On the face of it, needing only a point against Morecambe on the final day of the season to make the play-offs would be a position many would have wanted to be in. However, there is a nervousness that comes with needing a result on the final day of the season – there is still a chance that we could mess up the best ever opportunity we’ve had to make the play-offs.
It could have been wrapped up last Saturday, as the Sky Blues clinically did away with Cheltenham in a manner that hasn’t really been seen from us this season, however, Mansfield managed to come back to secure three points against Yeovil to give us something to sweat about.
Any kind of defeat for us in this game, coupled with Mansfield winning and Lincoln picking up a point, sees us drop out of the play-offs. On the flip side, we can finish as high as 4th if we win and results go in our favour. Quite a large part of this game is going to involve fans checking their phones to check the other results.
Mark Robins’ approach for this game is going to be intriguing, we don’t have to risk throwing everything we have at Morecambe, but I don’t think he’ll get away with outright playing for a draw – at least not until the final 15-20 minutes. Getting a win here not only potentially gives us a home second-leg in the play-offs but it also allows us to enter it with a sense of momentum – even if recent defeats to Lincoln, Notts County and Yeovil are still fresh in the memory.
Given how well the team selection and set-up worked against Cheltenham last weekend, it is hard to see Mark Robins diverging away from that. Maxime Biamou more than justified his inclusion up front ahead of Jonson Clarke-Harris, while Tom Bayliss being played out wide not only saw him get on the scoresheet but also allows us to get the best out of this new, more aggressive and forward-minded Liam Kelly in central midfield.
Last Time We Met
Still reeling from the loss of Jodi Jones to a season-ending injury, we didn’t travel to Morecambe back in December in particularly good shape. Morecambe, uncharacteristically for this season, really took the initiative in the game and with their maddeningly inconsistent forward Vadaine Oliver in excellent form, put us to the sword with two goals that we failed to respond to.
Let’s hope that Morecambe don’t become another of the division’s weaker teams to complete the double over us this season.
How Are They Doing?
Morecambe are in far from a healthy condition both on and off the pitch. A failed attempt to sell the club to a mysterious Brazilian businessman, Diego Lemos, last summer left the club in financial turmoil. Although things stabilised once the old board reassumed ownership of the club, the sale of the majority shareholding of the club to a slightly enigmatic investment fund may not provide the stability and investment the club is in desperate need of.
Last week’s defeat to Barnet summed their season up, Jim Bentley decided to pack the defence and midfield in the hope of securing a vital draw, which meant his team ceded any influence on the game and were eventually punished for it late on. Morecambe have drawn more games than any other team in the division this season and have scored the fewest goals – their modus operandi is trying very hard not to concede goals and it has seen home crowds dwindle to below 1,000 on several occasions this season.
If they are to get anything out of this game, the performances of some of their veteran key players will be crucial. The performances of the vastly-experienced Barry Roche in goal have earned him the club’s Player of the Season award, while Kevin Ellison up front – approaching his 39th birthday – is the club’s top-scorer and one of those classic physical, niggly forwards at this level who thrives on winding-up opposing players and fans.
Morecambe’s more exciting players are Callum Lang and Adam McGurk, who are likely to playing in support of Kevin Ellison and trying to conjure something on the counter-attack. Lang is a quick young striker on loan from Wigan who is joint top-scorer along with Ellison and looks set for a move to at least a better League Two side next season. McGurk, once a key player for Burton at this level four years ago, is an inconsistent forward/wide player who can occasionally produce moments of magic that decide games.
Aside from those three up front, Morecambe will look to pack the rest of the team out with limited and functional players who’ll look to block things up for us in the centre of the pitch. Morecambe’s more creative midfield players – Aaron Wildig and Andrew Fleming – have been frozen out somewhat by Jim Bentley but could be utilised if Bentley follows through with his promise last Saturday in the wake of the defeat to Barnet that Morecambe will play to win in this game.
On the one hand, it’s not an ideal fixture for us to be up against a team playing what is being billed in some quarters as the biggest game in their history. On the other, knowing a point suits both teams could well be a better situation to be in than against an opponent with nothing tangible to play for but also with no stake in the outcome of the match.
It seems highly unlikely that we’ll see passing across the penalty, Simpsons style, for 90 minutes of this game but unless there are goals in this game in the opening stages, I’m not sure either team are going to be busting a gut to try and win this game outright.
Nonetheless, I think the opportunity to make absolutely certain a play-off spot in front of a home crowd could well buoy our team to start the game strongly. I can see this game ending in a 2-1 victory for us.