Adam Phillips’ early penalty set the ball rolling for Morecambe on Tuesday night as they cruised to a comprehensive 0-2 victory over Exeter City at St James Park.
The explosive conversion in the 10th minute set Derek Adams’ in good stead to hand Exeter their first League Two defeat of the calendar year. Almost an hour later, Phillips played a key role in the winner as his cross was expertly driven home by Cole Stockton.
Matt Taylor named three changes to his Exeter squad which beat Stevenage on Saturday afternoon. Young striker Ben Seymour was handed his first league start of the season in place of Nicky Law, who found himself relegated back to the bench. Swaps along the backline saw Jake Caprice and Jack Sparkes replaced by Lewis Page and academy graduate Josh Key.
Morecambe fielded just two changes. Goalkeeper Jokull Andresson – on loan from Reading – replaced Mark Halstead between the sticks, while Aaron Wildig made way for French midfielder Toumani Diagouraga.
Story of the match
The Shrimps started the faster of the two sides. Attacking pressure took hold after just five minutes, when Phillips was allowed space on the edge of the box. Met with a delivery that teed itself up nicely, the 23-year-old afforded the ball a single bounce before firing a venomous half-volley towards goal. City ‘keeper Jonny Maxted backtracked hastily and was relieved to see the first effort of the game fly safely over his crossbar.
Not stymied by the near-miss, Phillips continued to plunder the malleable hosts. As the clock ticked into double figures, he earned his well-travelled side a penalty when he was cynically brought down by Maxted after incredible ball-control presented an opportunity from 10 yards. Looking to build upon his sprightly start, the Englishman stepped up to the spot-kick and dispatched it straight down the middle with aplomb.
Two substitutions halfway through the period granted the hosts a new lease of life, as Law replaced Seymour and an injured Alex Hartridge trudged off to make way for Caprice.
Suddenly, the transition from defence to attack grew in pace, and Law’s genius catalogue of creation found gaps previously unexplored by the ailing home side. Matt Jay squandered Exeter’s first chance of the tie with a rebounded header directed straight at Andresson. Pouncing on a parry from the Icelander, Jay leapt high but could not stretch enough to punish Morecambe, who had begun to coast.
City’s revival culminated in a flurry of corners as halftime beckoned, but they could not capitalise on the first real pressure that the visitors had been forced to absorb. Down the other end, a breakdown in communication between the Grecians’ backline almost saw Morecambe double their advantage at the break, but referee Craig Hicks waved away the confident penalty appeals.
The dejected Devonians trudged out early for the second half, fittingly with hardly a word spoken as they awaited the re-emergence of their guests.
Soon it looked as though it would be a long half for the Grecians’ faithful watching from home, as further substitutions from Taylor seemed to disrupt the harmonious passing and desperately long balls were rifled forward instead. Morecambe, however, had set up for the second period quite defensively, piling men behind the ball and resorting to counterattacks to challenge Maxted.
Morecambe’s countless counterattacks reaped their reward just beyond the hour mark. After soaking up a bright spell from Exeter, Phillips broke free of the defence wide on the right. Looking up towards his limited options, he floated a beautifully-weighted pass into the feet of Stockton. The 26-year-old trapped the ball exceptionally well before squeezing his shot under an onrushing Maxted from close range.
Exeter continued to press on the resilient Shrimps defence, with the introduction of a fourth pair of fresh legs midway into the half. A great spell saw substitute Jake Taylor fire an effort safely into Andresson’s grateful clutches minutes before Tom Parkes’ glancing header from a wicked corner delivery flashed just wide of the top-right corner.
The win sees Morecambe move into the automatic promotion places, just a solitary point behind league leaders Cambridge United. City’s poor showing rewards them with an extended gap to the last of the playoff spots, laying two points back of contention.
Takeaway from the match
Never let the guests settle
After travelling almost 300 miles to the West Country, Morecambe should have been weary and unconfident against an Exeter side who had not lost at home for more than a month. Instead, the Shrimps were allowed time and space on the ball, and before long the match was being played on their terms and at their pace.
Worse still, an early lead gave them plenty of time to get their act together at the back. Later, the defence would come in to save the day for the visitors as they dug in and kept a spirited late showing at bay.
Man of the match
Adam Phillips – Morecambe
Phillips put in a timeless display that claimed all three points for his well-oiled Morecambe team. The forward posed a great threat throughout the match with incredible pace and passing. He opened the scoring after winning a penalty with delightful footwork, and sealed the game after cleverly crafting an opening for his colleague, Stockton, to capitalise upon.