Morecambe 0-0 Cheltenham Town: Robins roll up sleeves on a tough night
THIS stalemate was Cheltenham Town's second consecutive draw, but it was altogether more satisfactory than the previous week's home point against York City.
Morecambe have only lost three times at home in League Two this season and the poor pitch and freezing conditions meant it was a night for Mark Yates' side to roll up their sleeves, something they have not made a habit of doing on the road in recent months.
The bitter cold was worsened by a biting wind and the priority was a much-improved defensive display in the north after heavy defeats at Rotherham, Chesterfield and Rochdale.
The gameplan used to achieve that saw midfield pair Marlon Pack and Russ Penn protecting the back four, with Sam Deering, Jermaine McGlashan and Kaid Mohamed all recalled in a bid to create openings on the break for Shaun Harrad.
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Jake Taylor, Jeff Goulding and the injured Darren Carter dropped out, leaving Cheltenham with only six substitutes, including youth team midfielder Joe Hanks.
Mohamed dropped into a slightly deeper central role, occupying Morecambe's holding midfielder Stewart Drummond.
It was not Mohamed's night in front of goal, but he did cause the home defence problems.
The match once again showed exactly why Yates is so keen to bring in a target man this month as his side bid to return to the top three.
Mohamed has shown the ability to meet crosses into the middle this season, with five of his six goals coming from well-placed headers, but flick-ons and hold-up play are not his game.
Harrad has shown his finishing prowess, but he and Darryl Duffy are both crying out for a Ben Burgess-type figure alongside them – they are not easy to find.
While Yates will be left scratching his head over how to improve his team's potency, his defence produced their best display away from Whaddon Road since the goalless draw at Gillingham on November 6.
Keith Lowe kept his place alongside Steve Elliott, with Alan Bennett once again forced to settle for a place on the bench.
Lowe was guilty of taking risks on a treacherous pitch in the opening minutes, but one or two misdirected passes went unpunished and he went on to produce another impressive display.
Bennett will benefit from a breather, but the dependable Lowe looks determined to ensure the skipper will not walk back into the team.
Penn kept the armband and continued his rich vein of form in the middle of the pitch, with Pack also effective without ever being able to play the killer ball to open up Morecambe's back four.
He tested goalkeeper Barry Roche with a curling free-kick early on, but the Morecambe goalkeeper was never forced into a save he would not have expected to make comfortably.
Perennial threat Kevin Ellison, a wily and experienced campaigner, was well dealt with for most of the evening.
The tall left-sided forward went close with one curling shot on the turn from 25 yards that flashed past the far post, but he was contained in the air, which will have heartened Yates.
Deering was used in a wide left role and he asked questions of Morecambe, playing some useful balls into space for Mohamed and Harrad to chase.
He may have been celebrating his first Cheltenham goal in the second half when Jermaine McGlashan skipped clear.
But his low ball was prodded wide by Mohamed, with Deering waiting unmarked beyond him in the second half.
Deering was also involved in the biggest talking point of the match, as he went down under a challenge from Andrew Fleming in the 42nd minute. He had been quicker off the mark to reach a loose ball ahead of the midfielder, who appeared to catch him late right in front of referee Eddie Ilderton, but nothing was given.
Roche denied Mohamed after Harrad's centre in the first minute of the second half and if either side was going to clinch a winner, it looked more likely to Cheltenham.
Morecambe's best chance fell to Lewis Alessandra but Scott Brown saved well.
Duffy was given just under ten minutes to make an impact, but a goal failed to materialise and they had to settle for their fifth away draw this season.
Morecambe: B Roche; W Haining, C McCready, N Fenton, R Threlfall; C McDonald, S Drummond, A Fleming (R Williams 75); L Alessandra, J Burrow (C Holroyd 67), K Ellison. Subs not used: A Arestidou, J McGee, M Mwasile, C Doyle, J Redshaw.
Cheltenham Town: S Brown; S Jombati, K Lowe, S Elliott, B Jones; J McGlashan, R Penn, M Pack, S Deering, K Mohamed, S Harrad (D Duffy 81). Subs not used: J Goulding, C Roberts, A Bennett, J Taylor, J Hanks.
Referee: E Ilderton.
Star Man: Marlon Pack.