Date: 15th August 2018 at 12:08pm
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Morecambe Seen Off by Barker at Deepdale.

Eleven Years ago to the day, Morecambe faced Preston North End in the League Cup at Deepdale. Then, the Captain of Sammy McIlroy’s Shrimps – Jim Bentley – scored the first goal to contribute towards a shock 1-2 result which the team would emulate with another away win against Wolves at Molyneux in the next round. Happy Days.

Tonight, the fixture was replayed with very few hopes that the feat could be repeated. Morecambe have had a disastrous start to their League Two campaign, having lost both games played so and having shipped eight goals and scored none in response. Their performance at Crewe in the opening match was not worthy of an EFL club and although they improved against Exeter City last Saturday on the Lancashire coast, they never looked like overcoming the visitors from Devon and lost again.

Preston – with former Morecambe star Tom Barkhuizen not even in the squad tonight – have enjoyed a better start to their own season. They beat Queens Park Rangers at home in their opening fixture but lost by the only goal of the game at Swansea last Saturday. As a Championship club, however, they should be able to beat any League Two team at any time. So all the eggs were all in the Lilywhites’ basket as the match kicked-off this evening even though Manager Alex Neill named eleven completely different players from the team which faced Swansea a few days ago.

With Manchester City loanee Brandon Barker causing problems down the Preston left wing right from the off, the home team looked the more assured in the opening stages of the contest. PNE came close to going ahead after nine minutes when Daniel Johnson pulled the ball back for Paul Gallagher to curl a shot just past the Shrimps’ post with Barry Roche struggling to get anywhere near it. The big goalkeeper was possibly at fault just five minutes later when Barker looked up and took his chances from all of 25 yards and hit a shot which you would normally expect the Irish stopper to save; instead, his speculative strike put the home team one goal up. It continued to be one-way traffic as North End’s Second Team outplayed the team in red. Ryan Ledson found a deflected ball at his feet after eighteen minutes and Big Baz redeemed himself by keeping his sharp shot out with his feet. With a quarter of the game played, Chris Maxwell in the home goal had been a spectator and the match had been played almost exclusively in the visitors’ half. With just over a half an hour played and Preston seemingly happy to knock the ball around as if this was a practice match, Luke Conlan attempted to play the ball back, Louis Moult intercepted it, played a one-two with Graham Burke and doubled Preston’s lead far too easily by slotting the ball home into the bottom corner of the net. From Morecambe’s point of view, this was another appalling goal to concede and even with only a third of the game played, you started to wonder exactly how many goals North End were going to score tonight. It was almost forty minutes before the visitors even managed to penetrate the Preston half but good work by Aaron Wildig came to nothing. When the Shrimps won a free kick level with the PNE penalty area with a couple of minutes scheduled to play, Liam Mandeville put the ball straight into the stand. But, as the goal drought for the visitors reached ten and three-quarter hours, Mandeville redeemed himself with his first goal for the club with a tremendous strike from within the area to totally change the complexion of the game in the second minute of added-on time.

Buoyed by the goal and with two men instead of one up front – with A-Jay Leitch-Smith coming on for Alex Kenyon at the beginning of the second half – Morecambe dominated play for the first quarter of an hour of the second period. Having said that, although they looked far more threatening than they had done at any time in the first half, they didn’t create any clear chances. They were caught with a sucker-punch after 58 minutes when Johnson fed Moult with a clever through-ball, Moult took it on and squared it for Burke to slot it home from close range from what looked like a suspiciously off-side position. A couple of minutes later, Gallagher shot just over the bar when fed from a free-kick by Gallagher. With seventy-five minutes on the clock, Roche again earned his corn with another good stop with his feet from Burke and Preston had at least one more half-chance before the end of the game. At the other end, despite a flurry of activity from the Shrimps early on in the second period. Maxwell was never seriously troubled in the home goal.

So that’s three games played, three lost for the Shrimps so far this season. There were periods when Jim Bentley’s side looked like they could make a match of it tonight – and other periods when they looked completely out of their depth against a second string Championship side. The Jury’s out on whether this was a better performance overall than that against Exeter last Saturday. The game at Stevenage next Saturday will probably produce a few more answers but at least the Shrimps managed to get the ball in the net literally for once tonight.

Preston North End: 22 Chris Maxwell; 3 Josh Earl; 9 Louis Moult; 11 Daniel Johnson (45 Lucas Mnecha 84 mins); 12 Paul Gallagher; 14 Jordan Storey; 15 Calum Woods (2 Darnell Fisher (Y) 39 mins); 18 Ryan Ledson; 19 Graham Burke; 21 Brandon Barker (10 Josh Harrop 62 mins); 23 Huntington (C).

Subs not used: 1 Declan Rudd; 6 Ben Davies; 32 Adam O’Reilly; 7 Callum Robinson.

Morecambe : 1 Barry Roche (C); 3 Luke Conlan; 4 Alex Kenyon; 5 Steven Old; 22 James Sinclair; 8 Andy Fleming; 18 Rhys Oates; 12 Jason Oswell; 14 Josef Yarney; 15 Aaron Wildig (19 Carlos Mendes-Gomes 65 mins); 17 Liam Mandeville (11 Kevin Ellison 65 mins).

Subs not used : 21 Mark Halstead; 20 Lamine Jagne; 9 Vadaine Oliver; 28 A-Jay Leitch-Smith; 27 Jordan Cranston.

Ref: Tom Nield.

Att: 6077 (622 from Morecambe)