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Morecambe 1 Accrington Stanley 0

ONE look at Steve Halford's face at the end said it all. The defender, a crowd favourite and ever present last season, couldn't believe that he had scored in the wrong end - and had given local rivals Morecambe an undeserved Conference victory.
THUMPING HEADER: Steve Halford clears one attack - but was to score an own goal

ONE look at Steve Halford's face at the end said it all. The defender, a crowd favourite and ever present last season, couldn't believe that he had scored in the wrong end - and had given local rivals Morecambe an undeserved Conference victory on New Year's Day.

Head down, he was sickened that just a couple of minutes earlier he had placed a thumping header past team-mate Jamie Speare. However, days later, he says he has almost got over it.

"I was gutted, it could have gone anywhere and unfortunately for me it went in the back of the net," said the defender. "It isn't a problem now, it has happened and there is nothing I can do.

"But everyone has been saying what a great goal it was. If it had been in the other end it would have been one of my best. I have taken a bit of stick off the lads but I have told Paul (Mullin) and Lutel (James) that it was their fault for not scoring at the other end. It was one of those things. I will just add it to my collection - it is my second own goal this season. I just hope I get one in the right end soon."

Boss John Coleman leapt to the defence of his centre half.

"It isn't Steve's fault, he didn't mean to score an own goal. On another day it would have gone out for a corner and the game would have ended goalless - but even to get a draw would have been a traversty. To not get anything out of the game is cruel. I feel like I have been mugged."

Stanley should have had the three points sewn up a long time before Halford headed his own goal. But for once, after a season where Paul Mullin and Lutel James especially have hit the target with regularity, the Reds just couldn't find the back of the net.

The visitors could have been in front as early as the fourth minute but Ged Brannan's effort was tipped over by the outstanding Craig Mawson. Andy Procter shot wide from the edge of the area while a Prendergast effort went straight into Mawson's arms. Shrimps defender Jamie Murphy then kept out a Procter close range effort with his legs following a blistering cross from Paul Howarth.

Morecambe had posed a couple of problems but their first real effort came when Terry McFlynn was judged to have beat the off-side trap on 40 minutes and went one-on-one with Speare who finger-tipped his strike over. Speare, though, was almost caught out after the break when he came out to clear a cross. He ended up on the floor in a crowded penalty area but McFlynn blasted the ball high and wide of the empty net.

But Stanley still posed the major threat and a Prendergast cross caused chaos on the hour. David McKearney almost touched it into his own net before Lutel James pounced on the loose ball at the far post. The striker's sliding effort struck the post and rolled across the goalline - although many felt it was over - before Murphy hacked it clear. The referee, though, waved play on.

Mullin was denied twice in the closing stages - once by Mawson's legs and, two minutes from time, he headed wide from six yards out - much to the agony of boss Coleman. Then Dean Howell broke on the left, charged down the flank, played in a great ball and Halford, diving in with Nick Rogan, sent the ball past Speare.

"There was only one team in the game," fumed Coleman. "They had two attempts on goal - one was five yards off-side and another was the one we made. Their keeper was man of the match which tells the story. He has made three or four world class saves and the lads are distraught.

"On another day, Lutel's chance would be given as a goal. He said he couldn't see but the other players are convinced it went over the line. It is sickening. We did give the ball away too cheaply in midfield and we were wasteful in front of goal - that is something we have to sharpen up on. And maybe we are too tippy-tappy around the box.

"I was also unhappy with the referee who I felt was fair in the first half but only seemed to want to give decisions one way in the second half. He never gave us anything.

"But now we have to bounce back in the league. Morecambe didn't deserve to take anything off us but have gained three points on us. But if we keep playing like that week in week out we won't be far off the play-offs."