Morecambe had never played Oldham Athletic in a league game before today’s contest at the Globe Arena. Which shows how far the once mighty have fallen. Who can forget Joe Royle’s swashbuckling Blues back in the 1990s with their plastic pitch and their regular demolitions of supposedly superior teams such as Arsenal and West Ham in the very first incarnation of the Premiership? As their supporters welcomed away wins with the chant “We can play on grass as well!” Oldham were a match for anybody on their day.
Sadly for Latics supporters, this is all now a distant memory. Oldham’s gradual fall through the Football League has been slow and painful for fans of the Boundary Park outfit. They were relegated from League One earlier this year and since then, Frankie Bunn’s team has lost its first League Two contest 1-2 to Mk Dons but beaten Macclesfield and drawn the rest of their League fixtures so far. They arrived at the Lancashire seaside today in lucky thirteenth place in the table. As for Morecambe, following their first goal and first points in League Two this season with their heroic win against Northampton in mid-week, the main thing Jim Bentley would be worried about was the absence of Barry Roche. Morecambe’s talismanic goalkeeper, Club and Team Captain was sent off on Tuesday night and thus suspended for today’s contest.
It was a beautiful day in Morecambe; Sunny, warm and with a moderate breeze off the Irish Sea from the West. Oldham – about 65 miles away to the south east – brought a large contingent of noisy fans with them and created an atmosphere which must have made the Athletic players feel as if it was a home game.
The home team looked lively at first and had the first half-chance after six minutes when A-Jay Leitch-Smith set-up Zak Mills to shoot wildly over the stand roof when well-placed in the centre of the visitors’ penalty area. Four minutes later, Aaron Wildig took a quick free-kick and released Rhys Oates, who – although seemingly as surprised to see the ball at his feet as the Latics defence were, slammed in a shot which appeared to hit the angle of bar and post to goalkeeper Daniel Iversen’s left. Oates then intercepted a poor pass on about the half way line with a quarter of an hour played, galloped down the pitch and was cynically brought down by Dan Gardner just outside the Oldham penalty area. Was it a clear goal-scoring opportunity? Yes it was. Did Referee Martin Coy thus show Gardener the Red Card? No he didn’t. The Oldham defender received just a yellow and then found himself up the other end in the nineteenth minute and having shots brilliantly blocked by Mills and one of his colleagues who both threw themselves at the ball. Wildig then got his head to a corner kick and put the ball back into the danger zone after twenty minutes but Oldham’s defence cleared it. Morecambe were not so quick to respond as they had been earlier, though in the twenty- third minute. With nobody putting any significant pressure on him, Chris O’Grady swept the ball past Mark Halstead in the home goal after being picked-out by Christopher Missilou. The visitors could hardly have believed their luck when – less than two minutes later – they found the Shrimps’ defence at sixes and sevens again; Mills made a weak attempt to head a dangerous cross away from his goal line and the ball fell nicely for Gevaro Nepomuceno to volley it joyously past Morecambe’s stand-in goalkeeper, who had no chance at all of stopping it.
So that was it. Two goal in two minutes after the hosts had probably shaded the play. Whether the visitors decided to shut-up shop at this point and play out the game of whether the Shrimps’ efforts to get back into the match stopped them from going any further ahead is a moot point. Morecambe huffed and puffed until the end of the half after that but Iversen was never seriously tested and you were left wondering – not for the first time – where a goal for the Shrimps was ever going to come from.
But in the second half – without any changes in the home team initially – the team in red completely dominated possession for the whole of the time. The only chance Oldham contrived was in the seventy-fifth minute, when there was a melee in the penalty area right in front of the massed ranks of their fans. The ball looked like it might go anywhere but the home defence finally hoofed it clear. Down the other end, though, Morecambe looked likely to score on several occasions and only bad luck, excellent goalkeeping and poor refereeing kept them out. In the fifty-third minute, Andy Fleming looked like he was certain to reduce the arrears but his fierce shot from close in seemed to hit one of his team-mates as opposed to a defender on its way into the net.
Shortly afterwards Liam Mandeville did well to work a position to the left of the Oldham penalty area and unleashed a ferocious drive which Iversen did brilliantly to tip over the bar. A second really contentious moment arrived in the 67th minute. Oates made what seemed like a fairly regular attempt to get the ball when a long range back-pass was played back to Oldham’s goalkeeper. But Iverson – for whatever reason – took exception to his challenge and clearly shoved his face into the young forward’s in a manner which could only be described as like a head-butt. The Oldham keeper can thank his lucky stars that Rhys didn’t fall to the ground or otherwise make a meal of it. But even though he didn’t, Mr Coy shouldn’t have lived down to his surname and been slow to issue Iversen with a red card. Instead – as had been the case with Gardener earlier in the match – he just booked the extremely petulant man in green. By such fine margins do defeat and victory hang…
Iversen was thus still in place in order to pull-off the save of the game from A-Jay with just eight minutes still scheduled to play. He came out quickly from the goal and managed to block a shot from the forward who was rapidly bearing down on him in the centre of the penalty area. And this was as near as Morecambe got to reducing the arrears. However, not everything was gloom and doom at the Globe Arena today. Two lapses of concentration in quick succession cost Morecambe the match but they looked lively and played with real penetration particularly during the second half. The win pushed the Latics into eigth position in League Two. Morecambe, meanwhile, slipped towards the bottom of the pile again. Importantly, though, they are not in the relegation positions and psychologically at least, this is far better than things might have been at five o’clock this evening.
Morecambe: 21 Mark Halstead; 2 Zak Mills; 3 Luke Conlan (19 Carlos Mendes-Gomes 88 mins); 5 Steven Old; 8 Andy Fleming; 12 Jason Oswell (9 Vadaine Oliver 72 mins); 14 Josef Yarney; 15 Aaron Wildig (C); 17 Liam Mandeville; 18 Rhys Oates (11 Kevin Ellison 79 mins; 28 A-Jay Leitch-Smith.
Subs not used: 13 Dawid Szczepaniak; 4 Alex Kenyon; 25 Ben Hedley; 27 Jordan Cranston.
Oldham Athletic : 1 Daniel Iversen (Y); 3 Andy Taylor; 4 George Edmundson; 6 Dan Gardner (Y); 8 Jose Baxter (19 Callum Lang 64 mins); 10 Chris O’Grady; 16 Christopher Missilou (Y) (28 Mohamed Maouche 83 mins); 22 Johan Branger-Engone (18 Sam Graham 45 mins); 23 Rob Hunt; 26 Peter Clarke (Y) ; 27 Gevaro Nepomuceno.
Subs not used : 13 Zeus de la Paz; 14 Jonathan Benteke; 20 Jamie Stott.
Ref: Martin Coy.