Tuesday 27 December 2011

Unable to tame the Shrews

When we last won automatic promotion, from the Conference to the Football League back in 1998-9, unforeseen events far away from Whaddon Road took us to the top of the table for the first time.
We were drawing 1-1 at home to Woking when Rushden and Diamonds travelled to Leek Town, and were winning when a fire at a chemical factory next door to Harrison Park caused the game to be abandoned.
Yesterday, while we were drawing with Shrewsbury, the best side I have seen us play this season, Aldershot's floodlights decided to fail while Southend were leading 1-0, end of game and it opened the door for us to go second in the table for the first time.
In addition, Crawley's defeat by Gillingham, where, surprise surprise, they were by far the best side again according to their graceless manager, would have made a victory for either side a real fillip.
But as it stands, both managers, and I would expect both sets of fans as well, came away happy with a point from a game where there was a cigarette paper between the sides.
However, I felt that on reflection Shrewsbury created the better chances and were more incisive in the final third, where James Collins and Tom Bradshaw were very impressive.
It says a lot for Graham Turner's squad that he can take them off and send on Terry Gornell and Marvin Morgan - strikers who would be automatic first choices in anyone else's side.
Collins hit the post, Bradshaw should have scored after Alan Bennett's first-minute mistake, Morgan was denied by Scott Brown's late one-on-one and Gornell sparked a late fracas by sliding in on Brown after he dived on a shot.
Shrewsbury reminded me of some of the sides we have come up against in the past who have been on their way out of the division.
Those are the sides who are secure at the back, busy in midfield, dangerous out wide and incisive up front, and I felt Shrewsbury were all of those things.
In previous seasons, these sides - think Chesterfield last season for instance - have rolled us over with comparative ease. Not this time.
We have become a much more resilient, competitive unit, capable of scoring goals and above all, much more solid defensively.
In 11 home games, we have only conceded six goals. That is amazing considering how many goals we have let in previously, and away, we have let in 14, and that's amazing too considering we let in four of them in one game at Wimbledon.
Yesterday, I felt we started slowly and tried to play too directly early on which played into Shrewsbury's hands, with Ian Sharps and Shane Cansdell-Sheriff having little problem with Darryl Duffy.
Then Duffy and Jimmy Spencer swapped, and we started to play through midfield a bit more, trying to make our man advantage in there count.
Pack, Penn and especially Summerfield, who seemed to be a man possessed, started to get on top and Spencer was excellent with his back to goal and gave the centre-backs more to think about.
Spencer was able to bring others into play and set some chances up, but out wide we did not really get started and did not cause many problems - until the 85th minute when Bags Graham came on and won two corners against a tiring full-back.
We had a lot of possession around their box but our shooting was a bit off and we did not really test Chris Neal as much as they were able to test Browny.
I thought Scott was excellent; he made a number of fine saves and although his handling wasn't always perfect he deserved his clean sheet.
At the end, he got a whack for his troubles and set off a scrap which finally allowed 'Whistling' Trevor Kettle the chance to get into the limelight.
He booked Gornell for his slide in on Brown, and then after the scrap had died down he booked Joe Jacobsen, Josh Low and Steve Elliott when the players were ready for the restart.
That took the number of bookings in the game to eight, a ridiculous number for a competitive game, but one which never got out of hand.
But the most amazing thing of all?
Junior Smikle did not come on.
Truly incredible.

Player by player
Scott Brown - Superb one on one save from Marvin Morgan saved us a point 13 minutes from time, and the clean sheet will be a big confidence builder. If I am being churlish, a lot of shots came back off him with insecure handling and he got a whack for his troubles, but at least he kept them out.
Sido Jombati - Did well against the tricky Mark Wright with his pace a good asset against the winger. Silly booking however for kicking the ball away.
Luke Garbutt - Thought this was one of his best games for us. Very secure defensively against John Taylor and put in some good set-pieces. Would be great if we can keep him for the season.
Alan Bennett - Recovered well from a bad mistake in the first minute which almost cost us a goal. Had his hands full with the lively Tom Bradshaw but led the side well as usual, but also picked up a booking.
Steve Elliott - Like Benno, he had a busy afternoon but did what he had to competently. Lack of pace was an issue at times, but his reading of the game usually saw him through.
Marlon Pack - Started slowly and gave the ball away a few times trying the 'Hail Mary' pass but grew into the game more as he started to play it more simply.
Luke Summerfield - I thought he rivalled Jimmy Spencer for our man of the match, he was everywhere. Had a good early shot saved, and at one point had a was inside the Shrewsbury box and a few seconds later covering at left back as they broke away.
Russ Penn - Glad to have his drive back and his forward runs set up a few chances for us. But I felt he faded out of the game later on and might have been taken off.
Kaid Mohamed - Poor game. Could have had a hat-trick with first half header and two good early chances in the second. Failed to really test out his full back James Hurst, especially after Hurst had been booked.
Darryl Duffy - Quiet game. Ineffective early on in the central role and not much better when he and Jimmy were switched. Could not get any effective crosses in and was rightly substituted.
Jimmy Spencer - Superb after moving centrally as his hold-up play and lay-offs brought others into play and set up our best chances. Hopefully we will get some good news this week about him staying on for the season

Josh Low (for Duffy 65) - Came on but showed very little, and was equally disappointing as Duffy. Got a yellow after the late melee but I find it impossible to believe he would be anywhere near a fight.
Bags Graham (for Mohamed 85) - Sent on to run at the tiring Hurst and showed Mo how to do it. Two runs won two corners and he made an impact again. Hope to see him get some starts in 2012. Why not??
Junior Smikle (for...) Eh? What do you mean he didn't come on....? Surely he did... I must have just missed it...

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