Record Last Season + Quick Summary:
League Two - 22nd; W 9 / D 19 / L 18 / F 41 / A 56 / Pts 46
A pretty awful campaign at first glance, with survival only obtained by virtue of a superior goal difference over Barnet, a stalemate away at eventual play-off winners Coventry City proving sufficient to retain their league status. Goals were a big struggle in 2017/2018, with fewer than one per game on average. Fortunately, with Barry Roche at the other end, Morecambe had one of the best goalkeepers in the division, and were actually pretty miserly when conceding goals, owing much to him and his defensive organisation.
Six of their paltry nine league wins came in 2017, the most crucial of which was against Chesterfield. The following calendar year saw them become tougher to beat, grinding out many draws to keep their points total climbing. In fact, that last day 0-0 ensured that they drew more than they lost, a highly unusual stat for a 22nd-placed side in any league, and always cast in the shadow of financial uncertainty. However, a takeover days before the season officially ended might just prove to be the fillip the club needs to do more than merely survive.
Top Goalscorer: Callum Lang (10 goals in 14 starts/1,445 minutes)
Top Creator: Michael Rose (5 assists in 38 starts/3,418 minutes)
Manager/Head Coach: Jim Bentley; at just 42, the Liverpudlian is now the longest-serving manager in the top four tiers of English, following Paul Tisdale’s move from Exeter City to Milton Keynes Dons. As a player, he was once on Manchester City’s books, before seeking first team football with Telford United, and he spent five seasons with the Shropshire outfit. In 2002, he signed for Morecambe, plying his trade for The Shrimps for nine years; in the last couple of this spell, he started taking his coaching badges, becoming coach of the reserves and then the first team, in addition to still being registered to play.
However, once he was given the main job, he turned his attentions fully to the dugout in 2011. Since then, he has kept the Lancashire club in the EFL against all odds, and, such is the admiration their fans have for him, they held a bucket collection to raise £1,000 to pay off a fine he received from the FA in 2017. He sets his sides up to be technically competent, playing a quick passing game that’s pleasing on the eye. His closest brush with relegation came last season, and despite finishing in the bottom half for the lion’s share of his tenure, he’s admired universally throughout the lower leagues for his work on such a tight budget.
Ins: Jordan Cranston (Cheltenham Town), Lamin Jagne (free agent), Rhys Oates (Hartlepool United), Andrew Tutte (Bury), Carlos Mendes Gomes (West Didsbury & Chorlton), Dawid Szczepaniak (Airbus UK Broughton), Zak Mills (Grimsby Town), Jason Oswell (Stockport County), Liam Mandeville (Doncaster Rovers on loan) & James Sinclair (free agent).
Outs: Rhys Turner (Barrow), Patrick Brough (Falkirk), Danijel Nizic (Western Sydney Wanderers), Dean Winnard (free agent), Reece Deakin (free agent), Luke Jordan (free agent), Michael Rose (Macclesfield Town), Steven Yawson (free agent), Adam McGurk (free agent) & Aaron McGowan (Hamilton Academical).
Predicted First XI & Shape:
Tactics: The transition from back to front will be rapid, but that doesn’t necessarily translate to long punts from the centre backs. The Shrimps will mix it up, adapting their style of play in order to unsettle the opposition. Barry Roche’s superb leadership always gives his fellow defenders a confidence boost, and he’s as capable a goalkeeper as any other plying their trade in League Two. Nominal captain Alex Kenyon can operate in the heart of defence and as a pivot, using his good range of passing, strength and left foot to full effect. Steven Old is best known for timing his interceptions well, which is another key skill in an outfit that might be on the back foot for most of their encounters.
At left-back, Luke Conlan challenges for the ball well when in the air, and tracks back quickly if caught up the pitch and Morecambe are countered on. Zak Mills uses his weaker foot a considerable amount of time, which helps him not to be too predictable when engaging his marker. The base of the midfield will contain Andrew Fleming more often than not, and his positional flexibility and agility enable him to cover the space between the lines admirably, and he really gets stuck in when it’s called for. Andrew Tutte, when fit, will do much the same task, but looks most at home when breaking forward with the ball, and he’ll be a danger for any side that invite him to hit one from outside of the 18-yard box.
Even at 39, Kevin Ellison can still hang with players half his age. His free-kicks remain deadly, and his game management ensures he makes the most of his experience and stamina reserves. Aaron Wildig will spend the most time on the ball in advanced areas, looking to bring Ellison and the other attackers into play. His movement is very good, and his low centre of gravity gets him out of tight spots. Adam Campbell is particularly versatile, and this can make it difficult for markets to pick him up. He tends to place his shots rather than opt for power, and his dribbling skills can unlock defences, creating opportunities for him or one of his teammates.
There is a substantial number of contenders for the lone striker role. Carlos Mendes Gomes is highly regarded, but he might have to settle for 20-minute cameos from the bench as he’s eased into full-time football. Liam Mandeville could be the first crack of the whip, and he can get up well for a 5’11” centre forward. His composure in front of goal could be the difference between a draw and a defeat, especially if clear-cut chances are at a premium.
Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Circling the relegation drain; although I have the north-west club in the lowest group, it’s not an indictment of their manager, nor of their players. Many of the contingent brought through the doors this summer are extreme punts – that’s simply the nature of the beast, and if one or two come off quickly, they will vindicate the transfer policy and then some. Bentley has always done an admirable job with the resources he’s been given, and there’s no reason to suggest that that will change in 2018/2019. The openness of the division does give a side like Morecambe a decent opportunity to make a mockery of my prediction, and unlike many others who will be down there come next May, they already have in place pretty much an entire squad, with at least two players fighting it out for every role. This is most true in attack, and as a consequence, they should trouble the scoresheet more regularly than last term.