Morecambe boss Jim Bentley looks forward to upsetting the odds again
Morecambe go into the new League Two season with manager Jim Bentley believing he has a squad capable of upsetting the sides with big names and reputations.
The Shrimps welcome Grimsby Town to the Globe Arena on Saturday for their 13th season as an EFL club.
Last season saw them in and around the bottom four clubs until 25 points from the final 15 games took them to an 18th-placed finish.
Part of the problem was goalscoring with Morecambe only scoring 54 times in 46 matches, while Aaron Collins ended the season as top scorer despite only joining the club in February.
However, on paper anyway, the Shrimps look a more potent attack this season with Shaun Miller, Cole Stockton and Lewis Alessandra having rejoined the club, while it is hoped A-Jay Leitch-Smith’s absence with a hamstring injury will be over shortly.
Bentley said: “A-Jay Leitch-Smith was on fire last season and had scored six goals and missed a couple of penalties.
“Lewis Alessandra has got double figures in most of his last five years, Cole Stockton scored 10 in 20-odd starts – and if he replicates that again, we will have a player on our hands.
“Shaun Miller got 16 in the team when he was here and suddenly, we’re looking at a team – and no disrespect to the forwards we had last season – there are more goals in there.
“Kevin Ellison keeps going, Jordan Cranston might come out of the pack, Rhys Oates might score goals and John O’Sullivan is more than capable as well. We need to get more from the defenders from set-plays, Aaron Wildig gets into great positions and Andrew Tutte, last year, looked a threat.
“I feel we aren’t going to pin it (goalscoring) on one player, I think we’ve got goals all over the field; certainly in those forward positions and I’m confident we will get goals this season.”
However, the Shrimps also need to improve at the other end as well.
They conceded the third highest tally of goals in League two last season, shipping 70 across their 46 matches.
Adam Buxton has come in over the summer, replacing Zak Mills, as Bentley seeks an answer to those defensive deficiencies.
Ritchie Sutton, Sam Lavelle and Steve Old will be competing for the central defensive positions if Bentley opts for a back four, though Sutton can also rival Buxton for the right-back position.
Behind them, Bentley also has a choice to make with club captain Barry Roche or Mark Halstead – who won two player of the year awards last season – aiming to start in goal.
“I think it’s the best we’ve had in regards to keepers,” Bentley said.
“Mark Halstead is superb, and if you ask any Morecambe supporter to choose, they will be split down the middle.
“Barry trains hard and goes about the game in the right manner and, if you have Mark Halstead in your ranks, it’s a tough choice.
“They push each other in training and you can see that; I think they have both done alright in pre-season.”
Whoever Bentley names in his starting XI at the weekend will represent a Morecambe side again tipped to struggle.
Macclesfield Town’s woes see them occupy Morecambe’s traditional spot as the side most bookies fancy to finish bottom.
Not that Morecambe are fancied to do much better with the Shrimps tipped to occupy the second relegation position.
It’s water off a duck’s back to Bentley, however, who pointed to last season as an example as to how predictions can go wrong.
“Each year people say they expect this side to do well and another will struggle,” Bentley said.
“You wouldn’t have said last year, looking at Notts County at the start of the year and they finished the league, they would be a side relegated and nearly going out of business.
“It’s hard to predict but the game’s like that at any level.
“We expect it to be difficult again but we expect any team we come up against to think that Morecambe aren’t a pushover – and we embrace the challenge.
“There might be ups and downs; we will win a few, lose a few but, hopefully, we will win more than we lose and have a good cup run.
“I don’t look too far ahead though and I can’t start thinking about Christmas or anything like that.
“People say, ‘What do you think about the fixtures?’ but I couldn’t tell you who we have after Mansfield (second and third games).
“Our next game is Grimsby and, hopefully, we will have a positive week, we do our homework and we come out firing.
“I can understand why people on the outside say what they do.
“They won’t look at how we finished the season, they say ‘Morecambe have the smallest budget, the smallest average attendance; let’s have them as the favourites to go down.’
“It doesn’t bother me, I like upsetting people who think they can rock up and turn us over.
“We’re here on merit, we deserve to be here; we’ve been here longer than other clubs.
“It’s a work in progress but hopefully we can win on the first day and I’m sure, with what we have available, we’re capable of winning games of football at this level.”