Some clever use of his squad, in terms of who came on early in the second half, dragged three points kicking and screaming from a game that looked unlikely to bring more than one at the break. Goals from Beckles (og, thanks) and O'Nien did the necessary damage, and in the end, we were well worth the victory.
It might only have been ten days or so since our last game, but the way this season has been going, with two games most weeks, it seems like several yonks. We’ve passed the time by watching those videos the club put online – you know, the ones that got something in your eye, about the time in 1973 we brought the FA Cup back to Wearside, and the one about the history of the club. Fantastic stuff. Some of us installed some more seats at the Sol – you’ve seen the photos but wait until you see it in real life next Saturday. We even saw England win in Spain after the dullest game on record in an empty ground in Croatia. In short, we survived
Today was a new ground, if not a new club, for us. Gay Meadow was just too expensive to maintain, mainly because of the upkeep of the coracle which had to be launched by the Fred the Reluctant Groundsman every time the ball was hoofed out of the ground and into the Severn. That and the huge fishing net Fred carried to scoop the ball out of the water, as it needed constant repair. Our last visit was a goal-free non-event in September 1988, and eighteen months earlier we had Benno’s deflection of Mark Proctor’s shot to thank for the win under Bob Stokoe in our ultimately unsuccessful bid to stay in Division Two. A scrappy game, in which Dave Swindlehurst came up against a young Nigel Pearson, and was booked for his part in the ensuing tussle.
This time, it wasn’t that early a start, giving us chance to stock up on bait at Hockings in Spenny (purveyors of all manner of pies) but we still had plenty of time to discuss whether I should still refuse to go to the Castle pub in Shrewsbury because they’d refused us entry over thirty years ago on the grounds of Boro smashing up parts of the town a few weeks before our visit. I won that argument, as I’m damned good at bearing a grudge…and there were loads of other places I’d been recommended. We ended up in the Prince of Wales, where they had Dunston v Gateshead on the telly (fancy them in the next round?) a bowling green out the back with seats from the old ground, lots of nice beer, and an auction for a signed Shrewsbury shirt - which we avoided. We sorted out a ticket for a ticketless fan - a straight reciprocation for the Wimbledon one, as it turned out, examined the Shrews memorabilia, and generally had a good time. They also did a bus to the ground, but we had to walk almost halfway there to get to it. Still, great craic with the home fans, and great to meet up with fellow travellers.
As ever, it was a sell-out away following heading for New Meadow, and with the sun in our faces, we kicked towards our end.
Matthews Flanagan Baldwin James
Maguire Sinclair Maja McGeady
The first five minutes didn't see the ball in our half, and the home side's most potent attacking force was the bloody drummer over to our right. At this point, nobody in the ground could honestly see anything other than a convincing Sunderland win, it was so one -sided. We won several corners, Catts had a shot blocked, and the home defence looked increasingly jittery as they conceded free-kicks in dodgy positions - confirming what their fans had told us beforehand.
Then we started losing tackles and giving the ball away in midfield making the defence have to work hard. Baldwin and James in particular put in some sterling work, but for large parts of the half the ball just kept coming back to them. Thankfully, the Shrews' forwards had been practicing with banjos and barn doors, and that, combined with the usual calm and assured presence of McLaughlin, saw us hold firm. Nowt but just, mind, as one effort bounced up against the underside of the bar, while at the other end Sinclair and Maja were restricted to a couple of half chances, and Catts, after a rare piece of clever play down our right, volleyed over at the back post. We alternated between trying, and failing, to play it out from the back, and just hoofing it towards Maja and Sinclair, who always had a big bloke on their backs. The visiting fans were understandably a bit worried, and we didn't really crank up the volume in the first half as, after the opening onslaught, there was precious little to get fired up about.
There was a single added minute, and we were more than happy to see the end of those 46 minutes. Suggestions as to who would make way for whom filled the interval, but there were no immediate changes as we started the second period. We had a bit more life about us, as players had obviously been threatened with replacement. We won a corner or two, then Ross really earned his corn. Off went Maja in favour of Gooch, and a couple of minutes later, Honeyman replaced McGeady. The impact was immediate, with the pair harrying and chasing like a pair of ratting terriers, and that got the fans going. The Roker Roar made itself known to the previously noisy home fans, thankfully somebody stuck the drumsticks where the sun don't shine, and there was blessed relief from that nonsense for a while. When Honeyman was fouled, the free became a corner which caused all sorts of mayhem, eventually bouncing in off a defender. 1-0 og, who cares? I'll take that.
From then on, Shrewsbury mentally, if not physically, were beaten. Sure, they came forward, but our defence held out, even if it did get a bit hairy on occasion. Down at than other end, we went close to sealing things a couple of times, with Sinclair doing well to feed James, and Gooch heading his cross wide. Then on came O'Nien for McGeouch, adding yet another pair of ridiculously energetic legs to our cause, and he took barely a minute to confirm the win. Not for the first time, Maguire used the full width of the pitch to collect a clearance on the right, and away he went, eventually rolling the ball inside, where Gooch found his path to goal blocked. Our favourite Californian turned and clipped a lovely pass to O'Nien in the box, and it was a simple task to thump the ball low to the keeper's left and in. 84 minutes gone, and we were home and dry. The drumsticks were returned to their sunless repository, their fans began to slink away, the now obligatory mag in the home end was ejected, and we sang our victory songs as the four added minutes were played out.
Boom, there she goes, another away win, and a bit of clever tactical stuff from Ross the Boss. This was very much a squad win, and Lads of the quality of Gooch and Honeyman on the bench is something other teams in our division simply don't have. There was plenty of back-slapping on the way to the coaches, and a chance meeting with my Sunday morning football captain John Raine, local-ish resident these days, and present next to me at our last win on the banks of the Severn.
Man of the Match? Toss-up between Baldwin and James, and I'll give it to the latter, although the manager undoubtedly deserves the most praise for his switch of both personnel and tactics.
Happy days, and we'll see you in Donny on Tuesday.