Match Report: County 2-0 Morecambe

The Hatters made mathematically certain of automatic promotion to League One, with a two-goal win in front of a sold-out Edgeley Park against Morecambe.

Returning to play in SK3 following two successful faraway assignments around the home counties, and requiring a draw to be sure of going up to the third tier – in which they last plied their trade 14 years ago – they achieved it by picking up all three thanks to Tanto Olaofe, with his 20th league goal of the campaign early on, and a Fraser Horsfall header in first-half added time.

County now have three games left to play – and, sitting four points ahead of, with a game in hand over, second-placed Wrexham (also promoted today), victory in one of them would also guarantee the League Two title.

Today’s triumph, meanwhile, was the Hatters’ first over the visiting ‘Shrimps’ since New Year’s Day 2008, as well as their sixth straight win and eleventh successive game unbeaten.

The morning rain had cleared by the time County took to the field in still-overcast weather conditions – albeit far kinder ones than the wet and windy extremes brought by Storm Elin for the reverse-fixture on the Lancashire coast during December. The Hatters showed three changes from their starting line-up at Colchester four days earlier, with Odin Bailey, Callum Camps and Kyle Wootton replacing Neill Byrne, Connor Lemonheigh Evans and Nick Powell – all of whom were named among the substitutes.

The inaugural corner of the afternoon – earned by the Hatters three minutes in – led to the first chance, as Antoni Sarcevic’s delivery from the right was flicked towards goal by Ethan Pye, and blocked by Congolese defender David Tutonda.

But four minutes later, County went ahead following a move begun and ended by Olaofe. Having fed Paddy Madden to his right just inside Morecambe’s half, after a slip by Nelson Khumbeni, the Hatters’ leading scorer advanced to place himself perfectly for volleying home from close range after Wootton, beyond the far post, had headed the skipper’s cross back across the goalmouth.

Olaofe went close to bagging a second, having cut in from the right, ahead of the quarter-hour mark – only to be stopped in his tracks by visiting captain Farrend Rawson, and pick up a knock that, shortly afterwards, saw him replaced by Lemonheigh Evans.

The Shrimps – visiting on the back of a three-point deduction earlier in the week, which had effectively put paid to any hopes of reaching the play-offs – won their first corner just before the first half’s mid-point, although the eventual delivery from the right was to evade all in attendance and go out of play beyond the far post.

As the interval approached, Sarcevic saw an effort blocked by Jacob Bedean after latching on to Ethan Bristow’s cross from the left. But, in the course of five minutes added on – primarily for spells of treatment required by Olaofe and Horsfall – Sarcevic turned provider with a corner from the same flank that Horsfall met at the far upright to head home his and County’s second goal of the campaign and afternoon, respectively.

HALF-TIME: County 2 (Olaofe, 7; Horsfall, 45 + 4), Morecambe 0. 

Glimpses of sunshine greeted the teams upon the resumption, as County began the new half with an attack that culminated in a Lemonheigh Evans shot from the edge of the box that took a deflection off substitute Yann Songo’o and fizzed past the right post.

Five minutes later, Pye threaded the ball through to Callum Camps, whose shot, from the right of goal, was kept out by a one-handed parry from Morecambe goalkeeper Archie Mair. And Bailey, having seen an effort from distance strike Rawson’s hand en route to Mair, fired the consequential free-kick from the ‘D’ narrowly over, with 20 minutes or so remaining.

As the Hatters proceeded to see the game out, they made a triple-substitution that, to great acclaim, included Louie Barry’s first home appearance since the Aston Villa loanee bagged a brace against Grimsby in SK3 in October. With half a dozen minutes to go, he had a shot, too – although his half-volley was comfortably caught by Mair.

Morecambe’s first attempt of note was fashioned shortly afterwards – but Joel Senior’s low strike drifted well wide of the right post – and their second, courtesy of Cammy Smith, followed shortly afterwards.

But it was County’s day – and one to remember, as most of the 10,000-plus in attendance let forth a cacophony of cheers at the end to celebrate the club’s third promotion in five years.

FULL-TIME: County 2 (Olaofe, 7; Horsfall, 45 + 4), Morecambe 0.

Team (4-3-3): Hinchliffe; Knoyle (Byrne, 62), Horsfall, Pye, Bristow; Bailey (Barry, 71), Camps, Sarcevic (Richards, 71); Olaofe (Lemonheigh Evans, 19), Madden (Capt.) (Powell, 71), Wootton.

Unused Subs: Smith, Hippolyte.

Booked: Camps.

Man of the Match: Madden.

Attendance: 10,117 (441 away).

Reporter: Gareth Evans.

Photographer: Mike Petch.


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