Johnson’s Latics on the right track

Date published: 23 July 2014

Morecambe 2, Athletic 2

EVEN allowing for two slipshod moments in defence which twice allowed Morecambe to equalise in the second half, this pre-season exercise was a qualified success.

Lee Johnson’s side, who held a first-half lead given to them by Adam Lockwood’s poke home from a Liam Kelly corner, won’t look back with anything less than mild disgust at either Mark Hughes’ close-range header or John Mullin’s 87th minute finish which he crashed in off the underside of the crossbar after beating the offside trap.

And even a crackerjack of a 20-yard goal in between from substitute Jonson Clarke-Harris didn’t please his manager to any great extent.

“I won’t let him count that goal, as I want him scoring inside the six-yard box,” Johnson said.

“We know he can do it, but he needs to get the poacher goals which will be important for him.”

Before the late switch-off, though, as Morecambe’s raft of substitutes probed at pace, a brand new formation Athletic set out in proved itself to be a promising work in progress.

Johnson has never before put out a defence containing three centre-backs from the start of a match.

But with men able to both defend and get forward as ably as Brian Wilson – Athletic’s best player on the night - and Joseph Mills, a system featuring wing-backs was always worth a test.

It meant a defensive brief for the trio of James Wilson, Adam Lockwood and trialist Miguel Llera and that rearguard coped fairly comfortably with most of what a direct Morcambe side threw at them in the opening half.

David Mellor enjoyed the responsibility he was given in front of those three – he made some key interceptions and tackles, particularly in the first half – and so did Carl Winchester, making the most of a roaming role in front of Mellor and Kelly.

Winchester should have scored as early as the second minute with a shot he put into the side-netting.

But his form in pre-season is so good, at the moment a man earmarked for a loan elsewhere by Johnson is pushing hard for a starting spot for the opening day of the Sky Bet League One season at Colchester.

Less successful were Danny Philliskirk – rusty after his injury lay-off – and William Gros, who did hit a post from a difficult angle but otherwise struggled to get into the game as the sole main striker.

Kelly and Winchester hit shots off target as Athletic dominated from the off, while Morecambe’s Ryan Edwards headed down and then above the crossbar at the home end dominated by a sun blazing over the top of the stand on the warmest night of the year.

Athletic were cool and calm on the ball, Mellor driving narrowly off-target after Jack Sampson had done likewise at the other end, and Lockwood’s close-range effort was reward for clear superiority.

Tom McCready narrowly failed to quite extend his stretch far enough to get on the end of crosses from hard-working Sampson as the opening period drew to a close.

Athletic were less impressive after the interval.

McCready should have done better than hit a shot straight at a nervy Joel Coleman nine minutes in, before Gros almost surprised home goalkeeper Andreas Arestidou in hitting the outside of the near post after muscling his way towards goal.

Mullin, Jamie Devitt and Jack Redshaw proved lively impact players after the hour for Jim Bentley’s League Two side, while at the other end Clarke-Harris went close with a header which looped over the top with Arestidou committed and beaten in the flight of the cross.

Then came a Coleman flap at a cross, which Laurence Wilson headed back across after a return ball in.

Hughes did the rest in the 79th minute.

Clarke-Harris’s response soon after was emphatic. Racing down the right after Jordan Bove initiated the break, he crashed home left-footed to put Athletic back in front.

It didn’t last long, though, as a poor decision to try to step up to play Mullin offside backfired. The finish was an excellent one, in off the crossbar, earning Morecambe a deserved share of the spoils.