STOKE CITY’S U23s Checkatrade Trophy dreams suffered a major setback on Tuesday night as Morecambe ran out undeserved 3-1 winners at the Globe Arena.
The Potters, who were cruelly undone by Bradford City on matchday one, made a rod for their own back by gifting the hosts the opening goal of the game after just three minutes.
Salt was rubbed into the wounds when skipper Liam Edwards was dismissed shortly after for a clumsy challenge, before the home side doubled their advantage against the run of play in the 25th minute.
Incredibly, the opening period ended with further frustration as a counter-attack down the right resulted in Peter Murphy prodding home from close range to stun the valiant visitors.
Stoke started the second half in buoyant mood despite their disadvantage and soon had a reward to show for their efforts thanks to a superb long-range strike from Charlie Adam, who was one of six players in the side with first-team experience.
Chances were aplenty for Hodges’ troops for the remainder of the evening, yet despite the best attempts of Adam, on several occasions, Mame Diouf and Julien Ngoy, the hosts held on for three crucial points to firm their grip on qualification from Group C.
The encounter was barely 180 seconds old by the time Edwards was caught off-guard on the edge of his own penalty area, allowing Jack Dunn to capitalise and thump a powerful effort into the corner of the net.
Edwards’ evening took an even bigger turn for the worse soon after when he was dismissed by referee Andy Haines for a late challenge on Cole Stockton.
Ironically, it was the Shrimps striker who dust himself down to double Morecambe’s advantage midway through the first-half, after bursting free of Phil Bardsley and clipping the ball into the far corner, beyond the reach of Jakob Haugaard.
Frustratingly, the game could have been back on level-pegging a couple of minutes before Stockton’s intervention, with the impressive and determined Adam rattling the woodwork with a stunning free-kick from 30-yards.
Despite the two-goal and one-man deficit, it was the Potters who were asking the majority of the questions as the opening period wore on.
Academy youngster Renee-Pringle was a constant menace on the right flank whilst first-team duo Diouf and Adam both went close with stinging efforts as the visitors pressed to get back into the game.
Just as Hodges’ troops had been enjoying by far their most productive spell of the evening, the Shrimps delivered an ultimately devastating blow seconds before the interval.
A classic counter-attack culminated in captain Murphy latching onto a superb volleyed ball into the box by Aaron McGowan, and firing into an empty net after Haugaard attempted to block Lee Molyneux’s initial effort.
Stoke needed a response, and they needed it quickly! They got it in the third minute of the second period.
Adam, persistently the driving force in the City side, burst over the halfway line with the ball, brushed aside two players, and then hit a stunning strike with the outside of his left foot beyond the reach of Danijel Nizic from 25-yards.
All of a sudden there was a sense of nervousness and anxiety within the home ranks, and those very nearly turned to despair when Diouf rose highest to meet Bardsley’s centre and glanced a clever header inches wide of the post.
Marc Muniesa then went close to stabbing home a trademark Adam delivery soon after, before the Morecambe stopper inadvertently stopped Adam’s stinging effort from the edge of the ‘D’, after his strike clipped the trailing leg of defender Dean Winnard.
The visitors continued to up the ante in a bid to force a second goal of the evening, yet it was Nizic who came out on top when Adam tried to curl home a speculative effort from distance, before the stopper followed that up by bravely blocking Diouf’s close range effort.
Hodges thrust Dominic Telford into the action late on in a bid to add a further creative edge to his side, although despite maintaining their momentum, the hosts held on to claim a crucial, albeit slightly fortuitous, victory.