Morecambe 2019-20 Season Review with Joel Shooter and David Helme

It looks like Morecambe will be playing in League Two next season, so Gabriel Sutton spoke to supporters Joel Shooter (@joelshooterfoot) and David Helme (@DavidHelme96) about Derek Adams, the 2019-20 campaign and the future ahead. Be sure to check out Joel Shooter – Football Rambles.

Morecambe’s 2019-20 season saw Jim Bentley’s legendary 17-year association with the club, as a player then as a manager, come to an end. Do you feel the work of him and Ken McKenna are big factors behind Morecambe being an EFL club?

Joel: Certainly, Bentley and McKenna both put enormous amounts of effort into the club. It was gutting to see Bentley leave after such a long association with the club, although it was probably the right move for both parties. Things did seem to have stagnated – the fast starts that often ended up keeping us up had gone, and this season’s squad was quite bloated and didn’t feel like it had been recruited with much tactical direction.

David: Most definitely, Jim and Ken are huge reasons why we’re still in the EFL. Yes at times the football was a little frustrating, and a section of fans were tired of the so called ‘lack of ambition’, but on the whole there’s no doubt in my mind that for many seasons they did an unbelievable job keeping us in the league under some very tough circumstances.

Bentley’s successor has been Derek Adams – I spoke to a fan at Northampton in January and the first thing she said about him was that “he’ll take us into League One”, which is some statement considering the size of club at this level. Do you see just grounds for that level of optimism?

Joel: His success Ross County – another very small club – gives us a lot of cause for optimism. And while Plymouth may be an undeniably bigger club than ourselves, they were struggling when Adams took over. His business in January was excellent, and we look like a far better coached side capable of taking on teams at the top of the division – as seen when we played Crewe at the Globe Arena. Most fans will be optimistic about the side he will be looking to build for next season, whenever that may be.

David: The attitude from certain individuals within the club and many fans has changed since Adams took over, there seems to be more ambition than before. He has a great track record of promotions at previous clubs, so there is a hope that if he gets backing from the board in terms of finances, which already seemed apparent in January, then why not? Don’t get me wrong, I’d be delighted with a season where we’re not looking over our shoulder and just settle for a stress-free mid table finish, but who knows what could happen when he’s assembled his own squad. I don’t think a promotion of any kind would be on the cards in the near future, but who knows.

Peter McGuigan always seemed like a shrewd, reliable owner to have and he stepped down a couple of years ago. How do you assess Bond Group Investments Ltd’s work at the club to date – more specifically, that of co-chairmen Rod Taylor and Graham Howse?

Personally, I am grateful for Bond Group’s help as we could well have gone bust had they not purchased the club. They’re not here for the long run and will be looking to sell when an appropriate buyer enters the scene. Ultimately, I highly appreciate their honesty and the fact that while they have been in charge, things seem to have run smoothly. A big reason behind that will have been the appointment of Rod Taylor and Graham Howse as co-chairmen. The running of the club seems to have been left to them, and they are both experienced and passionate about the club. We’re also fortunate to have Charlie Appleyard and James Wakefield on the board now as well – two childhood Morecambe fans who have done well for themselves.

David: I’m still not quite sure of the intention behind Bond Group Investments and why they took over. They have said themselves many times that they aren’t football fans, have no connections to the area and don’t intend to be involved in the day-to-day running of the club, so it’s still a bit of a mystery to me. That being said, we’ve had no problems with wages not being paid or anything since they’ve been here, and making Rod and Graham chairman and allowing them to run the club was a great decision. They’ve both been here for many years and absolutely love the club. Everything Rod and Graham do is for the good of the club, and it seems like they’re managing to keep the club stable at these uncertain times.

The club’s links with Lancaster University have clearly helped at times in terms of training facilities. Do you think this could help attract better quality players to Morecambe?

Joel: Possibly, not just due to the better facilities but also thanks to the stability it provides. Players will generally always know where they’ll be training and that they’ll definitely be able to train. It was all quite up in the air previously which can’t have helped when preparing for matches.

David: I certainly hope so. They old facilities we had at Turners Field, or should I say lack of, were quite embarrassing actually as an EFL club, and I have no doubt that it discouraged a number of players joining over the years. The new facilities we’ve been using at Lancaster University now seem much better, and the players and staff have praised them ever since we started using them. Hopefully seeing these facilities will encourage higher quality players in the future.

For a long time, Barry Roche had been the undisputed number one between the Morecambe sticks but Mark Halstead clearly staked a claim in the 2018-19 campaign and you had Christopher Maffoumbi on loan recently as well. Do you see Big Baz’s position becoming threatened under Adams?

Joel: Roche was given the role of goalkeeping coach by Adams shortly after his arrival, and it looks like this is pretty much it for his playing days. It’s a shame this season has ended early like this as granted we were safe, it would have been great to see him on the pitch for one last time. However, it’s brilliant that he’s still going to be at the club it seems – he’s part of the furniture!

David: I highly doubt you’ll ever see Roche pull on a Morecambe shirt again, and I expect him to announce his retirement in the coming weeks. Barry hasn’t played since Jim’s last game in charge, and since becoming the main goalkeeping coach he hasn’t often appeared on the bench either. I’m not sure who is going to be the number one going forward. Mafoumbi was only on loan, and too be honest he probably didn’t show enough to be brought back permanently. With Halstead, although he has a year remaining on his contract, it seems clear that Adams does not see him as the number one going forward, as he dropped him back to the bench once Mafoumbi was brought in.

You lost Zak Mills last summer and replaced him with Manchester United loanee George Tanner, who was recalled mid-season and annoyingly sent out to Salford, where he’s barely got a kick. Adam Buxton is a solid pro but were you glad you were able to bring someone in Ryan Cooney who could replace Mills and Tanner’s technical qualities?

Joel: The whole Tanner business really doesn’t shine the ‘Class of 92’ in a good light. There apparently were Championship clubs interested in him but he ends up at Salford instead with no game time – I feel sorry for him as I’m not sure he had much of a say. Buxton has wonderful technique but it seems the issue was mobility – Adams looks to prefer full backs who can get up and down a bit more. Cooney was excellent, providing that mobility and skill, and all the fans have been delighted with him.

David: George Tanner was excellent during the first half of the season, and was incredibly frustrating when he was recalled and sent to Salford, where he never even appeared in a matchday squad for them. With Adam Buxton, there’s no doubting that he is quite the gifted footballer, but physically was just not up to scratch, and was another player that didn’t appear at all after Bentley left, and was eventually shipped out on loan to York. Ryan Cooney was an excellent replacement for Tanner, another young and modern full back who was equally aggressive in attack and defence. With both his and Tanner’s contracts expiring at their parent clubs this season, I’d be absolutely delighted if we could get either of them back, but I doubt it as they are destined for bigger things.

Steven Old started all 37 league games last season at 34. Are you glad to have a centre-back with his aerial prowess, or does his lack of pace concern you?

Joel: Old has generally been very solid since settling in, and has been in good form since the arrival of Adams. Not sure we’ve ever had a high enough line for pace to matter too much! Off the top of my head, can’t think of a time when he’s really been caught out in such a way. It will be interesting to see if Adams views him as a part of his plans.

David: Old had a pretty miserable start to the season, it looked like his legs had gone and completely past it. After Adams took over, Old improved massively, and looked like the defender he had been in his first season with the club. Noticeably Old had always played on the left side under Bentley, and when Adams took over he switched him and Lavelle round which seemed to coincide with the improvement in performances. His aerial prowess is certainly a real strong point in our team, especially from set pieces, so that would be a loss for sure. Going forward I wouldn’t be surprised either way if he was released or given another year, Adams seemed to like him but who knows if he plans to bring his own replacement in.

Sam Lavelle managed 31 appearances, too, which is perhaps surprising after an injury hit 2018-19 campaign. Is he ready to step up to a higher level?

Joel: Lavelle has had another strong season, with the only thing restricting him in terms of appearances being suspensions. Adams was pretty quick to establish him as captain, and he’s contracted until 2022 so I imagine for the time being he’ll remain with us. Could change quickly if we are playing well and moving up the table, bringing more attention.

David: Sam is absolutely brilliant, and I was very pleased when he was made captain by Adams. He was already a quality player, but he seems to be one of them where the armband seems to add an extra 10% to his performance every week. With every transfer window that comes by, I get increasingly anxious that this would be the one where he’s snapped up by a higher team. In my opinion he’s ready to step up to League One, but has shown commitment to the club with signing an extended contract early in the season

I always think of Luke Conlan as being similar to Buxton – and perhaps Jordan Cranston is yet to prove himself as much more than a utility man. If you’re looking to close the gap on the top half, do you need stronger options at left-back?

Joel: Conan has more mobility than Buxton, although is a more defensively minded full back as well. Cranston is more attacking and noted in an interview that Adams likes his full backs to get forward, which seems to be the reasoning behind Cranston having been selected more by him. Both Conlan and Cranston are contracted till 2021, so if Adams is wanting to change things up it may be dependent on if he can move anybody out.

David: I’ve never been a fan of Conlan or Cranston at left back and I and many others feel that it has been a problem position for us for a number of years. It’s been a very strange one, because we’ve been blessed with great players on the opposite flank (McGowan, Mills, Tanner and Cooney). That being said, Cranston did reappear at left back in mid-January for the first time since the start of the previous season, and played better than he ever has for the next few games until the season was cut short. With both Conlan and Cranston being already contracted for next season it’ll be interesting what happens.

We mentioned the impact Cooney has made and your midfield is another area that looks a lot stronger because of your January transfer business, with Toumani Diagouraga and Adam Phillips signing, the latter on loan from Burnley. How would you describe the impact they’ve had?

Joel: Diagouraga has brought something we’ve often lacked in defensive midfield – a more calm and technically proficient presence. We’ve been able to hold onto the ball far better with him in the side. Philips has brought some great drive from midfield going forward. He’s not really a number 10, more of an attacking 8. Able to come up with goals and assists as well – brilliant at timing his runs into the box and finds great pockets of space to attack from.

David: They were both absolutely excellent from the minute they arrived. Toumani oozes calmness and quality in midfield, and is a player we’ve been needing for a long time. You can easily tell that he’s played at a much higher standard, an absolute Rolls-Royce of a player, who I do hope stays going into next season. Phillips was also great, added goals and assists into the midfield which we had been lacking, and was great to have him with him being from the area. His contract is expiring at Burnley, and at 22 years old and not having been near the first team yet I would expect that he will be released. I’d love to have him back, but he’s another that will have many admirers from the level above.

One of the upshots, we thought, of both Adams coming in and the midfield strengthening would be the implication on long-serving midfielders like Alex Kenyon, maybe even Aaron Wildig. Do you feel the aforementioned changes have forced both to step up their game?

Joel: The general feeling across the fanbase was that both would struggle and that we wouldn’t see much of them. However, they’ve both been superb since Adams’ arrival. Kenyon has been solid in defensive midfield and has been moving the ball really nicely, better than he has over the past few seasons. Wildig has been used in a few positions and Adams seems to value his intelligence. Like Phillips, he’s been making great late runs into the box which has resulted in him getting on the scoresheet at a far greater rate than we’re used to. He’s technically very competent too. They’ve both played themselves into contention for a new contract.

David: Kenyon is a strange one actually. Even as a big fan of his, I doubted that he would be involved once Jim left, but Adams took a liking to him and Alex has vastly improved since he arrived. Aaron Wildig is a completely different player now. I’ve often got really frustrated with him and his lack of attacking output despite all the chances he got, and clearly got very nervous in front of goal. Ever since Adams took over, Wildig has transformed into this confident goal scoring midfielder, and the premature end to the season happened at the worst possible time for him. I really do hope he can find that form again going into the new season, as he’s become the midfielder we always thought he could be but never achieved.

Wide forward Carlos Mendes Gomes had a quiet debut season for the Shrimps but he seems to have blossomed more in 2019-20 and has started every game bar one since mid-December. Do you see the 21-year-old having a good EFL career?

Joel: He’s a brilliant player, and arguably one of Bentley’s biggest failure over the past couple of seasons. He’s given us something extra in the final third – that ability to turn and create something, which Adams has even compared to Graham Carey. Something else worth mentioning is how hard he works defensively. Adams has put his faith in Mendes-Gomes to come up with some magic in the final third, and Mendes-Gomes has repaid that faith by continuing to work hard for the team as well.

David: I have been a huge fan of Carlos ever since I saw him trial for the reserves at the end of the 2017/18 season before he signed in the summer. I always believed he had the raw ability to make it, and I was often frustrated with the lack of chances he got as I felt he could offer the creativity and flair that we lacked. Even when Adams took over, Carlos was nowhere to be seen, then all of a sudden, he appeared in the starting line-up and has never looked back. I have no doubt that Carlos will go on and have a brilliant EFL career and it’s a matter of time before higher levels come calling. It could happen this summer, but Carlos comes across as a very determined and clever young player, and think he will stay with us for another season to prove his quality before moving on to bigger things.

Cole Stockton has probably had the best periods of his career with Morecambe. With the injury issues that have hindered AJ Leitch-Smith and Rhys Oates, though, do you feel like you could do with another striker to challenge him? How is Kyle Hawley developing?

Joel: Stockton has still struggled for goals a bit recently but it seems Adams has been highly impressed by his all round hold up play, which is superb. Leith-Smith can give that extra bit of magic, like Mendes-Gomes, but his injury problems have hampered him unfortunately. Has had to be used sparingly to get the best out of him, and is under contract for next season. Oates has also been very unfortunate with injury, only just returning to the squad towards to last few games of the season. Out of contract in the summer although it was interesting to see how quickly Adams got him in the squad upon returning from injury and gave him some time off the bench. Hawley has put on some very good displays in the reserves. Went on loan to FC United but doesn’t look to have managed too many appearances unfortunately.

David: Cole comes in for some unnecessary stick by some fans as he’s not your stereotypical goal scorer, but I think his hold up play is great and has been one of our top performers since Adams took over. Despite this I do think we’re in need of another attacker that can play off him and score the goals. I’m a big fan of Leitch-Smith, but his injury problems are so frustrating, with every time he gets himself fit and gets in the starting line-up, he ends off missing the next game through injury. Hawley had a decent loan spell this season at FC United, but can’t see his contract being extended into next season.

Andrew Tutte, Ritchie Sutton, Tom Brewitt, Michael Howard, Lamin Jagne and Tyler Brownsword, we can imagine, are all likely to be released this summer. Do you expect to operate with a smaller squad next season and look for quality rather than quantity?

Joel: Tutte was told he could find a new club in January, so he’ll definitely be on his way out. Sutton has been a dependable squad player but unlikely to feature in Adams’ plans. Not really sure why Bentley signed Howard if I’m honest – he’s been nowhere near the squad under either manager, occasionally making it onto the bench. Brownsword has gone already – he was thought of as quite promising but Adams has been trying to get the squad cut down and we have another promising young centre back in Ibrahim Bakare, who did excellently on loan at Lancaster City this season. Tom Brewitt has featured a decent amount this season and I think has potential – he’s a decent defensive midfielder and is good on the ball. But with Adams looking to trim the squad and Kenyon having stepped up, not sure there’ll be room for him. Really liked what I saw of Jagne last season but an injury and a bloated squad could do for him.

David: Yes, the squad will definitely be streamlined, with Adams complaining a number of times about the squad being too big. In terms of the players mentioned above, I agree that they will most likely be released, with the exception of Tom Brewitt. He quickly became a favourite of Adams when he took over, and even though he lost his place when Diagouraga arrived, he’s still only young and think we would look to keep him and hope he would learn from Diagouraga over the season. The likes of Tutte, Buxton and Sutton will definitely be going, along with Kevin Ellison sadly, who’s Morecambe career has come to a little bit of a bitter end with an obvious fallout/disagreement with Adams. Brownsword got released in February, which I was a little disappointed in as I feel he had potential, and I also hope Jagne is given another year as I feel he’s another one with quality we’re yet to see, but doubt that’ll happen.

Having consistently avoided relegation, can Morecambe start to avoid the battle to avoid relegation?

Joel: If Adams’ track record as a coach is anything to by, then I think we can be hopeful. His recruitment has been excellent and we’ve looked such a better coached side. There seems to have been the start of a mentality shift as well – away from being ‘little old Morecambe’ and more towards being a side who are there to win and move up the league.

David: I really do hope so, but with the uncertainties regarding next season and no announcements of any kind regarding players or anything at the moment, it’s almost impossible to say. Our budgets could be severely impacted by the crisis, which would obviously harm any potential progression, but we simply don’t know at the moment. Hopefully everything will be okay and we can have a successful and stress free centenary season.