PREVIEW: Luton Town v Morecambe
It's been an increasingly difficult season both on and off the pitch for Morecambe's players and supporters this term.
Away from football matters, the Shrimps’ squad and staff have had their wages paid late on three occasions, the last time in March of this year.
It’s an issue that’s clouded the Globe Arena since August, as they have had financial problems amid uncertainty over the club’s ownership, and a court case is currently ongoing over a possible takeover by businessman Joseph Cala.
Cala’s attempted purchase was delayed in February after Diego Lemos, who took over in September 2016 and owns a share in the club’s owners, G50 Holdings, obtained a court order preventing a sale.
Looking to matters on the pitch, Morecambe, who had actually topped the table in August, have endured a terrible few months.
At the end of February, the club looked to be hitting some form, by drawing at Portsmouth and beating Grimsby to make it one defeat in 11, but they then started a run of seven straight losses which left them nervously looking over their shoulders.
The Shrimps finally ended their miserable run with a 1-1 draw against Hartlepool on April 8, while the Shrimps did triumph 1-0 at Stevenage, before a draw with Colchester United ensured there would be no such relegation worries.
However, defeat to Exeter and a draw with Wycombe means it’s three matches without a win and just one victory in 13 league games now for Jim Bentley’s side.
They have been far better on their travels this season too, winning eight, drawing six and losing eight, opposed to a home record of 13 defeats from 23 matches, including a 2-0 reverse to Luton back in November.
It’s something that Bentley knows needs to improve for the 2017-18 campaign, telling the Morecambe Visitor: “Our home form needs to be better but we’ve had a lot of things go against us and a lot of things I didn’t agree with.
“We’re striving to be better and we’ve been excellent away from home but everything has been against us this year.”
Team news: Luton striker Danny Hylton misses the final game of his two match suspension, while it might be too early for Jordan Cook (knee) to return, with Johnny Mullins (leg) a slight doubt, although Lawson D’Ath is back fit, leaving just Cameron McGeehan and Danny Green out.
Top scorers: Hatters: Danny Hylton (26). Shrimps: Cole Stockton, Paul Mullin (10).
Man in the middle: John Busby - has taken 35 games this season, showing 128 yellows and three reds, including one in his most recent outing, Sheffield United’s 3-2 win over Chesterfield.
Already officiated Luton three times, the 2-1 victory at Gillingham in the Checkatrade Trophy, plus a 3-1 triumph at Exeter in the FA Cup, where he controversially set up Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu, plus the 3-2 home defeat to Cheltenham in January.
Assistant referees are Rob Smith and Alan Clayton, with Mark Jones the fourth official.
In charge: Jim Bentley, 40-year-old had a lengthy playing career, spent at just two clubs, AFC Telford and Morecambe.
Began at Telford in 1997, making over 150 appearances before moving to the Shrimps in 2002 and is something of a club legend, having represented the club over 300 times.
Was appointed player coach in June 2010, before becoming manager in May 2011 and is now the third longest serving boss in the country, as he will complete six years in charge later this month.
Remains popular with the Shrimps faithful too as on receiving a £1,000 fine for being sent to the stands against Cheltenham in December, a bucket collection was held amongst supporters which raised the cash, something an emotional Bentley received following a post match interview.
View from the opposition: Jim Bentley talking to the club’s official website: “It’s fair to say it turned out to be the toughest one in my time as manager.
“Everyone knows that we have the lowest budget in the Football League and the fact that we survived the season is testament to the hard work put in by everyone here.
“The players, management, back room and administration teams have all pulled together and done a fantastic job to ensure that the fans will enjoy an 11th season in League Two.”
One to watch: Kevin Ellison. Now 38-years young, the veteran still knows where the goal is with a stunning strike at Exeter recently during the 3-1 defeat proof of that.
Netted against Wycombe last Saturday as well, making it two in two and taking his tally to nine this term.
Has now made over 250 appearances for the Shrimps since signing in June 11, scoring 69 times, and can reflect on a career that has seen him transferred for fees over 200k with spells at Hull, Leicester, Stockport, Chester and Rotherham to name a few.
Friendly faces: Town midfielder Jonathan Smith came through the ranks at Morecambe and made his first team debut in the Football League Trophy against Grimsby in October 2005, scoring their final penalty to win shoot out.
Was loaned to Fleetwood and Bamber Bridge before being released in May 2007, following the Shrimps promotion to League Two.
Had spells at Forest Green, York and Swindon, as he signed for Luton in November 2012 and has recently completed 175 games for the Hatters.
Played for both: Alan Goodall. Defender moved to Luton from Rochdale in 2007 playing 36 times over the course of the season for the Hatters, scoring once, as he left to sign for Chesterfield in the summer.
Had spells at Rochdale once more, Newport, Stockport, Fleetwood and Grimsby, before arriving at Morecambe in July 2014, playing 71 times, netting four goals for the Shrimps.
Left in 2016 and went to Altrincham, although has recently decided to retire after being diagnosed with a long-term injury.
We’ve got form: Hatters have won one, drawn one and lost one of their three previous clashes with Morecambe at Kenilworth Road.
They started with a 1-1 scoreline during a League Two encounter back in December 2008, when Michael Spillane’s 51st minute strike was cancelled out by Danny Carlton just six minutes later.
Luton were then beaten 3-2 in March 2015 as Jack Redshaw and Laurence Wilson put the visitors 2-0 in front, before Cameron McGeehan’s header saw Luton halve the deficit by the break.
Alex Lawless looked to have rescued a point for Luton, with Morecambe having to play the last 10 minutes with 10 men due to Ryan Edwards’ red card, only for Luke Wilkinson to turn Kevin Ellison’s cross through his own net in the closing stages.
Town did get their first victory on home soil over the Shrimps last term though, triumphing 1-0.
Last time out: Jack Marriott’s goal on 76 minutes decided this League Two contest last season as Luton won 1-0.
The striker collected Paddy McCourt’s through ball and from a tight angle, beat keeper Barry Roche for the winner.
Hatters: Mark Tyler, Stephen O’Donnell, Scott Cuthbert, Alan Sheehan, Jake Howells, Jonathan Smith, Cameron McGeehan, Olly Lee, Paddy McCourt (Pelly-Ruddock Mpanzu 89), Jack Marriott, Craig Mackail-Smith.
Subs not used: Elliot Justham, Magnus Okuonghae, Alex Lawless, Danny Green, Paul Benson, Joe Pigott.
Referee: Darren Deadman.