SHINING like a beacon through the dark clouds threatening to engulf Morecambe Football Club during its bizarre ownership battles, has been the highly praised dignified and professional response from the playing and coaching staff.
Morecambe's impressive record on the pitch has not only eased relegation fears and re-invigorated fans, who have demonstrated strong loyalty to the team, but also earned the squad the admiration of a much wider, nationwide audience.
The team has been determined to get on with the job of playing football, despite the turmoil off the pitch, a growing uncertainty about unpaid wages and the worry of mounting household bills, plus the uncomfortable fact that the very future of the club itself has been at stake, with careers and futures on the line.
And yet, through all the weeks of despair, the team, led impressively by first team manager Jim Bentley and his assistant Ken McKenna, has carried on, superbly. Indeed, many believe that if the team's commitment, loyalty, spirit and dedication had been matched elsewhere, Morecambe's troubles might have been averted.
One point stressed time and again by the coaches and players has been the overwhelming show of support from the fans. which has left a deep impression on a grateful squad.
To get a sense of what lies behind the team's recent success, The Visitor spent a day with the Shrimps, as they prepared for a home game against Cambridge United, which came after an unbeaten run of five games.
Typically, the session began with raucous banter, as the face of Paul Mullin beamed out from the screen - he scored a wonderful goal to clinch the mid-week match at Leyton Orient and a generous round of applause greeted that. Jim Bentley also chipped in with a dollop of Scouse humour, warning the players not to mess him about, and reminding them he could still loan them out to Conference clubs!
He stressed the importance of feeling right mentally, to maintain the current feel-good factor and to remain focused. "We are on exactly the same number of points as we were this time last year, so let's make sure we put our foot on the gas and go forward," he said. He pointed out they faced 14 games within two months, which was a massive ask. It would be a big game against Cambridge and their mindset should be to win, "and you are good enough to win it," he added.
Ken's session, directed at 18 players, seated in two rows, was a technical masterclass, including the use of a flip chart, board and easel and a screen.
Hieroglyphics dominated, including felt-tip versions of curving arrows, tracing the flights of long diagonal balls, Ken stressing the importance of exploiting empty space behind defenders, into which Morecambe's fastest strikers could run. Other markings indicated a variety of on-field manoeuvres.
Tactics were discussed in depth and, with the help of a video recording of Cambridge's most recent away match, Ken pointed to possible weaknesses - "he leaves himself quite open," he said, indicating one defender. "Get little runs going again, like we did at Leyton Orient, and grind them down." He warned that Cambridge would defend aggressively, with a big back four. Having said that, "if you run at a couple of those defenders and move them, you will destroy them they are not convincing under pressure."
In Cambridge's attack, Ken gave a strong warning about the "big fella up front", an obvious threat, and the ability of the 'keeper to punt the ball out long and accurately to his own players. Ken spent considerable time stopping and re-starting the video recording, making many different points about Cambridge's approach. The video is a highly effective element in Morecambe's training arsenal, and is the work of club analyst Matt Rushton, who has built up a huge library of recordings, the envy of many other clubs who have been known to borrow from the collection. Matt's work is that meticulous that any player can call up a particular clip to study his own individual performance.