IN the space of just four days, United had six points from two performances that were polar opposites, and polar was the appropriate word on a Baltic afternoon at Plainmoor.
After the thrilling midweek victory over league leaders Gillingham, the Gulls toiled to a dour 1-0 win over Morecambe, courtesy of a Danny Stevens goal on the half-hour.
On United’s dedicated Kick Racism Out Of Football day, this was a case of one game, one community, one goal, one highlight, one mad rush for the exit door.
The big decision for United manager Martin Ling resulted in a thumbs up for Daniel Leadbitter, who starred as a replacement for the suspended Joe Oastler in Tuesday’s win. It meant an unchanged line-up for the Gulls, with the returning Oastler bumping Ashley Yeoman off the bench.
Morecambe boss Jim Bentley could not share the same luxury, as a mixture of suspension and injury forced him to make two changes to the side narrowly beaten at Rotherham in midweek.
Kevin Ellison joined Richard Brodie on the banned list, and the absence of leading scorer Jack Redshaw further limited Bentley’s forward options. Lewis Alessandra and Jordan Burrow came in as the replacement Shrimps, with only six subs named on the visiting bench.
On a bitter afternoon, there was a chilly start to proceedings for United goalkeeper Michael Poke, as he failed to reach a long free-kick and Stewart Drummond’s header looped inches wide of the empty net.
A somewhat tame Yellow response came from a Nathan Craig snapshot flashing well wide but the home wheels were slowly turning, with Billy Bodin, in particular, causing Morecambe a mild headache with his runs inside from the right flank.
In truth, however, it was pretty tepid stuff, especially in comparison to the rip-roaring win over the Gills, and Morecambe sought to take advantage of Yellow complacency with a succession of set-pieces.
A dismal first 25 minutes was summed up by both ‘keepers looking as cold as everyone else inside the ground, although one brave soul was spotted on the Popside with just a skimpy t-shirt protecting against the elements – proper ‘ard that is.
From nowhere, crowd-spotting turned into crowd cheering and Bodin was the catalyst, threading a lovely ball down the left channel for Stevens, who steered a tidy finish beyond the under-employed Barry Roche and in off the far post.
It was a trundling, bobbly shot but the accuracy perfect and our tough Popsider was waving his goose-bumped arms with joy, as Stevens rightly milked the relieved applause.
After the shock of something significant taking place had subsided, Morecambe rediscovered some rhythm with a dancing run from Alessandra ending with a fierce drive that needed tipping over by Poke.
The Gulls immediately came back with a sharp turn from Bodin, easily the brightest Yellow spark in the first period, and the scuttling shot was well fielded by Roche with Rene Howe sniffing for a rebound.
Sadly for the freezing punters, the second half started in similarly lacklustre fashion from the Gulls and Morecambe wing-back Jordan Mustoe was mercifully wasteful with a harmless dinked cross from the same position Stevens had scored the opening goal.
When United did finally muster a meaningful attack, it fell to the right foot of Bodin, and the Welshman was not far off target with his low shot across goal. His compatriot, Craig, then fizzed a 35-yard free-kick wide with his lethal left peg.
Within minutes, the Shrimps were moving again with increasing menace, and United were grateful for a fine block from Damon Lathrope to thwart Drummond’s goal-bound strike. Howe and Kevin Nicholson both directed long-rangers over the bar in a mild riposte, but this was looking like an afternoon to protect a slender lead.
That was until a strong challenge from Howe released Bodin for a run on goal. The Welshman had the option of returning the pass to Howe or rounding the ‘keeper, but his final choice was a half-hearted chip that easily fended away by Roche.
The reprieve was enough for Bentley to introduce the pace of Izak Reid for defender Nick Fenton, and a subsequent switch to the conventional 4-4-2. The new man barely had his boots dirty when Alessandra cut inside Leadbitter for a powerful drive that Poke did well to push clear.
Bodin’s difficult second half continued with a shot scooped well over before Howe fired inches over. It was the final passage of play for Bodin, as he was replaced by the fresh legs of Niall Thompson. Ling moved swiftly with his next change, removing Stevens for Craig Easton.
The action remained on the sidelines, as Ryan Jarvis came on for Howe in the closing five minutes. At the worrying end of the pitch, there was still time for Andrew Fleming to nod narrowly wide with Poke wrong-footed.
Despite the token pressure, Morecabe never really threatened and a welcome victory to go with the warming cuppa.
Gulls (4-3-3): 1 Michael Poke; 12 Daniel Leadbitter, 5 Brian Saah, 4 Aaron Downes, 3 Kevin Nicholson; 7 Lee Mansell (capt), 6 Damon Lathrope, 20 Nathan Craig; 15 Billy Bodin (29 Niall Thompson 75), 9 Rene Howe (8 Ryan Jarvis 84), 19 Danny Stevens (18 Craig Easton 78). Substitutes (not used): 2 Joe Oastler, 13 Martin Rice (GK), 21 Thomas Cruise, 30 Kirtys MacKenzie.
Booked: Leadbitter 84, Poke 89
Morecambe (3-5-2): 1 Barry Roche; 2 Nick Fenton (7 Izak Reid 72), 6 Will Haining (capt), 15 Chris McCready; 8 Andrew Wright, 16 Stewart Drummond, 17 Andrew Fleming, 18 Gary McDonald, 4 Jordan Mustoe; 9 Lewis Alessandra, 14 Jordan Burrow (12 Dan Parkinson 87). Substitutes (not used): 19 Joe McGee, 22 Andy Parrish, 23 Chris Doyle, 25 Andreas Arestidou (GK).
Booked: Drummond 78
Referee: Carl Berry
Attendance: 2,457 (52 away).