With a draw at Millton Keynes, which would have been regarded as a very good point had our home form matched that we’ve shown away from Wearside, still very fresh in our memories thanks to there being two games almost every week, we were off to Shrewsbury. On our third long trip in eight days, the Lads put in arguably their worst away league performance of the season to lose their unbeaten away record. After O’Brien’s opener in the middle of the first half, we produced some defending that wouldn’t have been out of place in a “how not to” video to surrender that lead. Mind, there were at least two occasions where a second was denied in scarcely believable goalmouth scrambles, but at the end of the ninety minutes we deserved exactly what we got. Losing Willis with a kneecap somewhere it shouldn’t have been was an obvious contributory factory, but the manner of the goals conceded was reminiscent of a certain goalie of a few years ago. Camp coffee, anyone?
There having only been a couple of days since the last match, there’s not much been to debate other than the possibility if resting a player of two – with the most likely being Leadbitter, although I’d rather he was starting than resting. We thought that O’Nien’s typically feisty (at times a tad too feisty, to be honest) at the weekend could well keep him in the side, and that Johnson’s direct and positive style livened us up a fair amount – although he could well be used as an impact sub again. That and the lack of apparent movement on the takeover front, and while they say that no news is good news, I’d rather be hearing of some progress with Dreyfus and co. On the positive front, the salary cap has been removed, with an independent panel withdrawing it because it was stupid beyond belief. The actual wording is that “the panel’s verdict has determined this was in breach of the Professional Football Negotiating and Consultative Committee’s constitution.” But we know that they really meant that it was “stupid beyond belief”. The Professional Footballers’ Association called it “unlawful and unenforceable”, but we know that they actually mean “stupid beyond belief”. Despite this, it’s a bit late for clubs who had the wherewithal to fund bigger transfers in the last window – perhaps “they” will do something meaningful by way of compensation, such as reopening the window for another month. Far too sensible a suggestion, I expect.
McLaughlin, no, Power © Willis Wright not© Vokins
Scowen O’Nien no, Leadbitter
McGeady Wyke O’Brien Jones
…so there were some rests I didn’t foresee, and a return, in McLaughlin, that I didn’t foresee either, meaning that we had four proper defenders on the field for the first time in a while. Jones was indeed rewarded for his directness and O’Nien for his feistiness, while there were no places for Power or Leadbitter. Those two were joined on the bench by Burge, (with Matthews given his chance to start for some reason), Diamond, Maguire, Sanderson, and Gooch. Once again, a strong set of subs which would be the envy of any team in our league, I reckon. The commentators made a big thing of a former player – and youthful mag – wanting to get one over on us, but as the only former player I could find was Donald Love, I’d no idea who they were on about. Turns out it was Curtis Main
As they warmed up, it became apparent that Power was playing, and was captain, and Leadbitter was out there as well. – no McLaughlin or O’Nien. No idea what that did with the bench, mind. We defended the end to the left, as we always seem to – the end we would have occupied on what would have been an overnighter for many of us. I was still wondering exactly what Burge had done to warrant a demotion to the bench when the game started, and was still wondering when it ended.
After a bit of defending on our left, the ball was cleared from a free-kick, but came back for Willis to slip and land on his arse with a bang you could hear in back in Sunderland. A few minutes later and he was off on a stretcher with what looked like a knee injury - Sanderson on and seven minutes played – or rather seven minutes since we kicked-off. What kind of start is that? They had a free from the restart, which we cleared, and Matthews collected low at the near post soon after when a ball came in from our left. After a brief foray to the edge of their box, we had to defend on our right, conceding a corner. This came in low to the near post, from where it was partially cleared, with Power hoofing it over halfway for a throw to the Shrews. We then went down the left, but were repelled and had another go before switching wings before and being forced back again. McGeady had moved to the left and Jones to the right as we tried to build from the back, thus drawing some pressure on our central defenders. In response, Wyke and O’Brien started to close down the home defence, but we conceded a couple of the usual free kicks near halfway to make that up-field hard work a bit pointless.
Most of our attacking was coming down the left, and a deep cross was headed away from the back post before we won a free out on the right near the flag, which Grant slung in very deep – too deep, giving possession to the home side. The comment of choice in the commentary box was that any Shrews pass is “looking for Love” - which is a decent one. O’Brien, Wyke, and Jones combined to win a throw near flag, which Scowen got to the near post and which was headed back for another go. A neat back heel from Geads, backtracking, set Vokins away and he got it to O’Brien, who couldn’t get any space and committed a foul in trying to win the ball back.
The game’s first shot was pretty wayward, and from Shrewsbury, on twenty minutes, which said much for the effectiveness of both sides in their attempts to make a difference.. Matthews took the goal kick, a Shrew headed it back over his defence – apparently trying to find Love - from out on our left near halfway, and O’Brien was away, galloping into the centre of the box and finishing very nicely for 1-0 with our first attempt. Get in there. Not a player who’s impressed me much since his arrival, but you can’t argue with a finish like that. Wyke took a high boot on halfway for another free kick that O’Brien chased down the left, getting it back from near the line but we couldn’t build from it and Shrewsbury won it back. A cross from our right caused a bit of confusion at the near post, but we couldn’t profit from the loose ball and it was carried out of danger.
A bit of Shrews pressure caused a bit of a scruffy, but thankfully effective, defending on about forty minutes and we got it up the other end to win a corner on our right. Wyke’s header was kicked off the line at the front post, then a follow-up from Jones when Sanderson’s effort was blocked was somehow kept out. Damned close, and five added minutes were announced as the home side went down our end and put the ball behind for a goal kick.
A goal up at the break, and just about deserved as they’d somehow kept out that chance of ours just before the break and we’d only had one hairy moment at the back. Satisfactory, I’d say, and especially so when pictures purporting to be Monsieur Dreyfus (he was wearing a mask) at Montgomery Meadows appeared on my screen.
No changes for the second half, and the home side looked a bit more lively after their cuppas, taking the game to us, but we countered that by passing it about nicely, although without any real outcome. As the snow started to fall, it was 1-1 on 51 minutes when we failed to deal with a hanging cross curling in from our left, with Matthews and Sanderson going up together and simply knocking it up in the air, then watching as the ball dropped and was forced over the line. Aw, ha’way man, that was an easy one to deal with.
We built an attack from the restart, winning a corner on the right which came right in to the middle and caused a repeat of the 42nd minutes chaos as the home side once again somehow managed to prevent it crossing the line. Damn close, and that prompted the replacement of Jones by Gooch. On the hour, a nicely dinked cross by Gooch, who’d jinked to the line on our left in the box, found Wyke, but the header went just over the bar. Soon after, Geads hit a low one wide of the near post, then a couple of minutes later it went all wrong. 67 gone, and a run down their left ended with a cross from deep to the back post which landed at the feet of an attacker, who hit it first time into the net from a couple of yards. Two minutes later and it almost happened again, with Matthews making a mess of dropping onto a free from our left and the ball squirming into the net - but the flag was up. Why? No idea, it certainly wasn’t offside and nobody fouled the keeper. Who knows. Phew.
With a quarter of an hour to go, Johnson went for bust and replaced Power and Vokins with O’Nien and Diamond as he dispensed with fullbacks and went sort of three/two-and- a- half at the back.
McGeady’s cross from the right was again met by Wyke, but the header lacked power and was easy for the keeper at the foot of the near post on 76 minutes as we applied a bit of pressure. Wright was, for some reason, hanging up in the home box and got his head to a cross form Scowen, but somehow managed to thump it wide of the post. He did right to bury his face in the wet turf. By this time I’d completely lost touch with who was supposed to be playing where, as Wright joined Wyke up top, McGeady drifted all over the field behind Wyke, and O’Nien kept popping up all over the shop.
Carrying on in that popping up all over the shop vein, O’Nien was fouled in the middle 25 yards out with seconds remaining and another five of added time just announced. Geads lined it up, and whipped it over the wall, drawing a fine save and win corner on our left. For the third time, the Shrews managed to hack it away as a goal threatened. We flashed a shot well wide of the near post from the right as the seconds ticked away, and eventually ran out of ticks.
Boom, there it went – our unbeaten away record, that is, and now I have to come up with a Man of the Match. Certainly not Matthews – look, I know that Burge has his detractors, but he’s no Monty or Tommy One, this is League one, and he’s by far the better of our experienced keepers. Young Patterson has yet to be have seen enough for me to decide if he’s a better option than Matthews, but on tonight’s showing he has to be - if there’s a genuine need to drop Burge in the first place. Which there isn’t. Power was what Power’s been as a full-back, in that he’ll try and he’s OK if he’s carrying the ball out of defence, but clearly not a specialist. Vokins was lively, and even got in a couple of crosses while attempting to forge a relationship down the left. Willis – well, two minutes is no time to make any sort of impressions, and his replacement , Sanderson, was involved in that jump with Matthews that lead to a goal. Wright was his usual self, but suffered from the change in personnel and should have scored late on. We know exactly what Leadbitter will bring (right and in the ait whatever the delivery is to be) and he was decent in delivering that usual stuff, while Scowen generally ratted about and tried to find the forward pass without much success. Jones, after a promising debut at the weekend, did what wingers tend to do and produced nowt in his second game, while McGeady did the usual dancing past people and rolling balls into clever spaces. Big Chas had his moments, but didn’t quite manage to do anything dangerous with the chances he got, while O’Brien did. Of the subs, Gooch had a couple of decent runs, as did Diamond, and O’Nien was everywhere but without any real effect, while Sanderson I’ve already mentioned.
I think that’s the lot of them covered, so I’ll give my award (a pint in the Sunderland pub of the recipient’s choice one this lockdown nonsense is over) to O’Brien for a well-taken goal and a hand in a couple of other chances that we should have done better with in an otherwise disappointing performance…