Shrewsbury Town 2 Oxford 2 - Match analysis

On such moments can a season often be defined. But rarely are those moments quite so spectacular.

On such moments can a season often be defined. But rarely are those moments quite so spectacular.

One controlled swing of the cultured left boot of Matt Richards produced a giant momentum shift in Shrewsbury Town’s quest for a long-awaited promotion.

While defeat at the hands of Oxford would have been far from terminal to hopes of a top-three finish, it would have allowed a doubt or two to creep into the Town mindset.

But that potential negative was swept aside by a wave of positivity as Richards’ 94th-minute thunderbolt from fully 35 yards thundered into the net.

For a ball travelling with such ferocity, there appeared a sense of slow motion about it flying past motionless Oxford goalkeeper Ryan Clarke.

But there was no delayed reaction to the celebrations as keeper Chris Neal charged from his goal to lead the congratulations to Richards while, on the Shrewsbury Town bench, a substituted Jon Taylor hoisted aloft a man more than 50 years his senior as he celebrated with fitness coach Tony Ford.

It was that type of moment for Graham Turner’s men who somehow rescued a 24-match unbeaten home run as it teetered on the brink, as well as surely ending any slim hopes Oxford maintained of gate-crashing the automatic promotion spots.

The late drama put the finishing touches to an unlikely comeback from Turner’s team, who were left starring down the barrel after a lethargic opening 45 minutes.

The tone was set within 52 seconds as Lee Holmes was allowed to advance deep into Town territory before finishing with aplomb from 20 yards.

Southampton loanee Holmes was to call the tune in a first half largely controlled by Oxford, forcing an exceptional save from Neal before finishing off a counter-attack which stemmed from a Shrewsbury corner.

A disappointing flag kick from Mark Wright failed to clear former Town loanee Asa Hall as he defended the near post.

Hall’s clearance was latched onto by Oli Johnson who, after capitalising on a moment’s hesitation from Conor McLaughlin, played in Holmes to slot past the helpless Neal from 12 yards.

Hall was also to rattle the bar from distance but the second half turnaround in scoreline was matched by the transformation in Town’s performance.

While the hosts were largely forced to rely on set-pieces for a sighting of goal in that opening period, their play contained greater poise, precision and pace after the interval.

And gradually, an Oxford side who began running on empty after their exertions in defeating Swindon with 10 men on Saturday were penned back.

James Collins had already forced Clarke into a save by the time hope sprang eternal in the 54th minute, Wright displaying sublime technique to cushion a volley from a Marvin Morgan cross into the net from 15 yards.

From that moment on, Shrewsbury bossed possession but their chance appeared to have gone as Richards, Nicky Wroe and David McAllister were just the wrong side of the woodwork with edge-of-the-box efforts.

But cometh the hour cometh Richards with a golden moment which was as perfectly struck as it was timed and will be remembered for years to come.

The unbeaten home run and, more importantly, the promotion dream are both still very much alive.

How vital a goal that could prove in the final reckoning on May 5.

James Garrison

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