Morecambe, Derek Adams and Winning

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Morecambe have enjoyed an excellent start to the 2020/21 season under Derek Adams. After helping steer the Shrimps clear of relegation last season, Adams has had the chance to bring his players in and spend a ‘full’ (COVID-19 allowing) pre-season with his side.

It’s resulted in a good run of form for Morecambe, who look a far more accomplished League Two outfit than previous seasons. So how is Adams getting the best out of this Morecambe side?

The football

Much like last season, Adams has generally deployed what could roundly be described as a 4-3-3, Although this has varied a little at times – most notably against Cheltenham on the opening day which saw a switch to a 3-5-2 – there is consistency in the shape and roles of players.

The 4-3-3 usually sees a sitting midfielder flanked by two more attacking midfielders. These two attacking midfielders – usually Aaron Wildig and Adam Phillips – play key roles in the system.

When out of the ball, the Shrimps will not usually press particularly high and form a firm midfield block. One of the attacking midfielders will generally step out to help the centre forward block off forward passing options for the opposition defence. This happens in a rotatory way, with one midfielder stepping back as the ball is shifted along the defensive line and the other stepping out.

The wingers also play a hugely important defensive role, something noted by John O’Sullivan, who told the club website: “This season the wingers on both sides have to give a lot going forward but going the other way too. If you don’t do that for this gaffer, you don’t play it’s as simple as that.”

Tricky winger Carlos Mendes Gomes has in fact made the joint-most tackles per game at 3, as the squad continue to buy into the defensive work ethic instilled in them by Adams.

Morecambe have a variety of options for getting the ball up the pitch. Their full-backs are comfortable carrying the ball, the squad contains some technically competent midfielders and they have the dangerous dribbling threat of Mendes Gomes.

The main feature of the Shrimps with the ball, though, is that they like to move the ball forward relatively quickly, trying to hit teams off guard when they are not quite settled.

Centre forward Cole Stockton is a valuable asset in this regard – a target man particularly adept at holding onto the ball to bring others into play. He is often their main outlet, with balls generally fired into him to gather and lay off to teammates making their way up the pitch.

The Shrimps also like to make use of their full-backs getting forward, particularly on the right-hand side with Ryan Cooney or Kelvin Mellor. This brings another player into the attack, helping to allow for what is probably Morecambe’s most potent goalscoring threat: midfielders running into the box.

Phillips and Wildig have six league goals between them this season. Both are adept at finding pockets of space in the area to bolster the side’s attacking options. This coupled with the dribbling and creative passing ability of Mendes Gomes help give Morecambe some real threat in attack.

The mentality

While there are some consistent stylistic features throughout many of the Shrimps’ matches, there is certainly room to manoeuvre and adapt depending on the opposition.

Morecambe’s opening day win over Cheltenham saw a change to a 3-5-2 to match their opponents. The 1-0 win over Port Vale saw a particularly reserved and defensively solid approach leading to lots of stale possession for the Valiants. And more recently after a second-half collapse against Crawley, two holding midfielders were deployed against Mansfield the next game to help shore up defensively.

The main theme? Whether it be a formation, stylistic or personnel change, do whatever it takes to win.

“I’m trying to change the mindset of this football club,” said Adams post-Cheltenham.

“We’re trying to not be ‘little old Morecambe’. We’re trying to be Morecambe Football Club. And we’re trying to be bigger and better than we ever have been. That’s the mindset that I’ve got to change with a lot of people at this football club.”

It’s something the Scotsman has great experience in, having taken relative minnows Ross County from the Scottish Second Division to the Scottish Premiership and the Scottish Cup final over two spells.

The will to win has been instilled in Adams from an early age, with his father a scout for Sir Alex Ferguson during the legendary manager’s time at Aberdeen.

Reflecting on this experience in a 2015 interview with the Sun, Adams said: “You learn so much as a kid and I still remember Sir Alex and Archie Knox and their will to win.

“He would always be the face of the football club. He, Archie and my father would fight over a snooker match, a head tennis match, anything. They were extremely competitive.

“Sir Alex would want to win and that was something I’ve always taken from him. It was win at all costs.”

Overall, it’s been so far so good for Adams. The Shrimps have taken 13 points from seven games this season, a total which took 17 games to be reached last season.

Adams’ Morecambe side are not without their faults – a peculiar flaw has seen collapses against Crawley and Cambridge in which the opposition scored three times in 10 minutes – but they have come on leaps and bounds under the former Plymouth manager.

The Shrimps are without doubt a competitive League Two outfit. Play-offs and promotion chases may be a bit of a stretch at this early stage of the season, but it’s looking highly likely that Morecambe will not be in another relegation scrap.

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