Ten years on from Morecambe sealing promotion to the Football League at Wembley, we’re re-running Derek Quinn’s report from the 2-1 win over Exeter.
Danny Carlton wrote his way into Morecambe’s record books with a stunning strike to send Morecambe into the Football League for the first time in their history.
The striker produced a wonderful left-footed effort which flew past Exeter keeper Paul Jones and into the top right-hand corner of the goal with seven minutes to go and sparked huge celebrations among the estimated 12,000 Morecambe fans who made this most memorable of journeys.
It was a goal worthy of gracing any stage in the world and by far the best moment of a big Wembley weekend which produced an awful FA Cup final. But closer to home it was a goal that people in pubs and clubs in Morecambe will be talking about for years to come.
It was a perfect way to cap a remarkable day and seal the Shrimps’ goal of league football.
So often they have promised to fulfil that goal only to see the dream fade away.
But now, after years of knocking on the door, the Shrimps have been allowed to join the party and by the look of the faces of the fans at the final whistle, there are many who will be joining them.
Perhaps the most noticeable aspect of the game was the way Sammy McIlroy’s side kept their composure after going down to a disappointing early goal, when Lee Phillips headed past young keeper Scott Davies.
To concede after eight minutes was a far from perfect start and it could have been even worse if Adam Yates had not reacted sharply to stop a dangerous left-wing cross from reaching the busy Phillips.
But then after a shaky opening 10 minutes, Morecambe began to dominate with Carlton, playing his best game for some time, at the centre of everything.
Up front on his own, he ran for every ball and ran directly at defenders causing them all sorts of problems.
He first came to the fore with a shot from the edge of the box that was well saved by Exeter keeper Jones, the first of a series of fine saves he was to make.
Garry Thompson forced the Exeter number one into a good tip away and Wayne Curtis headed straight at the stopper from eight yards out.
Exeter rallied briefly with young Davies, in for the injured Steven Drench, tipping Phillips’ well-struck shot round the post.
Jones was somewhat fortunate when he parried a cross against team-mate Edwards and the ball bounced back into his arms, but his best moment came when he saved a Curtis penalty on the half-hour mark.
Carlton’s pace was too hot for Chris Todd who sent him tumbling in the box, but Curtis, normally deadly from the spot, failed to strike the ball as he intended and Jones saved well, before reacting sharply to save the rebound as the semi-final hero followed up his kick. Jones could only stem the tide for so long as Morecambe continued to ask all the questions with some slick, passing football, which finally paid off when Exeter left-back Billy Jones made a hash of a clearance on the edge of his own box.
The ball rolled into the path of Thompson and he produced the neatest of finishes to put the Shrimps level with three minutes to go to the break.
The half ended with Morecambe in the ascendancy as Twiss drilled a shot just wide of the left-hand post and the Grecians were grateful for the half-time whistle.
The Shrimps started the second-half brightly but when Exeter boss Paul Tisdale gambled with two early substitutions, his side found a new gear with a different formation.
Shrimps’ supporters were given a scare when Adam Stansfield closed down Davies’ attempted clearance and the relief was palpable as the ball bobbled wide of the target.
The incident seemed to kick-start Exeter who began to spread the ball around well but the Grecians never really tested the Morecambe goal.
Jamie Mackie came on for former Morecambe ace Lee Elam and produced a neat run and shot that drifted just wide of the right-hand post and Davies stood up well to block from Stansfield.
Just as the game looked to be heading for extra-time, Carlton popped up to score the most memorable goal of his career.
A long ball forward should have caused few problems, but as Rob Edwards and Steve Tully hesitated Carlton raced onto the ball, turned inside and fired an unstoppable shot into the top corner from the edge of the area.
The goal sparked scenes of joy among the Morecambe fans and on the bench, with Sammy McIlroy’s soon-to-be-legendary slip as he celebrated with relish.
When Exeter’s Matt Gill was sent off for aiming a headbutt at Shrimps midfielder Craig Stanley in injury-time, the game was won.
Morecambe had sealed their place in the Football League on a day that no-one with any connection to the town, no matter how large or small, will ever forget.