Dreams really do come true. After 14 consecutive seasons of League Two football, Morecambe have finally found the exit door but not how many would have expected. A controversial Carlos Mendes Gomes extra-time penalty ensured a club that spent most of its existence in non-league will grace English football’s third tier for the very first time.
In a game where chances were few, a rare moment of quality saw some neat interchange outside the box lead to Ryan Haynes bringing down substitute John O’Sullivan. A spot-kick was awarded but what contact there was arguably came before the penalty area was reached. Derek Adams will not mind one bit. Perennial bottom seven dwellers, Morecambe were rooted to the foot of the Football League when Adams took charge in November 2019.
Eighteen months later, they find themselves drawing a turbulent period to a close perfectly. Defender Christian Mbulu died suddenly aged just 23 a little more than a year ago, and the intervening period has seen them lose club stalwart Dickie Danson and 1974 FA Trophy winning skipper Bob Baldwin.
For Newport followers it was yet more heartache. They have been here before, two years ago when they lost the equivalent fixture by a solitary goal in extra-time. Finals are often cagey but this was open, both sides prepared to commit men forward. What it lacked though was a clinical touch.
Much was expected of the two number tens but the pair endured equally frustrating afternoons. Exile Josh Sheehan is one of the division’s standouts but, having missed out on Wales’ Euro 2020 squad, was unusually quiet. He blazed over in the second half. For Morecambe Aaron Wildig has enjoyed a renaissance under Derek Adams, but he too struggled to make an impact, also making a mess of his best sight of goal. He limped off at the end of normal time.
Newport will consider themselves hard done by not to have been awarded an early penalty. Mickey Demetriou first’s long-throw of the match saw Shrimps goalkeeper Kyle Letheren fly out to punch. Scott Bennett arrived first though, and while he nodded wide, Letheren landed a follow-through blow.
It was nothing vicious but had VAR been available to Bobby Madley, a different conclusion would have been likely. Moments before the break, Bennett’s strike had Yann Sango’o’s heart temporarily stopping, a wicked deflection taking the ball inches wide.
Finally, with an hour gone, Morecambe registered an effort on target, Ryan Cooney’s 25-yard effort palmed away by Tom King. “Red Army” cried the 4,000 or who set off from the north-west in the early hours. Liam Shephard’s curling left-footed strike from outside the area was palmed away smartly by Letheren, who also tipped Ryan Haynes’ free-kick wide in injury time.
In between came the moment Morecambe fans feared most: Kevin Ellison time. The 42-year-old clocked up 391 appearances with the Shrimps before Derek Adams deemed him surplus to requirements. On the cusp of picking up factory shifts before being offered a deal by Michael Flynn, he scored the winner when the two sides met back in March, celebrating wildly in his former manager’s face. A Hollywood script? Well, the chance came in extra-time but he failed to connect with Nicky Maynard’s centre, his presence enough to put off Joss Labadie arriving behind him. Or at least that’s what the Newport captain might have you believe after he somehow lifted over from six yards.
A minute later, the Shrimps were in front. Having preserved their Football League status on goal difference with a draw at Coventry City in 2018, Morecambe will now prepare to host the likes of Sheffield Wednesday, Sunderland and Ipswich Town come August