OPINION: Understandable if Morecambe fans feel let down by management team's St Mirren switch

Having had three managers in 25 years up until October 2019, Morecambe are now on the lookout for a third in the last two-and-a-half.

By Gavin Browne
Wednesday, 23rd February 2022, 8:00 am

On the face of it, Stephen Robinson’s decision to swap the Shrimps for St Mirren is an understandable one for outsiders.

He’s exchanging a relegation battle in League One – albeit two points from survival, which was the club’s aim last August – for a team seventh in Scotland’s top flight, one point off fourth place.

Taking the football management element out of it, how many of us would do the same by accepting another job if we found it suitably attractive?

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Stephen Robinson and Diarmuid O'Carroll left Morecambe yesterday Picture: Jack Taylor

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Football management has become an especially transient profession, especially in the last two decades or so.

Paul Warne, manager of last night’s opponents, Rotherham United, has been in charge of the Millers for a little more than five years – making him the seventh longest-serving boss of the 92 English professional clubs.

Boxing promoter Mickey Duff memorably said that if people wanted loyalty, then they should buy a dog – but Morecambe have been the exception rather than the norm when it comes to backing their managers.

Greg Leigh has arguably been Stephen Robinson's best signing

Jim Harvey had 11 years in charge, Sammy McIlroy six and Jim Bentley eight despite some difficult times at the wrong end of League Two.

There isn’t any doubt that the exits of Robinson and his assistant, Diarmuid O’Carroll, are jarring, particularly in terms of the timing.

Ideal times to leave a football club are few and far between but eight months into a three-year contract, 21st in the table, 14 games to go and the next match is against the league leaders? Not for me, Clive as Andy Townsend might have put it.

In Robinson’s defence, he had inherited a difficult situation with the club’s play-off promotion leaving them four weeks behind everyone else in terms of recruitment.

Cole Stockton netted 21 times under Stephen Robinson

It meant an intense summer’s work with 19 arrivals followed by a further six in January and, inevitably, there were always going to be hits and misses.

Ryan Cooney, Ryan McLaughlin, Anthony O’Connor, Greg Leigh and Shane McLoughlin are dependable performers, while Callum Jones, Alfie McCalmont and Adam Phillips have all had their moments.

Jonah Ayunga had recently started to show some of the ability that Robinson had maintained was there, though the loss of Jon Obika for half the season was a huge blow for player, manager and club.

Trevor Carson and Jacob Bedeau have also turned in solid performances after joining the club last month: moves which coincided with an upturn in results after one win in 13 to end 2021.

Jon Obika joined last summer but missed five months with a hamstring injury

That poor run of form had brought the defensive work done on the training ground under the microscope.

As good as some of the football was going forward, there were occasions when the matchday defending triggered some of the worst nightmares this side of Elm Street.

Three goals in matches against Accrington Stanley, AFC Wimbledon and Wycombe Wanderers yielded one point, five were conceded at Sunderland and who could forget the atmosphere at half-time when they trailed 3-0 to Doncaster Rovers before turning that game around?

In terms of recruitment, a barb aimed at Robinson was the decision to hand some players, who now find themselves on the periphery, two-year contracts.

Suppose they’d signed a one-year deal instead, hit the ground running and decided to leave on a free transfer in the summer for a better offer elsewhere? Damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

It wasn’t just on the field where the Shrimps were having to adjust following promotion to League One.

Morecambe's new manager inherits a team with an average attendance approaching 4,200 this season

It brought challenges off it with the appointments of a general manager, media manager, supporters’ liaison officer and a head of recruitment.

Those roles might be standard issue at other clubs but Morecambe were trying to build an infrastructure at speed off the pitch to help them develop on it.

The club’s training facilities were central to that: a bone of contention for some of Robinson’s predecessors, never mind the man himself.

In one of his final interviews with this publication, ironically published this week, he’d spoken of the club’s decision to move away from Lancaster University in favour of Lancaster and Morecambe College.

While Bentley had praised the University’s facilities after the club’s move there in 2019, Robinson had become frustrated by certain aspects of the arrangement.

He said: “We’re training at the college and we’re trying to get the grass areas into shape.

“The college wants us and wants to work with us on a long-term plan but, at the university, we could never get anything exclusive.

“We’re trying to get an exclusive area of grass where the playing surface is ours and we don’t have to share it with anyone.

“That obviously helps with signing players because they can look at the facilities.

“Everyone knows that players talk. They spend five days a week at the training facilities, they want grass pitches, not artificial – and we’ve lost out on players because of that.

“As I’ve said before, we need to get the club an infrastructure; that’s the likes of a bigger fanbase, putting staff in place and a training ground in place – which will help the club to develop going forward.

“We haven’t got our own training ground, that has to be a priority and everyone is pulling in the right direction.

“A playing surface where we can replicate what we do on a Saturday is a priority if the club wants to produce young players and we don’t have anything like that at this moment.

“We’ve got a board of directors and owners who are all in agreement, and while there’s no magic wand to get millions of pounds to build it, there’s work ongoing.

“I think it’s been an ongoing issue for years but we’re trying our best, the directors know what’s needed and they are trying their best to make it happen.”

The fallout from Robinson’s departure has also seen him accused of talking a good game without being able to back it up.

This seems like a good time to highlight what he was like to deal with in terms of the media-manager relationship.

He had far more in common with Bentley than Derek Adams in terms of filling reporters’ notepads with long answers to even the most mundane of questions.

From experience, no request for an interview outside of the usual pre-match press conference was ever turned down.

That is best summed up when, with the Boxing Day game at Bolton Wanderers having been postponed and no press conference before our deadline on December 27, he agreed to a phone call on the evening of Boxing Day to help fill the paper.

What now then? It’s undeniable that the Shrimps, despite the ‘teams like Morecambe’ jibe inevitably offered when they beat higher profile opposition, are a more attractive proposition than might have been the case in previous years.

Two points from safety, an innovative season ticket campaign which has yielded an average home league gate of almost 4,200, a raft of sponsors on board and a fanbase which doesn’t demand a trophy every year constitutes a good opportunity to the right man.

The board of directors made the right appointment in Adams and they looked to have followed that up with Robinson – who’s to say the next manager can’t help fulfil the club’s long-term goals?

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