The Thursday Preview: Morecambe Vs Southend
As man-versus-beast clashes go, it hardly sounds like the most titanic or epic – certainly not worth a mention on Human Planet. But nevertheless this Saturday’s encounter between the Shrimpers and the Shrimps is shaping up to be quite tasty.
Morecambe are no doubt so sick of hearing about the exploits of them down the road, currently basking in the bright lights of the Premier League and enduring the patronising pats of pundits, that they’re hoping Ian Holloway goes the way of Coronation Street‘s Alan Bradley. But they too find themselves in new and pleasantly unfamiliar surroundings. Christie Park has been left behind, suffering that common fate of the derelict football stadium – demolition to make way for a Sainsbury’s. Since the start of this season, Sammy McIlroy’s men have been proudly welcoming opponents to “the future“ aka the Globe Arena.
Sadly, visiting teams appear to have rather enjoyed the future – Morecambe have only recorded victories in four of their sixteen home fixtures thus far. Since arriving in the Football League for the first time in their history in 2007, the Shrimps have firmly established themselves as a League Two side, even making it into last season’s play-offs (only to suffer an ignominious 6-0 drubbing at Dagenham & Redbridge), but this campaign they’re nervously giving relegation the eye and currently sit in 19th.
Scarf’s suggestion that summer signing Adam Rundle finally needed to start proving his worth seems to have gone unheeded, with the South Shields born winger packed off home on loan to Gateshead on Tuesday, and it’s telling that top scorer Phil Jevons has mustered a paltry six goals. 31-year-old Jevons, once of Everton, is just one of McIlroy’s Dad’s Army, which also includes Stewart Drummond (35) and Paul Mullin (36) – the latter not to be confused with brother John who plays for Paul’s former club Accrington Stanley and who had a four-year spell with the Mackems in the late 90s. Recent recruit Tony Capaldi has bags of experience at a higher level with Plymouth, Cardiff and Leeds – but at the moment Morecambe are looking down rather than up.
There’s still plenty of cheer for Shrimps fans, though. Their club’s solvent, has a brand spanking new home and is prepared to lay on free coach travel to this month’s crunch relegation battle with Barnet.
Southend, meanwhile, may be riding high in 8th, just two points out of the play-off positions – but in the larger scheme of things, and by contrast to Saturday’s broadly upwardly mobile opponents, they’re on a downward spiral. Relegation from League One last season, and in particular the manner in which it came about, cost club legend Steve Tilson his job after seven years at the helm. The club survived one winding-up order in the summer but now face another – Tilson’s replacement Paul Sturrock destined to experience uncertainty and financial implosion even having left Plymouth behind, it seems.
For the Shrimpers, too, a new stadium to call their own is still some way off. Roots Hall has been sold – to, you guessed it, Sainsbury’s – and owing to the club’s financial woes and the general economic climate its replacement at Fossetts Farm will be constructed in two phases, initially having only three sides until the necessary additional investment can be found. Having visited Oxford’s Kassam Stadium on a number of occasions, I can only hope for their sake that this happens sooner rather than later.
Hamstrung for a period by a transfer embargo, Luggy’s recruitment policy appears to have been as pragmatic as the stadium plans, consisting of ringing everyone whose number he already had saved on his mobile. It’s not quite in the same league as the legendary love-in between recently deposed Bradford manager Peter Taylor and Junior Lewis, but he’s now signed his son Blair for four different clubs. Fellow Scot Craig Easton, installed as captain, has played for Sturrock before, as have Graham Coughlan, Peter Gilbert and Barry Corr. The latter might not be a member of the singing clan but, as leading scorer with 12, the Irishman’s been leaving more than a few League Two defences breathless. Also in the squad are Miguel Comminges – like Morecambe’s Capaldi, a left-back whom Cardiff supporters were delighted to see the back of – and Merrick James-Lewis, one of the few Football League players possessing a double-barrelled surname not to get a mention in Lanterne Rouge’s recent post on the subject.
So, who’ll be kicking sand into whose sandwiches on Saturday – Shrimps or Shrimpers? Southend’s superior league position would suggest they start as favourites, but Morecambe have just ended a sequence of nine games without a win by recording a remarkable victory over runaway leaders Chesterfield on their own patch and will take succour from the memory of their 3-2 triumph in the reverse fixture in September, a result which lifted them off the foot of the table. Add to that the fact that Sturrock has just been dealt the curse of a nomination for the division’s February Manager of the Month award and I’ll plump for a rare victory for beast over man.