Fan’s View 2020/21 – No.46 – Shrewsbury at home

Article by Paul Beasley Wednesday, April 14th, 2021  

SEASON 2020/21 No.46: SHREWSBURY AT HOME

Pre-match thinking

We enter the final straight with 40 of the 46 games completed. Thus far we’ve played 18 of our 23 L1 rivals twice but to date there’s been no meeting with Shrewsbury which is down to firstly frost and then the FA Cup run our visitors had.

They started the season dreadfully and on 25 November, when they were second bottom with just nine points from 13 games, manager Sam Ricketts was sacked. Steve Cotterill was appointed almost immediately and since then the Shrews have won 11, drawn 8 and lost 6 of the subsequent 25 league fixtures. That’s play-off form.

Cotterill has largely been an absent boss who is still suffering the effects of Covid.  He was admitted to hospital on 15 January and spent 33 days as an inpatient. Towards the end of February he was re-admitted and spent a further 16 days under specialist care. His rehabilitation continues. There’s no point saying look at this as another example of what this terrible disease can do to a person because those who think that way know full well and the deniers will continue to deny. I wish him a full recovery in as fast a time as possible but it goes without saying that I want him to be a miserable man come just gone nine o’clock this evening.

Here’s Shrewsbury captain Ollie Norburn’s take on our side, “It’s a different type of contest (to Gillingham last Saturday), they are more of a footballing side. We want to spoil the party, we want to go there and win. They try and play out from the back. Their build-up play is good. They have Matt Taylor who plays off the shoulder and lots of other good players but so have we. We’ve done our work and we’ll be ready to go”. No secrets there but how do they propose to be spoilers, by out footballing us or being Gills like?

OXFORD UNITED 4 SHREWSBURY TOWN 1

The answer to that question in the first couple of minutes was a bit of both. Norburn came right through the back of Cameron Brannagan to give away a free-kick but didn’t even get the slightest finger wag from referee Sam Purkiss. Additionally they were the ones playing the football and we weren’t getting anything together at all.

Still, the game had hardly started so lots of hope that we would grow into it as we had done at Crewe but then that shining light that is Brandon Barker went off injured with not even ten minutes on the clock. He’d had one run that showcased his ability but pulled up lame. Massive crossing of the fingers that it is nothing too serious.

I had a little bit of that “we’re fecked” feeling after that happened but that’s completely unfair on the others. How many times have I said football is a team game? Lots. We still had a team on the park and five minutes later had a goal in the bank.

It was basic stuff. A well delivered James Henry corner met by the head of an attacking centre-half and Rob Atkinson had bagged his first goal for the club and in the league.

Following this there was a really noticeable shift with us not them applying the pressure. We nearly got another from a corner and Elliot Lee put one over the bar.

I was thinking can’t we play just that little bit quicker? I was also thinking that any neutral watching would be more rational and wonder what on earth I was on about. They’d see Oxford in almost total control. As a fan of the club I can’t view it like that. Experience tells me we’re one cock up away from only being level. I’m on edge, I’m not relaxing. My mind-set has flipped back over. None of this chilled out sitting back approach I’d adopted for the Crewe game. I’ve been hooked in again. Seems when I said we could be back in with some kind of shout if we could put together a winning run of three or four games, I sub-consciously over-estimated. My brain was now telling me winning one game and taking the lead in the next was enough. News of scores elsewhere was helping in this regard.

As on Saturday when we got our pressing game going it paid dividends. Shrewsbury didn’t attempt to dick about at the back like one or two teams we have come up against, but these days with long ball football ancient history all sides have the ball deep in their own half from time to time.  When it was Shrewsbury’s turn and we got onto them they struggled. Sam Long nearly benefited fully but as Rosie said on the radio, “he got excited” and put his shot wide. “Excitement” and SL really go together now and who would have thought that a couple of years back? He was looked on as a good solid honest defender who would always give that 110%. Fan’s love that type but his development as a footballer with so much more to offer has been extraordinary.

Looking good but then it seemed as if Elliott Moore might be following Barker out of the action. That would have been yet another injury pisser and we’ve had our share and a half this campaign. This time though he got through it and returned to normal. Good news.

Lee scores, Long celebrates

Then it got even better: 2-0. Barker’s replacement Olamide Shodipo put a cross in from the left, Matty Taylor deftly flicked it on and Elliott Lee came up with an improvised swivel of a finish that placed the ball in the net with the defenders basically just looking on. That was all they could do. Alternatively Salopians may just deem it crap defending.

I could tell that at this stage Shrewsbury weren’t finished. They’d played some neat football early on and, in Blackburn Rovers loanee Harrison Chapman, had a player who looked capable of doing something to hurt us. I also think it showed a bit that they are all but safe and no way are in a position to mount a top six challenge. Mind you if they’d beaten us and won their games in hand they would have caught us up.

In the 39th minute there was a bit of a debate as to whether we should have had a penalty but when they’re not given that’s it the game goes on and a second or so later it looked as if we were about to have our lead halved. Excellent defending from Moore and possibly not the best of decision making from Chapman ensured this didn’t happen.

Just over ten minutes later though it did. Shrewsbury began the second half really well and we were not long into it when Chapman claimed his seventh goal for the club having only arrived in January. They’d been launching attacks down their left flank after the restart and a cross was headed by Josh Ruffels only to the striker who drilled home, beating Jack Stevens at his near post. Not the best of defending but these things happen from time to time.

What was now important was what happened next. If there was to be another goal we had to ensure it was ours not theirs. Yes, no shit Sherlock.

On 61 minutes we thought that goal was to be ours. Shodipo sent Taylor racing away through the centre circle and with Ethan Ebanks-Landell unable to intercept it was our top scorer v keeper Matija Sarkic, on loan from Wolves. Sarkic came out on top because Matty took a slightly heavy touch that took him just to the left and the attempted chip over the pink shirted one didn’t look entirely comfortable. He might have got one against Lincoln but he’s not yet got his goal-scoring touch back in full working order.

We’d hardly had time to rue that miss when the third arrived. This was great football, a team attacking at pace with many players either involved or available as an option. What’s also highly encouraging for the rest of the run in is that the energy was there to get back if moves broke down. We looked a very fit team. Henry’s pass into the box was slide rule stuff and Matty’s run was that of a finisher whose instinct moves him into such positions. It’s natural and the finish itself demonstrated top technique.

Knowing there’s a Steve Evans battle facing us on Saturday and presumably thinking the hard work had been done here, Dan Agyei and Sam Winnall came on for Henry and Taylor with a quarter of an hour left. Agyei immediately showed what a powerful runner with the ball he can be.

The game was put beyond any reasonable doubt in the 77th minute. With Henry having a rest it was Lee’s turn to place a free-kick into the danger area. With plenty of bodies in the six yard box Shrewsbury were unable to repel the invading yellow shirts and Long fired high into the roof of the net from no distance at all.

That was it except for a stamp down the back of Mark Sykes’s foot, accidental or otherwise and Chapman hitting the post.

This was a second very good performance in a row and there’s not one player that I would say didn’t have a good or very good game. Sykes’s energy was there throughout and Brannagan’s influence is immense. Playing deeper he’s there all the time to get the ball and works tirelessly covering and demanding so much from his team mates. Captain material? Or perhaps a little too fiery?

Post-match thinking

Okay we’re up to seventh and other than Lincoln winning, the rest of the teams at the top end didn’t do a lot. Blackpool only drew with Accrington. Pompey only drew at Crewe where we got six. Sunderland lost at Wigan, Ipswich lost at Wimbledon, and Donny lost at home to Burton.

But forget it (for now). Yes I did look again. PPG puts us 8th and only 10th where max points that can still be achieved is concerned.

Keep winning boys.

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