Rookie manager Jim Bentley has got off to a flying start at Morecambe with his side currently sat at the top of League Two with six wins on the board after only nine games. To put that into perspective The Shrimps ended last season with six wins in their final 24 games, a run that saw them finish 20th and only 4 points above the drop zone.
This dramatic turnaround has had many scratching their heads wondering what Bentley has brought to the club that eluded Sammy McIlroy so badly in his final year in charge at the Globe Arena. In my previous blog I briefly covered the transformation made by Bentley this season but it’s worth looking further in depth at what has led to Morecambe’s change in fortune.
As with most successful sides Morecambe’s team is built on a foundation of a solid defence with new recruit Nick Fenton epitomising all that is good about the back line. He has slotted into the role of defensive organiser and no nonsense defender which Bentley occupied for much of the previous 10 years. Will Haining has been brought back in from the cold after finding himself out of favour under McIlroy and has even been named first team captain.
Laurence Wilson, a stand out performer in Morecambe’s team that reached the playoffs, has also rediscovered his form at left back after a below par season where he looked disillusioned with the way things were going under the previous management.
Chris McCready has continued his solid if unspectacular performances from last season whilst Andy Parrish and Kieran Charnock have both contributed to a defence that has only shipped 5 goals so far.
As usual Barry Roche has been in fine form in the Morecambe goal and has played a major part in The Shrimps having the tightest defence in League Two. A recent article I read highlighted just how impressive he has been this year having saved 90.9% of shots at his goal, a figure which sees him leading all goalkeepers in the division.
The midfield was a huge area of concern last season, especially after Mark Duffy’s departure to Scunthorpe and Sammy McIlroy’s unbelievable decision to send Craig Stanley on loan to Torquay.
Stewart Drummond, Andy Fleming and Garry Hunter were all retained over the summer with Drummond taking up the role of reserve team manager. He has kept his place in the middle of the park as a deep lying playmaker whilst also chipping in with the odd goal here and there.
Pace down the flanks has been something that Morecambe fans have been crying out for ever since Garry Thompson left the club and Bentley wasted no time in giving it to them with the signing of Izak Reid from Macclesfield. Although Reid was a full back with his former club he has been transformed into a flying winger at Morecambe, terrorising opposing defences with his blistering pace and crossing ability, in stark contrast to much protestation from Macclesfield fans that his crossing was terrible.
Kevin Ellison was brought in to play on the opposite flank, a player who will be familiar to all who have watched lower league football over the past five years or so. Ellison was Bentley’s first signing for the club and was identified for his presence in the locker room as much as his ability on the field. Team spirit is something that Bentley is a massive believer in and it was sorely missing from the squad last season but the likes of Ellison have gone a long way to rectifying that.
Completing the midfield is Gary McDonald who came to the club having spent much of his career in the SPL. He has quietly gone about his business without much fanfare but has begun to catch the eye with some impressive displays and has managed to fill the hole left by Craig Stanley who left for Bristol Rovers.
Garry Hunter has filled in where necessary in the middle of the park whilst Andy Fleming has yet to feature since the first game of the season due to injury. Many feel there is still much to come from the promising player who showed great potential last season. Paul Scott still remains on the books but there appears to be no end in sight to his injury woes which is a terrible shame for a player who looked to have been a great addition as a midfield anchor twelve months ago.
The main area for transfer speculation over the summer was definitely up front with Bentley seemingly spending half of his time trying to unearth a target man to replace the retired Paul Mullin. This proved to be extremely difficult with The Shrimps missing out on a number of targets, most notably Tom Pope who decided to join Port Vale.
After an impressive performance against Morecambe on the opening day of the season Jason Price was signed when his one month deal at Barnet came to an end and he couldn’t have dreamt of a better debut, starting in the 6-0 demolition of Crawley with him providing an assist for the third goal. The signing of Jason Price should help Phil Jevons who looked isolated at times last season without Paul Mullin up alongside him. Jevons himself will be hoping to recapture the form that saw him gain a reputation as one of the hottest strikers in the division two years ago.
Lewis Alessandra was the only new face brought in before the start of the season having been released by Oldham where had had spent the entirety of his career to that point. His performances from the bench have highlighted his fantastic movement and exceptional ball control which gives Bentley a different option from the other three strikers at the club.
The biggest surprise has been the form of Danny Carlton who has seven goals so far which includes the first hat trick of his career in an outstanding performance against Crawley. Carlton will always be a legend at Morecambe for scoring the winning goal at Wembley in the Conference playoff final in 2007 but his career had petered out into one of a journey man since then with spells at Carlisle, Darlington, Bury, Grimsby and a loan spell at Morecambe before joining the club for a third time towards the end of last season.
Whilst always a hard worker he has never been prolific but whatever Jim Bentley has done to him over the Summer has worked wonders and Carlton now finds himself near the top of the League 2 goal scorers chart.
So there you have it, a full run down of what has made Morecambe tick this season. Fingers crossed that Jim Bentley can continue working his magic and The Shrimps can enjoy many more days like the one that saw them go top of League Two with a 6-0 home win against one of the bookies favourites for the title.
Written by Mathew Seage, We Are Going Up’s Morecambe Blogger
Mathew tweets at @Seagie85