Date: 17th December 2016 at 5:33pm
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Morecambe hosted struggling Cheltenham Town at the Globe Arena on Saturday in League Two for the first time since the Robins have returned to the EFL after a single season in the wilderness following relegation during 2015. Town show every sign of making a quick return to the National League and started the game just one place above Newport County at the bottom of the division and with a solid run of defeats behind them including the humiliation of being beaten by non-League Sutton United in the FA Cup last Saturday. The one hope for Gary Johnson`s team was that the Shrimps` exceedingly poor home record of 2016 – just one League win in the last eight, for instance – would come back to haunt them. With suspensions and injuries reducing the pool of players available for selection and James Jennings unable to play against his parent club, Jim Bentley`s always limited choices were even fewer than usual before the game and players such as Paul Mullin – who usually only make substitute appearances – found themselves in the starting line-up as a direct result.

In the fog which swirled-in from the Irish Sea, Morecambe had the first setback when Liam Wakefield appeared to be hit by another ethereal apparition from the Emerald Isle in the shape of his own goalkeeper Barry Roche, who materialised from the mist after just three minutes and comprehensively flattened-him. Off he went to be replaced by Andy Fleming. Despite this, the Shrimps took the lead after just six minutes when visiting goalkeeper Russell Griffiths failed to hold Rhys Turner`s shot and Peter Murphy tapped-in the rebound. There were few chances in what had been a poor game after that until the twenty-eighth minutes, when Mullin advanced dangerously down the Town left and slug over a cross which his team-mates were too slow to get on the end of. But a controversial day began to unfold as Alex Kenyon was sent-off by Referee Michael Salisbury after seemingly reacting after being scythed-down himself by Kyle Storer after 41 minutes. His Manager`s reaction to this – that Kenyon had been stamped-on – was also unacceptable to the man in the middle and Mr Salisbury sent Big Jim to sit on the Naughty Step in the main stand as well straight afterwards. With the industrious Turner having to be substituted after just a half an hour following further agricultural defending by the team from Gloucestershire, the home fans` discontent with the referee continued when Pantomime Villain Storer appeared to elbow Murphy in the face and got away with it: at half time, the Morecambe captain was unable to continue as a result of this and ended-up in hospital with a potentially split eye-ball.

Facing just ten men and with the Shrimps` full quota of substitutes already on the pitch, Cheltenham would never have a better chance of picking-up at least a point on their travels as they started the second half. The nearest they came early on was when Roche made a tremendous save low down to his right from Harry Pell`s header after 57 minutes. Shortly after this, Referee Salisbury again attracted the ire of the home crowd when Aaron Downes clearly pulled-back Mullin without even having a free-kick awarded against him. But the Robins` superior numbers began to pay and the eleven men started to apply some concerted pressure as the clock continued to count down towards the end of the match. This finally paid-off for Town after 70 minutes when Billy Waters managed to convert after a goal-mouth scramble following a corner. Waters turned provider within sixty seconds for the visitors when his cross was headed past Roche by Pell to give the visitors an undeserved lead as the Shrimps` defence were yet again absent without leave, not for the first time in recent months. Cheltenham didn`t have things all their own way after that but Roche was forced into a good save from Pell and a brilliant one from substitute Koby Arthur`s volley during the final few minutes to keep the score down.

Jim Bentley would be understandably disappointed at the end of the game. This latest home defeat against an overly physical team in the relegation positions does not look good however you look at it though, despite the poor performance of the referee on the day. The win means that although Town remain in the bottom two, they are very much in touch with fellow strugglers, notably Accrington Stanley, who are level on points with them after losing again today. Morecambe sit uncomfortably just above both of them in nineteenth position a mere two points better off, albeit with a game in hand. Robins may be a traditional feature of many Xmas scenes but I suspect that any card with a picture of this bird on it will be turned towards the wall in the Bentley household during the next week or so.

Morecambe: 1 Barry Roche; 2 Liam Wakefield (17 Andy Fleming 5 mins); 5 Ryan Edwards; 6 Dean Winnard; 3 Aaron McGowan; 4 Alex Kenyon (R); 8 Peter Murphy (C) ( 10 Lee Molyneux 45 mins); 7 Paul Mullin (Y); 14 Luke Conlan; 24 Michael Rose; 18 Rhys Turner (19 Ntumba Massanka 31 mins).

Subs not used: 12 Danijel Nizic; 27 Luke Jordan.

Cheltenham Town: 1 Russell Griffiths; 4 Kyle Storer; 5 Aaron Downes (C); 6 Daniel Parslow; 7 Harry Pell; 8 Billy Waters; 9 Danny Wright (10 Amari Morgan-Smith 59 mins); 11 Jack Munns (2 Jack Barthram 76 mins); 17 Jordan Cranston (Y); 24 Daniel O`Shaughnessy (15 Koby Arthur 65 mins); 18 Rob Dickie.

Subs not used: 12 Calum Kitscha; 18 James Rowe; 25 Matt Bower; 29 Josh Thomas.
Pantomime Villain in the middle: Michael Twanky Salisbury.