So much for the momentum generated by Tuesday’s thumping of Tranmere, as there wasn’t any – had the frame of the goals been an inch wider and higher, we’d have won comfortably enough, but the truth of the matter is that we had enough chances to see of the Shrews, but either failed to hit the target or didn’t get our shots away.
Having seen the five on Tuesday, there were seven more on Wednesday – but at the wrong end, as Bishop let Stockton rampage past them, then there were all those Southampton conceded on Friday TV, as our 111-year-old record for the highest winning margin away from home in the top flight was broken. Nice while it lasted, I suppose.
It was raining all the way to Shrewsbury, where we got a good look at the overflowing Severn, crossing it seven times instead of the once necessary as the bus’s satnav threw a wobbler. Losing that bit of time it took to get back near the ground, and the rain, meant that we gave up on heading towards the town, and got inside the Wild Pig out of the wet. Once in there, we picked the team and planned our trip to Oxford. They’d given us two rooms at one end of the pub, while the locals had the other two – but we could nip through to get our pints, as they had the better choice. For the closest pub to the ground, it was surprisingly quiet in our end, probably because those who got dropped off at the ground chose the fanzone rather than a walk in the rain. It was a novelty to see home fans being escorted to the ground, as the massive police presence was concentrated on a band of teenage Stone Island models. Once inside, it became apparent that this was the default demographic of Shrews support – plus a few hundred grown-ups and two drums.
As we’d suspected, we lined up:
O’Nien Lynch Willis Hume
Watmore Maguire McGeady
Gooch’s injured ankle opened to the obvious door for McGeady to return from suspension, and we started proceedings kicking away from our fans. Thankfully, the rain had stopped well before kick-off, and the pitch proved pre-match reports of good drainage by showing precious little evidence of the preceding downpour. McGeady’s game is very different to Gooch’s, so where the American had put his head down and run past defenders, Aiden stopped, started, and moved past them in a different manner. With Maguire moving across the pitch behind Grigg, we looked like we might take the home side apart in the early stages, and should have just after ten minutes, when Hume belted down the left, swapped passed with Maguire, and McGeady was nicely teed up in the box – but scooped it over the top. We didn’t much of a close-up view of the ball, as it was kept almost exclusively down the far end, and we could be forgiven for thinking that this was going to be a straightforward win. Unfortunately, you need to get the ball a lot nearer the opposing ‘keeper for those thoughts to become reality, and we failed to set up Grigg to take advantage of our possession and forward play.
As the twentieth minute approached, Shrewsbury put together their first serious bit of possession in our half, and, having been repelled once, came back down the inside left channel, all on their man’s right foot until he swung his left, and the ball skidded low in to the middle where Cummings had time to turn and fire low into Burge’s left-hand corner. First shot, first goal – just our… erm, I was going to say luck, but it’s more to do with style than luck. Typical.
The support from midfield that Grigg needed came soon after when Dobson charged forward to play him into the box, and he laid in off for Maguire, who lashed a shot beyond the keeper, and off the inside of his left-hand post. We were up celebrating, but the ball didn’t hit the right-hand side of the net, but flew across the face of the goal to safety. Aww, man!
The remaining twenty minutes was a story of Shrewsbury making the occasional foray towards our penalty box, and us pressing forward without testing their ‘keeper too much. There was an influx of fans as those affected by flooding on the railways eventually arrived, and they were brought up tp speed by their neighbours in the seats. Maguire was taking the corners, and they were generally good ones, but the Shrews packed their box and defended them well. Watmore saw plenty of the ball, but once he beat his man, he invariably found another in his path, and while Hume, aided by McGeady and Maguire, got to the bye-line more often, he overdid things when he got closest to goal and it was another corner rather than a chance for Grigg.
Thus we ended the half, plus the single added minute, with nothing to show but another yellow for Dobson, but we’d had enough possession to make us think that will a little more guile we could get back into the game and go on to win it. Would there be any changes? Perhaps McNulty for Watmore, as Dunc wasn’t getting much joy and another body in the middle might help create a chance for either him of Grigg.
That wasn’t what we got, though. No Burge, which was a bit of a surprise as we’d not seen him injure himself picking the ball out of the net, as that’s all he’d had to do apart from take a couple of crosses. Big Jon was back between the sticks, and for the outfield players, it was more of the same after Hume hand ended a Shrews attack with a timely tackle. O’Nien, as lively as ever, galloped down the right after Maguire took Dobson’s pass and played it forward. Luke’s low cross looked to have done the hard part when it found Watmore twelve yards out at the back, but instead of a first-time shot, Dunc took a touch and was crowded out. Will the goal never come? When the Shrews tried to play it out from the back rather than hoof it and have it come straight back, Maguire disposed their man and blasted a shot goalwards, only for O’Leary to produce a fine save. Another chance gone, and that added to the frustration in our end, which, rather embarrassingly (as the Stone Island crew reminded us through the scarves wrapped across their faces) manifested itself in fighting towards the back and the intervention of the stewards. Ha’way man, we’re supposed to be on the same side.
McGeady started to influence the game more, with a couple of crosses lust evading Grigg as the home defence crowded around him, and on the hour McNulty replaced Watmore, who must have been feeling the effects of so many games in a short space of time after so long out of the game. Although he tried to stay out right, his natural game is in the middle, so that’s where McNulty drifted. Maguire teed himself up again, but shot low and a foot wide of the ‘keeper’s left hand post as we kept pressing. Those two McGeady crosses that Grigg couldn’t connect with seemed to sum up the Ulsterman’s afternoon – he looked a bit leggy, as they say when players don’t quite manage to do what they’re supposed to. Maguire found the space on the right of the box to curl a cross to the far side, but McGeady’s volley went way over the top. As we were still winning corners, we threw the big lads up, but it was O’Nien with another prodigious leap that turned a subsequent deflected cross into another very nearly moment, as his header bounced off the keeper’s right-hand post and away. It was close, but it had been getting that way for a long time, and we were getting the feeling that it was going to be one of those days when the home defence could go home and we’d still not score. Soon after that attempt, Grigg made way for Kimpioka, and in the ten minutes he had on the pitch he scarcely got a touch – but still had more of the ball than McNulty.
There were only a couple of minutes left when Power got the ball centrally, a few yards outside the box, and hit a screamer that looked destined for glory just under the bar, but O’Leary got enough on it to deflect it onto the bar and behind. No joy from the corner, or the four added minutes, and we were beaten again.
A hugely disappointing result, particularly when we’d had so much of the ball. Where we’d been so efficient on Tuesday, we were inefficient at Shrewsbury. The goal aside, we defended well enough, although Lynch didn’t get the opportunity for a repeat of Tuesday’s run upfield with double pirouette. Had we taken a third of our chances, we’d have won, as the home side only really had the one, and put it away. It was ineffectiveness rather than lack of possession that cost us in the end.
Man of the Match? Solid again from the central two at the back, their goal apart, while O’Nien could perhaps be criticised for allowing the cross that led to it, and a good game from Hume. In the midfield, Dobson took a while to get going and produced another late challenge that brought a yellow, while Power tried to find the right pass. Watmore ran until he couldn’t, but was well marshalled, and McGeady twisted and turned, as he does, without providing either the killer pass or a goal. Grigg had one of those games that was all nearly but not quite, which sums up his time with us – we know it’s in there somewhere, Will, so let’s find a way to get it out. I’ve mentioned the subs already, so for me Maguire was the main man today. Desperately unlucky (or not quite accurate enough, you decide) with the one that hit the post, took all the corners and free-kicks, and generally bossed things behind the attack.