evin Ellison came off the bench to retain his nickname of, amongst others, the bane of County’s existence as he levelled for Morecambe to snatch a point after a 1-1 draw at Rodney Parade.
Early goals remain a feature of County games and on this occasion, it took just 25 seconds for the deadlock to be broken. This time, it went County’s way. Morecambe barely had time to get into formation by the time the ball found it’s way to Robbie Willmott to the right of the box; his drive across goal finding Jamille Matt but his point-blank effort was brilliantly saved by Barry Roche. Unfortunately for Roche, it looped to former Morecambe striker Padraig Amond who made no mistake from close range, heading in at the near post.
Morecambe nearly succumbed to another header shortly after as a swift, slick passage of play resulted in a testing cross from Dan Butler, whose delivery all afternoon was again on the money. It was Antoine Semenyo who rose highest to meet it but his effort was palmed away by busy boy Roche.
It was on the 20-minute mark that the visitors carved out their first real opportunity – and it was a golden one. Rhys Oates was played through the centre after some neat build up play but Joe Day kept himself big to brilliantly smother the goal-bound shot.
Antoine Semenyo slotted back into a position behind the front two rather than out wide in a flat three-man attack; Mike Flynn choosing to revert back to his tried and tested 3-4-1-2 formation, resulting in a far better quality of football being played. Mark O’Brien slotted into the back line as Fraser Franks sat out the first of his three-game suspension and he was called upon to make a last ditch tackle as Morecambe looked to break. Liam Mandeville would’ve had a free shot on goal were it not for the Irishman’s outstretched foot but this was the last real moment of worry for the Exiles in the first half.
Morecambe came out much improved in the early stages of the second half but amongst the deteriorating weather conditions, they lacked the quality to make anything of their possession, many players slipping around for an amount of the half. County were able to defend comfortably, clearing their lines more effectively than in recent games but chances were at a premium for both sides.
A second goal almost came from the unlikely source of Tyler Forbes when the third of successive corners found its way through to the back post area where the substitute unleashed a fizzing drive which deflected just wide of goal.
County were made to pay for this lack of creativity though as, with around 15 minutes to go, bane of the Exiles’ existence Kevin Ellison made the most of a slip at the back to finish coolly beyond the advancing Joe Day to make it 1-1, much as he did last season. While the visitors were not necessarily worthy of the point, County were once again left to regret missed chances. Equally, it goes to show how costly something as innocuous as a slip can be.
As the final whistle blew, the extent to how much it cost to concede a goal in terms of league position became boldly apparent. Based on other results, had County won, they’d have jumped back into the top three with a two-point buffer to fourth place. As it is, they remain 4th, level on points with Exeter in third but only two points ahead of Tranmere in 7th place.
It would be easy to be harsh on County but it was just a slip which ultimately cost them rather than positioning, poor play etc. They were much better on the ball than last weekend’s horror show at Crawley and built on a solid display at Bury on Tuesday night. Matt Dolan and Robbie Willmott largely dominated the midfield with their energy levels and quality in possession. Always looking to go forward, the home side were able to build threatening attacks almost at will and more importantly, looking potent every time they went forward.
Carlisle away next up; a fixture which, at the start of the season, looked a daunting prospect. While it will still be tricky, County can take the above positives to Brunton Park and there’s no reason they can’t come away with a victory, much in the same way Yeovil Town did on Saturday. When that final piece of the puzzle slots into place, County will begin a run akin to that of earlier on the campaign.
Player ratings: Day 7, Pipe 7, Butler 8, Willmott 8, Dolan 8, Amond 7, Matt 7 (Harris 6), Bennett 6(Forbes 7), O’Brien 7 (Pring 6), Demetriou 7, Semenyo 7
Man of the Match: Dan Butler
Attendance: 3,206 (54 away)