When Derek Adams arrived at the Mazuma Stadium in November 2019, Morecambe were rooted to the bottom of Sky Bet League Two.
As a club with just one top-half finish in their last 10 seasons in the division, it was not completely out of the ordinary to be stuck in the relegation mire. It was, however, uncharted territory for the Scotsman.
Since the end of his second spell as manager at Ross County in 2014, he had taken Plymouth to the League Two play-off final, guided them to automatic promotion the year after Wembley heartache and then came within three points of a spot in the League One play-off places at the end of the 2017/18.
- Adams wins League Two Manager of the Month
- Sky Bet League Two table
“I took a risk coming here,” Adams admits to Sky Sports.
“We were bottom of the league and adrift. My main purpose was to come in and keep us in the league. We did that and ended with a 10-point gap between ourselves and Stevenage, who finished bottom.
“This year, we re-grouped again, added to the squad over the summer period and we’ve put together a very good squad that has competed well in the division.”
The initial suspension of football due to the Covid-19 pandemic in March allowed Adams to mould the squad as he saw fit and, ultimately, attempt to alter the mindset of a squad lingering at the wrong end of the table, flirting with the possibility of a unwelcome return to non-League.
When the current campaign got under way in September, the Shrimps recorded just their fourth opening-day win in 11 seasons, when they put on a late show and came from behind to beat Cheltenham 2-1 at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium.
Some might have expected a significant dip in morale after a merciless 5-0 crushing at the hands of Cambridge a week later, yet three straight wins followed. After the thrilling 3-2 win over Oldham on October 10, Adams’ men sat proudly at the summit.
A struggle throughout the month and into November saw Morecambe tumble as low as 14th, but when they might have been expected to falter, they found the formula once more.
“We’ve been a team that has progressed well throughout the season,” he adds.
“We’ve been unfortunate in games to have not picked up more points but with the way we’ve created chances, we’re up there with the best teams in the league. We’ve just actually converted the chances. We’ve done better defensively as well and, as a group, as a squad, we’ve all combined well to get ourselves in a very good position.
“The style of play has changed [since last season], too. We have got a lot of attacking players in the team that can either create chances or score goals and I think the players that we’ve taken in all want to do that. That’s been the biggest change, the change in the way that we’ve played the game.”
The pandemic that aided their shift in mentality early last year is now the same pandemic that has put their hopes of a fifth straight league win – for only the second time since their promotion to the EFL in 2007 – in jeopardy.
“After the Grimsby game [on Boxing Day] we had to self-isolate for 10 days,” says Adams, upbeat. “We missed the Bolton and Bradford games and there were a number of games that went on during that period, so to still find ourselves in the play-offs after the games had gone on around us was a surprise because we thought that a number of teams below us would’ve maybe knocked us out.
“It’s been a difficult period because we haven’t been able to train. We came out of isolation on Tuesday night at 5pm and trained right after that under the floodlights to get some fitness back into the players. It’s been a hard time but the players were in great spirits.
“The players had played a lot of games up until this period – 28 games in all competitions so far. The 10-day break was probably a good time coming because the players were able to recharge the batteries and we have to go again.
“With 26 games to go in the league, I see it as the second half of the season; I see it as the run-in. I think that it’s good that we have teams around about us to play because then that can give you that advantage if you win them and open up a bigger gap.”
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Following Sunday’s trip to Stamford Bridge to face Chelsea in the FA Cup, Morecambe are scheduled to get their league campaign up and running again with a trip to Brisbane Road to face Leyton Orient on Saturday, January 16.
There’s no explicit mention of promotion, though. The 45-year-old is driven towards putting his side in the position to challenge and waiting to see the outcome.
“If we look at where we are at this moment in time, we’ve put ourselves in a good position. The players have got a hunger and a desire to do well – we’ve tried to drill that into them – and they are gaining confidence week on week.
“We’ve had a good week’s training and you just never know what can happen between now and the end of the season. We’re in the play-off positions – can we stay there?”
Morecambe have never played above League Two in their history, but in Derek Adams they have a man in charge who just might know how to help them do that just.
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