Sunday, November 13, 2011
Giant task too much for Morecambe
Sheffield Wednesday's fortunes can be measured by their FA Cup trips. The journey from Wembley Way to Morecambe Bay took 18 years, the tumble from third-best team in the country to third tier less than two decades.
It is the sort of slump that makes a side look fallible against a club that have spent the majority of their history in the Lancashire Combination league. Yet there is a resolute professionalism to Wednesday, enabling them to withstand a spirited Morecambe comeback and, along with goals from Chris Lines and Chris O'Grady, secure a second-round spot. Embarrassment was averted by the 1993 finalists, progress achieved.
It was sealed by a Chris or two and, while manager Gary Megson rarely seems the sentimental sort, Wednesday is the family business. In 1966, his father, Don, skippered the side in the FA Cup final. Everton were the opponents then, Morecambe's contingent of Scousers now.
"It's an attractive tie because Wednesday are here but if we lose it makes news," said Megson junior, aware history can be both burden and blessing. A descent down the divisions brings opportunities for fresh indignities.
"Seven League One sides have been knocked out and it was vitally important we weren't one of them," Megson added. They weren't. Wednesday, eliminated in the first round only once in over 80 years, progress to face either Maidenhead or Aldershot, each of whom will set out with the same objective Morecambe shared: to execute an upset.
It was threatened most in the closing stages. Laurence Wilson, who had already clipped the crossbar with a vicious long-range shot, slotted in a penalty after Chris Lines handballed. Stewart Drummond's dipping shot landed on the roof of the net and then Phil Jevons' long-range effort drew what the Morecambe manager, Jim Bentley, termed "a world-class save" from Richard O'Donnell. Gary McDonald headed in the rebound but, unbeknown to the celebrating midfielder, he had already been ruled offside. "I'm proud of them for their efforts today," added Bentley.
As he acknowledged, however, Morecambe were below par for the first hour. Then Wednesday - "big, strong and organised," according to Bentley - assumed control. Lines put them ahead, scoring his first goal since his summer move from Bristol Rovers with precision after a well-worked one-two with O'Grady. Supplier should have been a scorer when he missed what almost equated to an open goal but he did register when Barry Roche came for, and missed, James O'Connor's up-and-under of a cross. Using his height advantage, O'Grady headed in.
This, indeed, was a game with a literal as well as a metaphorical slant on a footballing cliché. Given the size of Megson's team, man-mountain Reda Johnson in particular, a giant-killing seemed a particularly appropriate phrase. But size matters and it equipped them to cope with a little local difficulty. The breeze from the Irish Sea had a habit of diverting anything aerial. "The wind played a major part," said Megson. "If you were playing with the wind, it enabled you to pen the opposition in." His side exerted pressure in the first half and, with their contingent of six-footers, withstood it in the second.
The weather seemed altogether more benign earlier. While Eric Morecambe's club anthem "Bring Me Sunshine" boomed out over the tannoy, it was an unseasonably sunny day on the Lancashire coast. Ties such as this bring more than sunshine, however. The Shrimps got a sizeable boost to their coffers and 90 minutes in the spotlight.
Bentley's moustached men gave the game, in truest cup tradition, a retro feel, even if Kevin Ellison's red Mohican was an unusual slant on Movember. It can seem patronising to suggest that clubs like Morecambe bring colour to the FA Cup, but it is true nonetheless.
Wednesday, three-time winners, have a rather different place in the footballing firmament. Considerable as their torment in the last few years has been, as Megson said simply: "We are a big club."
MAN OF THE MATCH: Gary McDonald - "Exceptional," according to his manager, the Scot was involved in virtually everything in a vibrant display. A backpedalling overhead kick was especially eye-catching, even if, unfortunately for him, it went straight to O'Donnell.
MORECAMBE VERDICT: In the play-off places in League Two, they have surpassed most expectations, largely thanks to their away form. Winning at the Globe Arena is posing problems. Besides McDonald, Wilson enhanced his reputation and Jevons looked lively in his cameo.
SHEFFIELD WEDNESDAY VERDICT: Strong at set-pieces and defensively resilient, they illustrated why are in the upper reaches of League One. Creativity can be in short supply - indeed Megson long exhibited a fondness for defensive midfielders, to such an extent that he deployed one, O'Connor, on the right wing - so much depends on Gary Madine's ability to score goals. The striker started brightly but faded.
Lines: We got what we deserved