A MORECAMBE fan had his long curls shorn for charity on the pitch during half-time of his side's home clash with York City on Saturday.

By that time, visiting boss Billy McEwan looked ready to tear his own hair out after watching City's benevolence help Morecambe take a first-half lead that they went on to double by the end of the match.

A frustrated McEwan took the rare measure of substituting goalkeeper Chris Porter at the interval after he had allowed Garry Thompson's 30-yard 29th-minute free-kick to nestle in his bottom right-hand corner.

And the Minstermen could have trailed by more than one goal after a disjointed first-half display.

The visitors were marginally better after the break but finished deservedly beaten by a well-balanced team who, on this evidence, look strong play-off contenders.

Morecambe blend power with pace and flair with grit. Players like Wayne Curtis and Jim Bentley ensure that the Shrimps will always meet the physical challenge of Conference football, while Michael Twiss is probably the most accomplished striker outside the Nationwide League and Thompson is a speedy outlet.

Sammy McIlroy's newly-inherited team also enjoy the advantage over their Minstermen counterparts of having a settled side who, in recent seasons, have grown accustomed to the rigours of non-League football.

McEwan is building a team while McIlroy has become caretaker manager at a club that has enjoyed 12 years of stability and progress under Jim Harvey before his recent heart attack.

Eight members of the Morecambe side that started Saturday's match faced City last season but only three visiting players - David McGurk, Andy Bishop and Darren Dunning - figured in their team's last visit to Christie Park.

Few of McEwan's side, quickly assembled in the summer and now supplemented by recent loan signings Lee Andrews, Terry Barwick and Evan Horwood, are experienced Conference campaigners and City have faced tough recent matches against promotion-hopefuls Accrington, Grays, Morecambe and in-form Burton Albion.

The Minstermen's next two games against Hereford and Stevenage will also be stern tests, but any criticism and disappointment at the team's faltering play-off challenge should be placed in the context of pre-season expectations and the quality of opposition.

McEwan will still, however, be concerned about his side's current struggle to find the net and knows standards could be higher.

Goals were plentiful in the first three months of the season, but the Minstermen have failed to scored in their four matches in November and have played with a lack of potency that would make Peter Crouch blush.

Andy Bishop and Clayton Donaldson are still two of the Conference's top scorers but were again given few opportunities at Christie Park.

Donaldson prodded wide from Dunning's cross on 20 minutes and dragged a 15-yard effort wide midway through the second half.

He also had a strong penalty claim turned down when Michael Howard appeared to impede his progress with a handball, but his one genuine chance of the match came on 75 minutes after Bishop's pass sent him clear of the Morecambe defence.

Puzzlingly, Donaldson did not utilise his pace to run directly at the home goal and his angled effort drifted wide.

Bishop had to wait until stoppage time for his first sight of goal, blasting into the side-netting after a shot from substitute Joe O'Neill had been cleared off the line.

City's only other notable chance went to debutant Horwood moments earlier, the on-loan Sheffield United left-back, preferred to Dave Merris in the starting line-up, firing a deflected shot wide from 12 yards.

Morecambe had chances to win by a bigger margin. Twiss hit a post from a free-kick on four minutes and Darran Kempson headed over from six yards.

In the second half, an offisde flag denied midfielder Dave Perkins his first goal in five years and another Kempson header was cleared off the line by Jamie Price.

Substitute David Stockdale saved a stinging, swerving drive by Curtis but was beaten by fellow replacement Sean O'Connor's low shot on 81 minutes after Thompson had burst into the penalty box.

Stockdale also stretched out a leg to deny Twiss in the second minute of injury time.

McEwan will have taken encouragement from the performance of on-loan Grimsby signing Barwick, although his similarity in stature and style to Mark Convery and Dunning might not prove compatible in the Minstermen midfield.

Morecambe 2, York City 0

Porter 5 (Stockdale 46, 6), Price 6, Andrews 6, McGurk 6, Horwood 6, Bertos 5, Convery 5 (O'Neill 78), Barwick 7, Dunning 5, Bishop 5, Donaldson 6.

Subs (not used): Dudgeon, Merris, Yalcin

Star man: Barwick - battling debut, but needed more creativity around him.

Morecambe: Steven Drench, John Hardiker, Jim Bentley, Darran Kempson, Michael Howard, Garry Thompson, Ged Brannan (Jimmy Kelly, 90), Wayne Curtis, Dave Perkins, Michael Twiss, Danny Carlton (Sean O'Connor, 79). Subs not used: Paul Lloyd, Keiron Walmsley, Scott Davis.

Yellow cards: Andrews 3, Bishop 23, Horwood 61.

Referee: Ian Nolan (Lancashire). Rating: Reasonable.

Attendance: 1,778.

Weather watch: Calm but chilly.

Game breaker: Clayton Donaldson failed to take York's best chance on 75 minutes and, shortly afterwards, Morecambe scored their second goal.

Match rating: City struggled again to create chances against a strong Morecambe side, who on this evidence look play-off contenders.

McEwan's verdict: "We weren't right in the first half but I thought we had a lot of possession in the second half. We were playing against a very good and very experienced team and did not get embarassed but whoever scored the second goal was always going to be a defining moment and, not for the first time, we got caught on the counter attack."

Player watch

Terry Barwick

Shots on target: 0

Shots off target: 0

Blocked shots: 2

Passes to own player: 18

Passes to opposition: 2

Crosses to own player: 1

Crosses to opposition: 2

Pass success rate: 82.6 per cent

Dribbles ball retained: 2

Dribbles ball lost: 2

Dribble success rate: 50 per cent

Headers: 9

Tackles: 9

Clearances, blocks and interceptions: 1

Free-kicks won: 0

Free-kicks conceded: 1

Offsides: 0

Bookings: 0

Final summary: Terry Barwick made a solid York City debut, showing tenacity with his nine tackles and he was safe in possession, failing to find a team-mate with a pass on only two occasions. His fitness levels also looked decent considering his lack of recent first-team action.

Updated: 09:57 Monday, November 28, 2005