There should be another big crowd this afternoon though I won’t be among them as I’m back in London. You got to fancy us to win today and our five rivals all have difficult games with Barnsley and Charlton playing each other and Portsmouth, Luton and Peterborough all playing away. If we do win, that will put us in a very strong position with exactly half our season gone and still with those two games in hand. With so many games in a short period, I imagine there’ll be some rotation in the starting line-up from Boxing Day and maybe Wyke will get a start. As long as Ruiter doesn’t come on, I’ll be happy and we can forgive McLaughlin his little blooper on Wednesday – not that it crossed the line of course. Moving on quickly, my match prediction is 2-1 to us.
I got the team news around 2.45 and was surprised to see an unchanged starting line-up. I tuned in to SAFSEE and enjoyed the minute’s silence, especially remembering Stan Anderson and Geordie Mulhall who were there when I first went to Roker Park over fifty-five years ago. Shrewsbury won the first corner after Flanagan failed to clear the ball and we were sounding a bit wobbly at the back. We picked up and started to make inroads down the left through Maguire but very soon commentators Barnes and Bennett were saying we were sloppy and hadn’t found our rhythm yet. The atmosphere certainly sounded flat. Bennett said we hadn’t started yet and Shrewsbury were growing in confidence so with fifteen minutes gone it was time we made our mark. Elsewhere Barnsley were already two-up against Charlton. The ref had to warn Shrewsbury about time-wasting before we’d played twenty minutes. I could hear the applause for our subs warming up and I reckoned many in the crowd wanted to see one of them on to gee the side up. I was waiting for McGeady or Maguire to do just that. We won our first corner after twenty-six minutes and that perked everyone up but it came to nothing, like most of our recent corners. We started to have a better spell but didn’t produce any serious chances while news came through that Portsmouth had taken the lead.
On the half-hour mark Shrewsbury scored when Waterfall leaped above our defenders to head a long ball into the corner. Maybe we needed that kick up the arse to really get going but time was getting on. Shrewsbury picked up their second yellow card when Grant fouled Maja and I thought that might well be significant as the game went on. The way we were sounding, though, ten men could probably have handled us anyway. Fleetwood equalized against Portsmouth and that brought a little joy at any rate but then we got another corner and seemed to be putting a few decent moves together at last. A serious talking-to was surely waiting for them in the dressing-room but with a minute to go we were suddenly level when a good pass by Oviedo found Maja moving towards the far post and he headed it into the net. There were four minutes stoppage-time and I wasn’t surprised as there had been a lot of time-wasting. It remained 1-1 at the break and I hoped to see Watmore on asap to scare the hell out of their defenders. It had been a poor display with our ball-control and passing sounding lousy but I still felt we could win it.
With Portsmouth, Charlton and Luton all losing we had a great chance to consolidate our position if we won so I was in a buoyant mood as we kicked off again. Shrewsbury started the brighter and then we had to bring on James for Oviedo who’d been injured in a fall. Ten minutes in we brought on Wyke for Maguire who’d had an off day, though he was in good company there. A great cross by Catts led to a corner for us and the crowd responded accordingly but it ended in an offside decision. The crowd was announced and 33,288 was another very healthy one. We were still sounding weak at the back and a Baldwin error allowed Lewis to shoot but his effort went just wide. With thirty minutes to go I was hoping for Watmore on pronto but Wyke was making his mark and we won a couple of corners close together. Portsmouth were now 3-2 up so we had to win. Watmore replaced Gooch, who’d also been below par and was not happy about being subbed, as we waited to take a corner. There was still about a quarter of the game left and we were doing most of the pressing while Shrewsbury were time-wasting. Baldwin was booked as we entered the final ten minutes and I was beginning to resign myself to a draw unless there was to be a moment of magic. Portsmouth scored another two goals and Peterborough were also well ahead so my mood was hardly lightened. There were five minutes of added-time during which we were lucky not to score an own goal and it ended 1-1.
This was a poor frustrating performance and though McLaughlin had little to do, we didn’t bother their goalie Arnold much either.