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The Shrimpossible Dream – Morecambe relegated after final day defeat

Photo credit: Jack Taylor

The Shrimps have been relegated for the first time in their 103-year history.

Morecambe needed to beat Exeter City on the final day of the League One season and hope MK Dons failed to beat Burton Albion to beat the drop.

As it turned out, a win over the Grecians would have been enough to secure safety, after MK could only draw 0-0, but a 3-2 defeat for the Shrimps condemned both teams to League Two football next season.

Extended analysis and opinion from Shrimps Live host and commentator, Dave Salmon:

Make no mistake, two seasons in the third tier is Morecambe Football Club’s greatest ever achievement. For me, bigger than promotion to the Football League in 2007. Bigger than the initial promotion to League One.

It’s been a season of immense turmoil off the field. As fans, as members of the media, we have no real idea of just how bad things have been behind the scenes. The ongoing ownership issues, staff not being paid on time, and budget restrictions due to financial fair play rules, have all combined to make this campaign one of the toughest in living memory.

There had been times when all hope of survival has seemed lost. There have been times when it’s simply felt that it’s not been a level playing field. There have been some very bleak moments in the season, and as a journalist and commentator, some of the toughest I’ve personally experienced.

There have been a few highs, yes. But plenty of times too where it’s been difficult not to come to the conclusion that we were heading out the division with a whimper, with seemingly little we could do about it.

How do you reconcile, for example, having to go away to a side who have that week signed two players for reported seven figure sums, when we bring on a player in the same game who has never played senior football? How can you be critical of a side who then gets easily beaten?

Or, how do you criticise a team that goes to a team chasing automatic promotion and gets thrashed, after a week of worry about whether they’ll even get paid?

But this is Morecambe. We never say die. It’s never over until it’s over. We were a League One side because that’s where we deserved to be.

After that 5-0 defeat at Oakwell against Barnsley in April, Dan Crowley was put up for the post match interview. He cut a forlorn figure, as you would expect. But there was something in his eyes, and in the way he spoke. He was hurting. The squad were hurting. I knew at this moment that the battle was far from over.

From somewhere, and that somewhere is a place that only Derek and his heroes know about, Morecambe regrouped, galvanised, and put together a run of results that, almost unbelievably, yielded enough points to move above the dreaded dotted line. But it wasn’t quite to be.

The one constant through it all was Derek Adams.

The Morecambe manager has been much maligned for large parts of the season by large sections of the fanbase, many of whom have seen his tactics and team selections as too negative. On occasion, I must admit I could see their point.

The remarkable comeback against Lincoln City a few weeks ago was Adams’ 700th game as a professional football manager. By his own admission, he’s never had a season where he’s had to manage a football club against a backdrop of such off the field turmoil, as the club’s ownership issues continue to rumble on.

Aside from the now infamous ‘we’re skint’ comments made following a defeat before Christmas, throughout the season, Derek has kept his counsel, and has spoken with dignity and authority before and after games, even in heavy defeats. He never criticises players publicly, and is a master at shielding the players from blame. At some points of the season, fans could be forgiven for perhaps being a little confused at some of his comments, particularly after some losses. But everything he says, he says for a good reason.

The way he has conducted himself throughout the season, under seemingly impossible circumstances at times, and at what must be at great personal toll, is quite remarkable. These issues need urgently resolving, they’ve dragged on for far too long. If they aren’t, it’s hard to see his position not becoming untenable.

You can point to lots of other reasons why it went wrong for the Shrimps this season. The Cole Stockton circus was a distraction we didn’t need. When you’re a small fish in a big pond you rely on your star players delivering the goods. His seven goals in the last four games of the season prove that ‘Sensational Stockton’ was still there. Nobody would begrudge a player a move away for more money and potentially better prospects, but the timing was abysmal for the club.

Promising performances didn’t translate to points early in the season. We were getting some creditable draws, but victories were hard to come by. After Forest Green Rovers in September, it took an age to get our second three points, and we were always playing catch up. You only have to look at Peterborough Utd to see the value of a win. They only lost a few games less than Morecambe, yet ended up in the play-offs.

Our away form in our two seasons in League One yielded just five wins from 46 games. This wasn’t anywhere near enough. Sure, we had some amazing away days at some incredible stadia such as Hillsborough, Portman Road and Pride Park, but we needed more from our trips to the division’s lesser lights. This simply didn’t happen.

Loss of key players at key times was massive too. At the turn of the year, we’d ‘cracked it’ in terms of formation and style of play, as our run of four straight wins showed. Disaster then struck when we lost striker, Kieran Phillips. He and Stockton had just started to really click into gear. With Phillips out injured for the season, he wasn’t adequately replaced in the remainder of the transfer window, and results started to slide.

One thing that has never been lacking in the squad, is togetherness. I’m in a very privileged position where I get close the players every week. Take it from me, the belief, the desire, the determination to retain League One status never waned, and this is why we took it to the wire.

And a final word to the fans. Almost 3,000 season tickets sold, and a season average home attendance of well in excess of 4,000, made a huge difference, as did the incredible travelling support. We need this again next season. A huge summer lies ahead. 

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