes saw Lewis Allesandra pass to Miller who set-up Tom Brewitt for a clearly rehearsed routine which ended with a shot which only just missed O’Donnell’s right-hand post. However, A-Jay was caught in possession by a firm challenge by Cooke after 53 minutes which resulted in the Bantams’ man charging at the Morecambe goal again only for Ismail to miss the target. As for A-Jay, that was the end of his afternoon: he didn’t get up after the tackle and had to be helped from the field eventually – let’s hope this injury-prone player is not badly hurt this time. His replacement – Kevin Ellison – let fly when well placed almost as soon as he came on. Unfortunately, he didn’t get across the ball properly and his shot missed the target. Down the other end, Ismail was increasingly having Buxton on toast and the Morecambe man was lucky not to be booked for a bad foul on Donaldson after 62 minutes. From the resulting free-kick, substitute Aramide Oteh appeared on the blindside but his unchallenged header from a good position on the Bradford left also missed the target. The Bantams were clearly on top at this point but by the seventieth minute, the home team had rallied. Kev fluffed his lines again to give the visiting goalkeeper another easy save after 67 minutes. A minute later, following a melee in the City penalty area, Kev looped a header over O’Donnell and saw it bounce agonisingly back off the top of the bar. Bradford had the next decent chance though with seventy-one minutes on the clock. Following a couple of corners, Roche had to excel himself to keep out an effort from Anthony O’Connor. Substitute Aaron Wildig warmed O’Donnell’s hands with a volley after 75 minutes. A succession of shots were then blocked by the City defence. But the hill became a mountain to climb for Jim Bentley’s men with seventy-seven minutes played. Recently introduced substitute Daniel Devine found Harry Pritchard who played-in another recent substitute – Aramide Oteh – to smash the ball home in front of the Bantams’ ecstatic supporters.  But even now, Morecambe didn’t lie down. Cole Stockton was introduced during the final ten minutes and his first contribution was to take a shot which O’Donnell did wonders to push onto his right-hand post. From a free-kick after 87 minutes, Old headed the ball back the way it had come and Miller just missed the target when it arrived at the far post. Even then, the Shrimps looked the most likely team to score and they finally did: Brewitt slammed an unstoppable volley home following a corner by O’Sullivan deep into injury time at the end of the contest. It was too little, too late for the home team and the loss confirmed their position right at the bottom of the EFL. Ironically, though, today’s performance is by far the best I have personally seen Morecambe play so far this season. Bradford are clearly a good team but at no time did they look entirely comfortable against a side which played with commendable spirit and no little skill throughout. So they may well be bottom of the pile but they have at least some hope that their fortunes may improve if they continue to play with the same heart. Bradford’s win pushed Gary Bowyer’s team into a Play-Off position in League Two: they were third in the table by the end of play.

Morecambe:  1 Barry Roche (C); 2 Adam Buxton (15 Aaron Wildig 71’); 4 Alex Kenyon; 5 Steven Old; 7 John O’Sullivan; 8 Lewis Alessandra (9 Cole Stockton  84’); 10 A-Jay Leitch-Smith (11 Kevin Ellison 54’); 16 Sam Lavelle; 24 Shaun Miller; 27 George Tanner; 14 Tom Brewitt.

Subs not used: 21 Mark Halstead; 12 Ritchie Sutton; 17 Michael Howard; 23 Tyler Brownsword.

 Bradford City: 1 Richard O’Donnell; 22 Adam Henley; 4 Paudie O’Connor; 6 Anthony O’Connor; 23 Connor Wood; 26 Callum Cooke; 11 Zeli Ismail (25 Aramide Oteh 61’); 21 Hope Akpan 9 (24 Daniel Devine 77’); 7 Harry Pritchard; 19 Dylan Connolly; 10 Clayton Donaldson (12 James Vaughan 76’).

 Subs not used: 30 George Sykes-Kenworthy; 14 Shay McCartan; 18 Jermaine Anderson; 35 Reece Staunton.

Ref: Christopher Sargison.

3899 (minimum 1765)