Lancashire FA Marsden Trophy Final
THE Lancashire FA Marsden Trophy was not top of the list of priorities as Stanley challenged for the play-offs, the FA Cup and the FA Trophy.
However that bit of silverware began to mean everything as hopes of the others slipped away.
The two-legged final against Morecambe took on new importance for both teams and the game should have been remembered for two Conference teams battling bravely to be the pride of Lancashire.
But what it will be remembered for will be three sendings off which left a bad taste for everyone at Christie Park - even the winners with boss Jim Harvey not keen to talk about the situation.
Stanley, 2002 holders, had gone to Morecambe chasing the 1-0 deficit and facing an uphill battle against the in-form Shrimps.
It was made worse when Morecambe scored an 18th minute goal and then a Jon Kennedy mistake gifted them a second.
The never-say-die Reds battled back in the second half through Paul Mullin but the last five minutes were unfortunately the ones which will stay with most of the fans.
It started with Morecambe trying to keep the ball near the corner flag which resulted in bad feeling between David Perkins and Stanley sub Dean Calcutt.
Eventually the ball got away, Calcutt did tackle Wayne Curtis from behind but Perkins then got involved and pushed the Reds winger.
A melee ensued with Calcutt on the floor and the majority of the players became involved in either joining in or trying to calm the situatiuon down - before both Calcutt and Perkins were dismissed together.
"At first the referee said it was just a caution and I thought that was fair enough but then the assistant got involved and we were shown a red card each," said Calcutt.
"I was frustrated as they were time-wasting at the corner flag but we would have done the same."
"I know it was a bad tackle, I am not disputing that, but then their player ran over throwing a punch. I was on the floor - then more Morecambe players came over and I can't really remember what happened."
"It just all then kicked off with the incident and everyone seemed to get involved. It was a shame as it wasn't a dirty game with hardly any bad challenges."
"I went to the dressing room and heard someone else had been sent off. I was sure it was going to be Goucky so I was shocked when Rory walked in. He was shaking his head, saying he was sent off for a bad challenge."
Feelings were still running high when Rory Prendergast went to tackle Garry Thompson, caught him on his chest - and got a straight red in the 94th minute.
It was Prendergast's first sending off this season but could prove costly as both wingers will miss games at the start of next season.
And it added to the Reds' already poor disciplinary record with Calcutt and Prendergast becoming the 14th and 15th red cards respectively for Stanley.
Former Morecambe hero John Coleman was gracious in defeat - but knows that valuable lessons have got to be learnt from their first season in the Conference.
"We can have no complaints about the result," said the Reds boss.
"We can take getting beat but I had a chat with the referee and I said I disagreed with both sendings off."
"The first one was in front of me and Dean Calcutt fouled the lad - there is no getting out of that - but then their lad jumped in and punched him, Dean was on the ground and five more players joined in. Someone saw something I didn't as I was looking right at it."
"I didn't think Rory's was but have had a chat with the lads and they say it was so fair enough. I don't think there was a bad challenge in both games up until that point."
"It turned sour after what had been a good advertisement for Lancashire football. It was two good teams who created chances, had a go, there was a good atmosphere and congratulations to Morecambe."
Coleman continued: "We squandered a couple of chances and started brightly but they scored with their first shot on 18 minutes which I thought was bad defending by us."
This was when a Terry McFlynn corner was cleared to Curtis on the edge of the area. He wasn't closed down and he had time to tee the ball up and belt it into the top corner of the net.
Up until this point, Kennedy touched over a McFlynn cross and Paul Mullin had a couple of bites at a Prendergast cross but the ball was eventually cleared.
However, Morecambe's top scorer Danny Carlton was a handful with balls over the top which almost caught out the Reds' backline.
But Stanley could have equalised when Ged Brannan nipped in after Morecambe tried to play themselves out of trouble on the edge of the area on 30 minutes, and he set up Mullin who could only sky the ball over the bar.
And there was more agony when, on 41 minutes, a Peter Cavanagh quick free kick curled round the wall and hit the base of the post before bouncing out to safety.
But, with the action going from end to end, Garry Hunter found Carlton with a defence-splitting ball but Kennedy produced a two handed save to keep the score down.
Coleman would have told his side to keep it tight in the early stages of the second half but he couldn't legislate for the next goal.
With just 27 seconds on the clock, Cavanagh sent the ball back to Kennedy, he took one touch, went to kick it as Carlton closed in and the ball bounced off the Morecambe striker and could have gone anywhere - but rolled into the back of the net.
"That was a freak goal and it was a kick in the teeth for us," said Coleman.
"We have gone into the game with a positive frame of mind and took the game to them so that was hard."
But, within three minutes, Stanley were back in the tie. A Prendergast corner was headed on by Brannan, Andy Procter had a strike at the ball in the chaos and it fell to Mullin who swung his leg out and the ball flashed into the bottom corner of the net.
It was in front of the travelling Stanley fans who enjoyed the moment despite the final not going their side's way.
And, on the hour, the Reds could have had another when Brannan sent Prendergast through, he fired in another great cross but it was just behind the inrushing unmarked Mullin.
But Carlton remained a threat and Kennedy made sure Morecambe didn't get too far ahead after the striker had got the better of Robbie Williams on the wing. He played in a great cross for McFlynn but the Stanley keeper used his legs to deny the Shrimps.
Then came the flashpoint as an otherwise entertaining game descended into a pitch brawl.
"We have got a bad reputation but we are not kickers. I don't think Dean's was a sending off - he got sent off at Tamworth for getting slapped on the back of his head. But unfortunately Dean gets himself into areas that he can maybe get himself away."
"If you don't get into troublesome areas you don't get sent off. Paul Mullin doesn't get himself sent off although I know they are different types of characters."
"Somewhere along the line you have got to take yourself out of these situations which is the only way to deal with it. The lads were upset but I am sure they will bounce back."
And Coleman refused to think fitness played a part in the loss for part-time Stanley.
"We matched them for fitness, I would never hide behind that. But, at the end of the day, their players haven't been to work, finished at 5 and jumped into their cars and drove here. Nor did they do that last week. Fitness is not a problem and it will be even better next season when we are full-time."
- THE Football Association has confirmed that no action will be taken against Exeter City for the alleged registration anomalies surrounding Dwane Lee. The club could have faced a points loss and fine. The matter was handed to the FA because of the conflict of interest with members of the Conference board.