So long, and thanks for all the pies

Cod Almighty | Match Report

by Sarah Barber

25 February 2024

Maybe…possibly…with any luck…this will be the last exiled report from the Mazuma Stadium or the Globe Arena or whatever it is that Morecambe decide their tin-shed should be called. It's a lesson, in the Cleethorpes of the west, of the folly of deciding on a new stadium in 2007 as they basked in the glory of reaching the Football League. In 2010, the last goal to be scored at the old Christie Park ground (named after Mr Morecambe, Joseph Barnes Christie, whose foresight set up the J. B. Christie Trust) was turned in by one David Artell. In the 2023-24 season there's a ground with less than 6,500 capacity amongst the caravan parks, beset by financial uncertainty and reliant on the visitors for some atmosphere.

Town's precarity comes from other directions with many of us not entirely sure where, other than a familiar been-there-done-that feeling. Twenty years after some early spousal derision – "why do you watch this rubbish week after week?!" – both of us approached the game with (unjustified?) excitement and enthusiasm. The mist which had coated the hills of the Forest of Bowland during the morning had by 3.00 pm given way to pleasant sunshine greeting Christie the Cat, a huge selection of Shrimpettes (question the wisdom of dressing them in red to suggest freshly-boiled shrimps?) and 500-odd hopeful mariners. The pies (Morecambe's 'fame' is the quality of its pies) were still in evidence.

Town (and Morecambe) lined up in the now-familiar 4-2-3-1 formation: Cartwright; Hume, Thame, Rodgers, Mullarkey; Green, Holohan; Obikwu, Andrews, Clifton, Rose. With the exception of Eastwood, the bench was geared towards attack.

First half - wobbles
Flexibility and options and movement, then. Barely had Morecambe kicked off towards the sea than they lost possession on their left, Holohan jinked around the Town right, touched it off to Andrews, to Clifton, whose cross into the box found Rose to turn the ball into the net. A mere 80 seconds had passed.

There was a period of end-to-end stuff where both teams dribbled down the wings. Morecambe's equivalents are Senior and Slew (regularly cut out by Green during the first half), and Welsh wizard Gwion Edwards. Both teams had chances. Both teams had come to press forward. It was a bit…competitive. There was a bit of niggle (Justin Obikwu made a promising debut but although clearly targeted, hit the deck rather than tough it out). It was as refreshing as the spring sunshine that lit up the Bowland hills. Optimism was in the air.

By the half-hour mark, Morecambe dialled it up. Edwards was finding his way through the defence on a regular basis, with a flurry of shots palmed away by Cartwright or cut out by Mullarkey, aided by the line-o (sorry about the spelling, but Lancaster is the home of lino[leum]) who looked to a ref who couldn't see the action to determine with which arm should raise the flag.

There were a jittery three minutes of added time, ending in ironic jeers as Town got a decision in their favour. Town went in ahead and had survived 48 minutes of play without leaking. Could it? would it last?

Second half - bobbles
Neither team made any changes.

And indeed, it was more of the same. Until after seven minutes, it wasn't. The leak was only slight, and we didn't see it coming. Town were attacking. When Edwards picked up the ball on Morecambe's right, Green chased him back nearly a full pitch. So far had he gone to the line that it must be safe, even if Morecambe were to win yet another corner. But Edwards managed to cut in front, cross into the centre of the box past the diving Cartwright for Slew to turn in from close range.

But heads did not drop. The end-to-end continued even if Morecambe's prodigious number of corners was a worry. Town had a few claims for free-kicks (one particularly good shout direct on goal turned down in favour of playing (dubious) advantage) and a penalty shout or two (including a Clifton backwards roll that was more rhythmic gymnastics than splatter). It got to 60-something minutes and Morecambe sent corner after corner across the face of Cartwright's goal.

Sixty seven minutes. Obikwu was pulled down on the edge of the box: not given. Thame blocked another Morecambe attack only for the ball to soar into the skies. Town came forward again and Andrews had a good penalty shout. Morecambe made their substitutions. And in the 78th minute, so did we. On came fresh attacking legs. In defence, Rogers came off, as did Obikwu and Andrews in support of Rose: Eisa, Pyke and Wood on. Clifton went to right full-back, acting as defensive general and overlapping wing-back. Shots zinged about at both ends. Town's were the more frustrating misses, but then that's because we are Town and we are used to that sort of heart-stopping, head-holding, you-cannot-be-serious sort of drama.

With the addition of five minutes there was time for Eisa to take the ball down the left and Holohan to sky a vertical ball in front of goal. The tricksy Wood won a Town free-kick which Eisa sent just past the post. A draw was a fair result, though Morecambe were a shade more penetrating. But those three points would, of course, have been so useful.

There was plenty of evidence this Saturday of what Town can be. Maybe it would be worth another day-trip to Morecambe to have another pie.