Thursday, November 10, 2011
Turning full circle
Were it a work of fiction, the script would have been deemed too corny to be believable. It is, though, a part of football history that should serve to spur Morecambe on when they face Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup on Sunday, live on ESPN HD at 1515 GMT. It is also the most famous incident on the CV of their experienced striker Phil Jevons. "As a Liverpool fan and an old Everton player, going to Anfield and scoring a last-minute winner was a dream come true," said the 32-year-old Merseysider.
Ten years after his long-range League Cup winner for Grimsby Town eliminated the holders on their own turf, Jevons is chasing an upset again, hoping one of football's upwardly-mobile newcomers can overcome a storied great, albeit one that has endured a difficult decade. One has been a league club for four years, the other for 119 but, as Jevons knows, Morecambe are facing the current Wednesday, rather than the club's past. "I have seen them a few times," he said. "They are a big side, a typical League One side but I wouldn't say they are anything special."
While Wednesday are enduring only their third spell in the third tier, Morecambe are on a historic high. "It is a club on the up," Jevons said, citing their move to the £12 million Globe Arena in 2010. "We have always placed higher in the league year after year, and it was only last year that we dipped."
That resulted in the departure of Sammy McIlroy, the manager who had won promotion in 2007 and taken the Lancashire club to the League Two play-offs three years later. His replacement, the long-serving club captain Jim Bentley, was perceived as the cheap option by outsiders. Morecambe were among those expected to struggle. Instead, they began the campaign with five successive wins.
"We were people's favourites to go down but we didn't really believe that," Jevons said. "We were full of confidence after the opening day. The gaffer took the reserves last season so it was the next step up and he has taken to it really naturally."
Bentley's formula, Jevons says, has been a mixture of progressive tactics and inventive bonding exercises. "The manager and the staff have brought a lot of new ideas," he explained. "We can change formations at the drop of a hat and we do a lot of research on opponents."
Off the field, he added: "We have been bowling in Scotland and orienteering. We never did anything like that last season. It's all about building team spirit." A club nicknamed the Shrimps have also taken advantage of their seaside location by catching fish. "It's called flatty trapping," Jevons added. "You trap flatties in your feet in Morecambe Bay."
Trapping a rather bigger fish will be Sunday's objective for a player who has had a number of near-misses in the FA Cup. "I had quite a good run with Yeovil," he said. "We got knocked out by Charlton at The Valley when they were in the Premier League. When I was at Bristol City we drew with Middlesbrough at home and took them all the way to penalties in the replay at the Riverside. And I played for Huddersfield at Chelsea, it was fantastic. They let us in the dressing room [afterwards] to get a few shirts signed."
Several Morecambe tops are starting to acquire a value of their own. Jevons enthuses about his fellow striker Danny Carlton, who started the season with a flurry of goals, and the prolific winger Kevin Ellison along with penalty-saving goalkeeper Barry Roche and penalty-taking left-back Laurence Wilson, both considered the division's best in their position by their team-mates.
Each, he feels, may become known for their cup exploits. It is, however, a mixed blessing. "I was in danger at one point of only being known for that," said the man who scored the winner at Anfield aged 22. "But I think I have gone on to get a reputation as a good goalscorer in the lower divisions." Indeed, he has helped Yeovil and Bristol City to win promotion and Yeovil to reach the play-offs, but a win against Wednesday would allow him to pursue a dream of bringing his career full circle. Should Morecambe reach the third round, he has a preference in the draw. "Liverpool or Everton would be absolutely unbelievable," he added.