Before tonight’s clash, Morecambe were lying eighteenth in League Two with thirteen points. Their visitors – Mansfield Town – were five places and four points better off than Jim Bentley’s team. The Stags arrived as October’s draw specialist in the division: three league games played previously this month; three league games drawn. Strangely enough, though, none of the matched played in the past between the Shrimps and Mansfield has ever ended in a draw: of thirteen previously contested, the team from Nottinghamshire had won seven and lost five. With Will Atkinson suspended due to his sending-off at Swindon last Saturday, Manager David Flitcroft – who left the Robins last March after previously being the Bury boss who took them to promotion a couple of years ago – had to shuffle his pack this evening. Neal Bishop returned to midfield after being himself suspended on Saturday and Tyler Walker was giving a start, having been on the bench against Swindon. Morecambe’s latest injury blow fell on outstanding midfield man Aaron Wildig, adding to a long list of first teamers who are currently not available. The only positive thing from Morecambe’s point of view was that long-term injury victim Garry Thompson was deemed fit enough to sit on the bench tonight.
It was stormy but dry as the game kicked-off under lights in the pitch darkness which blanketed adjacent Morecambe Bay. Mansfield – playing in their yellow and blue home strip – had the first chance almost as soon as the match kicked-off. Barry Roche in the home goal had to react quickly to push away a deflected cross from CJ Hamilton on the visitors’ right. At the other end, away custodian Bobby Olejnik also had to deal with a deflected shot after seven minutes, this time from AJ rather than CJ as A-Jay Leitch-Smith warmed his hands. The Stags came closest to opening the scoring so far as, following a foul on Ryan Sweeney, Malvind Benning’s wind-assisted free kick hit the Morecambe post with twelve minutes played but bounced back in the grateful hands of Big Baz. The visitors had the next chance as well as Matt Preston headed over the bar from Otis Khan’s cross a few moments later. But Sweeney was pressed into defensive duties as he did well to clear a Kevin Ellison cross behind for a corner with a quarter of an hour on the clock. Zak Mills then slipped the ball right across the Stags’ goal-mouth after 21 minutes and three minutes later, Olejnik pulled off an excellent save to deny A-Jay again. With half an hour played, Liam Mandeville put a free kick from a good position after young Ben Hedley had been fouled by Khan way over the bar. With six corners already won – as opposed to none in the home game against Colchester during the first period last Saturday – the Shrimps were looking lively and favourites to score as the first half drew to a close. But as has so often been the case in recent times, the Shrimps were yet again caught with a sucker punch. From their first corner of the evening, Khan found Neal Bishop who struck the ball powerfully past Roche on the half-volley to give the men in the yellow strip the lead with thirty-six minutes played. The momentum swung their way after the goal: Khan had a shot saved by Baz after 42 minutes and then set-up Danny Rose, who shot over the bar a couple of minutes later only to then head Benning’s cross over the bar just before the end of the period. So the visitors went back to the changing rooms at half time with a slender lead. The difference between the two teams was simply that whereas Morecambe had been wasteful of their chances, the Stags were more clinical when presented with theirs.
Town had the first chance of the second half with Benning only just missing with a shot from a long way out within a minute of the re-start. Down the other end, Vadaine Oliver headed just over the bar a minute or so later from Mandeville’s free-kick. As the game continued to swing from end to end, Leitch-Smith again came close after an hour with a shot which went just wide. Then Rose fired just over for Mansfield from a long way out with 62 minutes on the clock. With the visitors beginning to take control, Roche had two saves to make in two minutes from Khan and Tyler Walker in the 66th and 67th minutes before the latter player played a ball right across the Shrimps’ goal-mouth which eluded everyone a minute later. Rose then forced saves from Morecambe’s Irish goalkeeper in the 77th and 84th minutes and the match ended with the visitors very much on the front foot despite another chance for A-Jay during injury time.
With Cambridge winning at Swindon tonight and Grimsby also picking-up three points at home, Morecambe’s position at the foot of League Two became slightly more precarious tonight. With rumours being stoked again about Paul Ince by an ambiguous article in tonight’s programme by one of Morecambe’s new owners, Jim Bentley will have more reasons than injuries off the field to worry about before Saturday’s visit to Newport. Publicly undermining his position can’t really help Jim’s struggles to continue to turn the Shrimps’ fortunes around. In my view, he needs all the help he can get and new players rather than new rumours would certainly be more helpful at this stage of proceedings. Morecambe’s third home loss in a row meant that they slipped another position to twentieth; Mansfield’s win pushes them up to eleventh.
Morecambe: 1 Barry Roche; 2 Zak Mills; 16 Sam Lavelle; 3 Luke Conlan (Y); 14 Josef Yarney; 27 Jordan Cranston; 25 Ben Hedley (18 Rhys Oates 65 mins); 11 Kevin Ellison (Y) (24 Joe Piggott 80 mins); 9 Vadaine Oliver (Y); 14 Liam Mandeville; 28 A-Jay Leitch-Smith .
Subs not used: 21 Mark Halstead; 19 Carlos Mendes-Gomes; 12 Jason Oswell; 23 Tyler Brownsword; 7 Garry Thompson.
Mansfield Town: 12 Bobby Olejnik; 5 Kristian Pearce (Y); 4 Matt Preston (Y); 17 Ryan Sweeney; 8 Jacob Mellis (20 Timi Max Elsnik 79 mins); 3 Malvind Benning; 22 CJ Hamilton; 6 Neal Bishop; 19 Tyler Walker (29 Jordan Graham 96 mins); 32 Danny Rose; 10 Otis Khan (Y) (16 Calum Butcher 83 mins).
Subs not used: 1 Conrad Logan; 24 Omari Sterling-James; 26 Jason Law; 27 Lewis Gibbens.
Ref: Robert Lewis.
1355 (144 from Mansfield)
Oh dear oh dear oh dear…