Fan’s View 2017/18 (no.43) Shrewsbury away

Article by Paul Beasley Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018  

Shrewsbury Town 3 Oxford United 2

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After a win and/or impressive performance I feel enthused to bang out a Fan’s View.

After each horrendous defeat (and there have been a lot to choose from this season) spewing out words in anger acts as a necessary safety valve.

This FV falls into neither of these categories. I feel no motivation whatsoever to write it but having come so far without failing to deliver something, I’m determined to keep going to the bitter end.

There wasn’t a lot I could blow a gasket about and even if I did want to in whose direction would I vent my fury. Karl Robinson has to work with a clearly inadequate squad that was assembled by someone else who had not grasped what is required in EFL 1 in terms of both skill and character.  Tiger has only owned the club for a matter of months.

This was yet another game which spoke to me loud and clear that we are not good enough. We don’t need to be reminded of our glaring weaknesses almost on a weekly basis but time and again we are. I’m now just sitting there in silence waiting for the inevitable. Well that is what it feels like.

With eight games remaining, the fixture and postponement gods decreed that our last four away would include visits to the top three. They’ve broken away by some distance from fourth placed Rotherham and the two that go up automatically will without question come from Wigan, Blackburn or the Shrews. The latter the most likely to miss out.

Monday’s opponents bizarrely had scored fewer league goals than us and they’ve even played a match more. Work that one out. Defensive acumen however provides much of the explanation as to why they are where they are and we are where we are. They’d let in 27 fewer goals than us.

I wasn’t particularly expecting us to get anything out of this but I did think we’d put up a better and more spirited display than we did.

Only losing 3-2 might suggest that we made a decent fist of it but after conceding the first we never truly looked capable of getting back on level terms.

After the home side’s second it really looked like they would go on to boss the game and when we pulled one back they just upped their game and restored their two goal advantage two minutes later. We had nothing on the pitch or on the bench capable of upping anything.

When we got our second there was still 22 minutes playing time but we didn’t really give it a go. In those final few minutes of added time we had quite a lot of the ball but were totally incapable of delivering anything remotely worrying into the Shrews box to give them a scare and make them do some proper defending.

Their league position tells us that Shrewsbury have a lot about them but they’d lost at second bottom Rochdale three days earlier. (NB: The Dale visit the Kassam for the second last game of the season).

There were times when I thought anyone watching who was unaware of the league table would not have known if Shrewsbury were a good or average side. Were their good spells what they normally produced on a much more consistent basis or something they had to be at their very best to come up with?

I thought there wasn’t much in it in the first half although we rode our luck at the back quite a few times. At the other end the shots we did have seemed to lack venom but on reflection their accuracy might have caused a bit more concern for keeper Dean Henderson than first appeared. What an annoying young person that loanee from Man Utd was.

Their first goal was one of those bent in free-kicks that are quite difficult to defend whether or not a touch is applied. This time no contact was made and in it went. I can never quite work out whether in such circumstances the keeper, the back line, or nobody is to blame. Perhaps it is just one of those things. But when was the last time we scored like that?

Whether or not the free-kick should have been awarded anyway was debatable. Referee Seb Stockbridge did okay.  Fans often think referees get things wrong when they award free-kicks and also when they don’t. It was the same here but neither side benefitted more than the other.

That we got to the interval just one behind was a relief and if the game had continued in similar vein maybe we would have been in with a bit of a shout.

That’s not how it panned out though. The second half had only just begun when Shrewsbury doubled their lead. They won a duel in midfield and were able to play the ball down their right wing to Shaun Whalley,the scorer of their first. He was easily able to pull the ball back and when it fell loose someway out it was not one of those horrible black shirts first onto it but yellow and blue (them not us). A massive deflection gave Eastwood no chance. Somewhat lucky but which team had done most to make their luck? Or deserved it?

Now they just ran through us, passed through us and dribbled past us as if we were mere statues. We could easily have conceded three or four more with the bar once coming to our rescue.

Somehow we didn’t and the much maligned Wes Thomas had only been on the field for two minutes when he scored. He was in the right place for a tap in. It wasn’t a fluke that that was where he was. Joe Rothwell, our most impressive player, had come forward with the ball before passing wide to Ruffels. With his second touch the ball was cut back and in Oxford fashion it was not dealt with effectively. After a bit of it bumbling about instead of being cleared, we’d scored.

Their third was again created down their right flank. We had more men on the premises than they did but didn’t bother to mark properly. James Henry was shockingly poor. He did no more than stand and walk, taking no responsibility whatsoever. I’m a big fan but playing like that should equal being shown the door. Cameron Brannagan at least showed some effort but might as well not have bothered. Sliding in made it a piece of piss to beat him. Stay on your bloody feet, man.

It’s no wonder we lose more football matches than we win.

Was it a good finish by the un-marked Whalley or was he looking for a colleague at the far post? Why didn’t we make a tiny effort to get something on the ball? Why did we have players there or thereabouts just stood in front of Eastwood probably making it harder for him to keep the ball out whilst Whalley wasn’t the only unmarked forward? Bryn Morris had freedom too. Teams must be so grateful to come up against a defence as amateurish as ours. (NB: I’ve watched the Brackley Town back line this season a couple of times and would seriously question which is the better, theirs or ours.)

On his performance it was right and proper that it was Rothwell who bagged our second when he let fly from some way out. At the time I thought this was another shot that took a deflection but replays make me unsure. It was a good hit anyway.

Earlier I said we are not good enough. That’s not very specific. Not good enough for what? On this evidence we’re not good enough to beat those fighting it out for automatic promotion. But are we good enough to beat those below us in the table? Oldham visit on Saturday and they are in better form than us. They’ve gained double the points we have from the last six matches. The omens are not good.

We are so lacking as a team. Old themes I know but where are the characters, the leaders, the motivators and the captains? Your football club needs you. Where are you? Or more to the point, who are you?

Some footballers shine in a good side but to some extent that’s easy. The mark of the more valuable players are those that can do it when the chips are down, when those around them are at best putting on a mediocre display. They can dig in and grind out, dragging others with them. Is there such a person, or persons, in our midst?

Eastwood wasn’t particularly culpable for this set back. He made a few saves and didn’t appear wanting when the ball was in the air and with such a flimsy defence in front of him surely he deserves a good slice of sympathy.

None of our centre half pairings we’ve put out this season has given me a comfortable feeling. A check of Soccerbase using the player filter gives the stats, unfortunately it includes league and cup games but nevertheless gives a reasonable indication of what’s gone on.

Curtis Nelson has played 19 games and of those we both won and drew six, but lost seven. Extrapolate that over the whole season to date and we’d be only three points better off than we are now. Boy do we miss him though.

Aaron Martin has played 16 games. Six of which were won and the same number lost with four draws. Extrapolation here indicates we would already be safe on 53 points.

Forget Williamson. We lost twice as many games than we won when he played. His record brings just a point a game. Relegation.

Forget Charlie Raglan because for some reason we didn’t want him.

Rob Dickie came in late so it is unfair to point much of a finger as the decline was well set in before he became a regular but he’s played eight games that have seen us pick up just four points. Relegation.

If I must, onto John Mousinho. His record is won 11, drawn eight and lost 19. Work that through and you get 42 points so far, four shy of what we’ve actually got on the scoreboard. Interestingly of the nine games he’s not played, we won three drew five and were beaten in just one.

There’s probably many flaws in all this and no way can it be a precise science but does give some food for thought.

I’ve stood up for Mous when he’s been slagged off but each time I see him now I’m thinking he’s no L1 centre-half. The number of times he doesn’t get the ball away when he could and plays us into trouble is alarming. A hospital ball back to Eastwood could have seen our custodian out for the season. Mind you I thought it was madness when Eastwood rolled it out to his captain in the first place. As for the captain thing I can’t see any captaincy of note from him.

There is a player there though. Midfielder? He reads the game well, can glide past opponents and pass to the feet of colleagues. It was Mous who robbed John Nolan, and carried the ball forward before claiming the assist for Rothwell’s goal.

When assessing centre-halves, the quality of the defending to their left and right, and in front of them too, has to be taken into consideration. The full-back berths have not been occupied by trustworthy defensive types who make it difficult for wide men running at them to operate. Indeed at times the space afforded opponents has allowed crosses to come in with no resistance to face.

Christian Ribeiro is a sad loss. Dwight Tiendalli had obviously seen better days and wasn’t really any answer but I never thought he was as awful as many did. Ricardinho is good on the crafty Brazilian trickery front but not when solid L1 fullbackery is needed and that is the first and foremost requirement for a full-back at that level. Todd Kane has not set the world alight but is certainly not the most mediocre of the mediocre bunch with which he now plies his trade. Possibly one for the future? Ashley Smith-Brown is a loan signing that has long had me asking why? Any Manchester City pedigree he may have has been kept well hidden. Left back is a huge problem. Ruffels tried his best in that berth but it clearly isn’t his natural position.

We lack experience in midfield. Apart from Henry whom I’ve already mentioned, the others are very young and don’t have that many games to their names. There’s a possibility they will all make a very good living out of football but as yet none has stepped up to the mark to demonstrate a maturity way beyond their years. That’s not a criticism particularly when the more mature in our squad are themselves not showing that maturity and helping bring the younger ones along by encouragement and example.

The worse we are as a unit the greater the chance that the better players within that unit will be off. Agents sniff around looking to earn their buck and some. They infiltrate, they tap up, they set expectations, and unsettle. I believe there was one such man sat next to Ryan Ledson’s Mum at the New Meadow. The agent was in her ear no doubt saying that if her boy were to sign with him wages could be multiplied four or five fold because he’s got contacts at Championship clubs who would love the talented youngster. And who doesn’t want to see such a jump in salary?

We’re striker light. Neither of the two seem capable of playing a full 90 minutes, or it could be that the one starting never does enough to justify remaining on the field of play for the duration. Is it that the one coming off the bench always leaves the biggest impression? I’m talking Jon Obika and Wes Thomas but we had another sighting of Agon Mehmeti here too.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed with what we’ve got by way of strikers. Obika is scoring at exactly the same rate as he did at the other end of the A420; one goal every three league starts. Not good enough. Thomas has the very same record since he’s been here; thirteen from 39 league starts. At least he’s now made double figures for 2017/18 but we really need more. That’s not a great return when his job is first and foremost to find the back of the net. Mehmeti started this game okay but then faded. What I’ve seen of him so far he looks no more than ordinary.

This leaves more wide attacking winger types. Robbie Hall is out for the season and reading between the lines it doesn’t sound good. Malachi Napa looked more lightweight than ever. One robust challenge sent him over the touch line and out of play there’s so little to him. For me it was a good fair tackle but we got a free-kick. His replacement Isaac Buckley-Ricketts is showing that he’s got zero chance of getting a place in his parent club’s first team. Do we owe the light blue half of Manchester something?

It looks so very bad. We need to develop a solid shape that will remain to the end of the season and at the very least make us hard to beat. For me a bonus would be for a player or two to shine as well and perhaps then we’d pick up a win or two. That’s all that’s needed isn’t it?

But where are the teams that are worse than us? We need four of them.

Bury, yes. They’ve played a game more than us and are sixteen points behind us. We’re so crap though that we let them do the double over us.

Northampton, probably. They are six points worse off than we are but have played two matches more and are on an even poorer run than us. (Yes it is possible).

I’d say after that you’re struggling for comfort.

Third bottom Rochdale have only lost one in eight. If they win their game in hand they will be two behind and no doubt will fancy coming to us. (Doesn’t everyone?)

MK Dons are probably better candidates. Having played a game more they’re four pts back and face Wigan next with their final game being at Shrewsbury. They have won three of their last five though. (We haven’t)

AFC Wimbledon might be another because they are behind us with one game fewer to play and currently are picking up points at about the same pathetic rate as us. They too are still to face Wigan.

Then there’s Oldham and Walsall. The Sadlers have lost the last four without scoring.

So with no faith at all I’ll say Bury, Cobblers, Wimbledon and Walsall. However if I was coming up with such a list as a fan of one of these other clubs I’d certainly have Oxford listed for the drop.

If we lose on Saturday the already heavy gloom will take on osmium like properties. If we win the mood will be lightened massively. Problem is we don’t look like pulling off the latter.

(There, with no motivation I’ve somehow produced one of the longest FVs covering just a single game. I’m of a mind not to be beaten. Wish I could say the same about ……….. )

This entry was posted on Tuesday, April 3rd, 2018 at 11:15 pm and appears under Fan's View, News Items. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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