Date: 5th August 2017 at 6:16pm
Written by:

Adrian Chiles – and probably many football fans before and since – has said “It`s the hope that kills you” and this is probably more true at the beginning of a new season than any other time. There are changes on and off the field. In Morecambe`s case, the changes off the field surely must be an improvement on what happened last year, when only Leyton Orient had a more shambolic relationship between the supposed owners of the club and the staff and fans alike – and we all know what happened to them. At the end of the Closed Season, there are several new players on the books – but are they any good? Old players – some of who will definitely be missed – have left. But how badly will they be missed? Only time will tell. The Shrimps kicked-off their tenth season in the Football League on Saturday as perennial favourites with the bookies to be relegated and with the smallest support base and weakest finances of any club in the EFL. But in Manager Jim Bentley, they still possess one of the objectively most successful coaches in the League whose achievement – to keep a club in deeper crisis season after season actually in League Two – cannot be overstated. But does he still possess the drive and the ambition to do this against all odds? Again – although my own belief is that as long as Big Jim is in charge, the club will survive at least on the field – only time will tell…

If any pattern has emerged since the move to the Globe Arena seven years ago, it is that the Shrimps play better away from the new ground than they do at home, which is certainly not the fortress that Christie Park was during most of their Conference campaigns and their early years in the League. The other constant aspect of the performances of Jim Bentley`s teams is that they tend to play better against quality opposition than they do when faced by run-of-the-mill opponents.

So what of Cheltenham, Saturday`s visitors to the windy but very sunny Globe Arena? The Robins were relegated from the League three seasons ago and have been back in the EFL for only one season. Last time out, Cheltenham ended-up only two places and four points above the relegation positions. Since then, Robins` Boss Gary Johnson has found attracting and signing new players for his club almost as frustrating as his opposite number at Morecambe. He was on record as saying his squad was four or so players short before the opening game at the Globe and just as the Shrimps have lost key players such as promising but erratic striker Paul Mullin and hugely improved central defender Ryan Edwards to better contracts elsewhere, Johnson has seen all but four of the squad who started their National League campaign two years ago remain at the club. Among these are highly-rated Harry Pell and Kyle Storer, who has obviously been greatly influenced by Luis Suarez in at least that he decided to bite an opposition player – in this case, one of Lincoln City`s – on the final day of their promotion season and was subsequently banned for the next eight matches. As striker Billy Waters followed Mullin`s example and signed a contract elsewhere, Mr Johnson has been able to tempt Kevin Dawson from their old club Yeovil and has also persuaded former goalkeeper Jon Flatt to return on a year`s loan from Wolves.

Morecambe lined-up with new boys Patrick Brough in defence, Mitchell Lund in midfield alongside returned Garry Thompson and Vadaine Oliver upfront in the centre forward slot. The home side played some pretty patterns at times in contrast to the more agricultural style of their yellow-clad opponents. In big blonde bruiser Danny Wright, Town had an authentic Neanderthal centre forward who would probably be better off plying his trade in Rugby League (where he would probably be more effective) and – as with all the Cheltenham teams I have previously seen – being big seemed to be more important to their manager than actually being able to play. In Mohamed Eisa – playing mostly on the Robins` left – however, they had a player with a lot of skill. He was lucky not to be booked , though, after seventeen minutes when he clearly dived in the Shrimps` penalty area. He went on to make a meal of a foul after about forty minutes when he was aided and abetted by another huge player in the shape of Captain Kyle Storer in trying and failing to get the perpetrator, Patrick Brough, booked . Unfortunately, for the Shrimps, though, Storer then played the resulting free kick into the Morecambe penalty area; one of his team-mates clearly handled it but the referee and his assistants didn`t see it and bad boy Eisa smashed the ball past Barry Roche to put the visitors one-nil to the good. Morecambe had created the better chances during the previous forty-odd minutes, Flatt dropping a free-kick from Michael Rose within the first five minutes and the Shrimps getting the ball into the back of the net after seven minutes. The referee disallowed this effort but it seemed to me at least that the impressive Vadine Oliver had been fouled in the penalty area on the lead-up to this effort. Oliver put in a deserved official Man of the Match performance throughout the contest and his looping header after thirty-seven minutes almost eluded Flatt, who did well to push it away for a corner as it seemed to be destined for his top right corner. Having said that, Cheltenham did carve out a few chances of their own and Roche displayed excellent handling throughout the game but must have been thankful that Alex Kenyon was on hand to slide in and clear a dangerous pass for a corner after 25 minutes as a Robins forward closed in on his blind side.

So Morecambe came out in the second half a goal down and – to be fair – were on the back foot for the first ten minutes or so when Cheltenham played some progressive football, albeit always down their left flank. Roche pulled off another good save from Eisa after 53 minutes but shortly afterwards, Aaron Wildig was played into space by a clever pass, drove down the Morecambe left and played a sublime ball along the ground to Garry Thompson, who did what he has always done for the Shrimps and placed the ball perfectly past Jon Flatt to equalise. After that, the play was quite scrappy generally in all honestly but Morecambe continued to try and play decent football against their much bigger opponents. They came close to going ahead after 83 minutes when there was panic stations in the Robins` defence and Flatt was reduced to heading the ball anywhere as he was caught outside his own area but when the winning goal of the game arrived in injury time at the end of the game, it was that man who was featured on the front cover of the home programme who scored it again: Garry Thompson. This came after a free kick was headed on by Oliver yet again against much larger opponents and Cheltenham were unable to clear. Thommo then came off to a standing ovation and the game stuttered to a finish with Cheltenham looking as if they had given up, perhaps not surprisingly given how little time was left.

The win puts Morecambe into sixth place in the nascent League Two table. Cheltenham are eighteenth. There`s obviously a long way to go until the end of the season but on the strength of today`s performance, Gary Johnson has far more to worry about than his opposite number Jim Bentley.

Morecambe: 1 Barry Roche (Y); 3 Patrick Brough; 4 Alex Kenyon; 6 Dean Winnard (Y); 7 Garry Thompson (16 Sam Lavelle 90+3 mins); 8 Andy Fleming; 9 Vadaine Oliver; 11 Kevin Ellison (18 Rhys Turner 71 mins); 15 Aaron Wildig (Y) (10 Adam Campbell 86 mins); 17 Mitchell Lund; 24 Michael Rose (C).
Substitutes not used: 12 Danijel Nizic; 2 Aaron McGowan; 14 Luke Conlan; 19 Reece Deakin.

Cheltenham Town: 1 Jon Flatt; 2 Jamie Grimes; 3 Jordan Cranston; 4 Kyle Storer (C); 6 Nigel Atangana (Y) (10 Dan Holman 90+3 mins); 9 Danny Wright; 11 Carl Winchester; 15 Will Boyle; 17 Jerrell Sellars; 20 Mohammed Eisa; 23 Jordan Forster.
Substitutes not used: 14 Dan O`Shaughnessy; 16 Adam Page; 18 Matt Blower; 22 Rhys Lovett.
Ref: Antony Coggins