Shrimps grab late leveller
ROBBIE THRELFALL’s 92nd minute goal earned Morecambe a dramatic point against promotion-chasers Oxford United at the Globe Arena.
The Shrimps’ defender got minimal contact on an Andy Fleming corner but it was enough to beat U’s ‘keeper Ryan Clarke and earn Jim Bentley’s men a second consecutive 1-1 draw.
On-loan Portsmouth striker David Connolly had given the visitors a first-half lead with a deflected strike and despite the second 45 failing to create a hatful of chances, a late push from the home side was enough to earn a vital point.
The result keeps the Shrimps in 13th place in League Two and despite now going nine games without a victory, Morecambe remain 11 points above the relegation zone.
With opponents Oxford suffering their first away defeat in 16 games on Tuesday night, Bentley was keen to see his side take advantage and the Shrimps’ boss made four changes including the return of midfielder Alex Kenyon from a three-match ban.
Following an impeccably observed minute’s silence in memory of Sir Tom Finney, it was the home side that started on the front foot.
Inside the opening 10 minutes Threlfall delivered an inch-perfect free-kick into the U’s six-yard box which both sets of players failed to connect with, before Jack Sampson saw a low curling effort palmed away by ‘keeper Clarke.
Sprung into life by those chances, managerless Oxford then began to exert some pressure of their own and with the U’s currently occupying an automatic promotion place they soon showed their class to break the deadlock.
A ball into the box was collected by striker Connolly and after twisting and turning inside the Shrimps’ area, the former Republic of Ireland international unleashed a driven effort which deflected up and over the diving Barry Roche and into the back of the net.
Incensed by that goal the Shrimps immediately looked to hit back but it was the visitors who could and should have been the game’s next scorers but the unmarked Johnny Mullins saw his powerful shot turned around the post by a strong one-handed save by Roche.
With the game now becoming more open the Shrimps then had a great chance to pull level but after the ball fell invitingly into the path of Sampson, the tall striker could only scuff his shot into the arms of Clarke.
At the other end defensive errors were beginning to mount up and just before the half-hour mark Shaun Beeley’s weak clearance landed at the feet of Alfie Potter but fortunately for the Shrimps the winger could only drag his shot wide.
Already a goal behind, the Shrimps then lost top scorer Padraig Amond to injury but as the first half came to a close Sampson headed Kevin Ellison’s deep cross narrowly wide of the top corner before Ellison curled just over as renewed confidence filled the Globe Arena.
The home side continued where they had left off before the break and following a marauding run down the left-hand side by Threlfall, the full-back found Fleming on the edge of the area but the playmaker could only blast his shot high over the Oxford crossbar on the slide.
That Shrimps pressure failed to see U’s stopper Clarke seriously tested and as the game hit a real lull, a tame Sampson header from an Andy Wright free-kick was the best either side could create in a nervy 20-minute spell.
With the game entering its final quarter and the threat of their winless run increasing to nine games, the home side then began to find their rhythm again.
It was a mix up in the Oxford defence that came close to rescuing the Shrimps however, but after Roche’s long clearance bounced in the opposition penalty area and was headed beyond his own ‘keeper by Sam Long, the Morecambe attack failed to capitalise and the chance was gone.
Winger Ellison was the main driving force as Bentley’s men searched for a vital equaliser and the former Leicester City man was unlucky to see his well-hit shot deflected just off target.
Bentley sent on Joe McGee and Tony Diagne to add some fresh legs to his side and within minutes of their arrival the versatile Diagne struck a powerful effort from the angle which Clarke did well to hold.
That Shrimps’ pressure created space in midfield for the visitors and James Constable hit a weak effort at Roche, before tricky winger Ryan Williams found substitute Sean Rigg but the ex-Port Vale forward could only smash his shot over the bar.
The game then witnessed a moment of controversy as substitute McGee appeared to be pushed in the box but to the anger of the home faithful referee David Webb waved play on.
Infuriated by that decision the hosts bombarded the Oxford goal and after McGee was fouled on the edge of the area, the young midfielder picked himself up but could only curl the set-piece narrowly over.
Diagne was then denied by a brave challenge from ‘keeper Clarke at close range, before the Shrimps supporters were on the feet but this time in ecstasy.
The home side sent everyone forward for one final onslaught and with even ‘keeper Roche in the opposition half, Fleming’s low corner was deflected towards goal by Threlfall and into the bottom corner of Clarke’s net.
In joyous mood the Shrimps sensed that they could go one better and McGee hit a driven shot just wide as the home side settled for a well-deserved point.
Morecambe [4-3-3]: Roche; Beeley [Diagne 73], Parrish, Hughes, Threlfall; Drummond, Kenyon [McGee 73], Fleming; Amond [Wright 28], Sampson, Ellison
Subs not used: Arestidou, McCready, Doyle, Williams
Oxford [4-4-2]: Clarke; Hunt, Mullins [c], Long, Davies; Williams, Rose, Wroe, Potter [Rigg 75]; Connolly [Ruffels 90], Constable
Subs not used: Henly, Marsh, Lynn, Bevans, O’Dowda
Referee: D Webb
Attendance: 1614 [242 from Oxford]