Shrewsbury Town's need for front-line reinforcement could not have been more obvious when they had the sharpest of Blades pitched against them at the other end.
Shrewsbury Town's need for front-line reinforcement could not have been more obvious on an afternoon when they had the sharpest of Blades pitched against them at the other end.
One-time £5million man Dave Kitson and Premiership loanee Jonathan Forte were up top for Danny Wilson’s well-organised team – a stark contrast to the makeshift partnership Town were left relying on.
Restricted to a handful of substitute appearances beforehand, Ryan Doble – a team-mate of Forte’s before his release at Southampton last summer – struggled to make an impact after he was handed a first start against promotion-chasing United.
Graham Turner’s hand was forced after Marvin Morgan failed to shake off an ankle injury, but he also chose to leave out the out-of-sorts Luke Rodgers.
While the experienced Paul Parry helped turn the game at Preston the previous week in an unfamiliar front role, United’s miserly and physical back four proved far too tough for this experimental attack.
The Blades’ pair looked far above League One standard, no more so than when Kitson drove a peach of a half-volley with enough power and placement to beat the excellent Chris Weale to effectively end the contest in the 72nd minute.
After driving past the post early on, Forte failed to persuade referee Mark Heywood he’d had his heel clipped by Darren Jones when he took a tumble in the box.
But the former Scunthorpe man was the target Shrewsbury sorely lacked in Morgan’s absence. And he played a key role in the large slice of good fortune which United enjoyed for their 63rd-minute opener.
Following up his lay-off to Jamie Murphy, Forte connected with the winger’s delivery. And, while Weale saved from close range, Steve McGinn’s clearance rebounded off Michael Doyle into the net.
Up until that low blow, Town had rolled up their sleeves and worked hard against the odds. They were glad of Weale’s excellence to keep them on terms with the keeper turning around a piledriver from Kevin McDonald before Tony McMahon’s fierce free-kick was more meat and drink for Town’s No.1.
Teenage keeper George Long, in contrast, was a virtual spectator as only former Blade Dave McAllister suggested a goal threat with the midfielder pulling one effort wide.
United’s central defensive pair Neill Collins and Harry Maguire dominated Doble and Parry in the air and on the ground. And Danny Higginbotham swept Jon Taylor into his pocket, although he certainly appeared to step over the mark with a crushing challenge which forced the winger off at the break.
Luke Summerfield improved Town’s attacking options in the second half, as did Tom Bradshaw in brief flashes. Linking up well with Parry, the substitute tried to get a shot away before the United defence closed in on him.
Kitson, in contrast, had no trouble getting into the danger zone and when the former Stoke man was presented with a free header it needed a goal-line clearance from Summerfield to prevent the opener.
Sadly it only delayed the inevitable and while United’s opener was as wretched a goal as you could wish for, Kitson’s classy finish will have erased any sense of injustice Town fans may have harboured.
The final three minutes became more interesting when McGinn’s 30-yard free-kick sailed over everyone and caught the far corner of the net to embarrass Long.
But try as Shrewsbury did to launch the ball into the box, there were no targets to aim for and hence little more drama for United to negotiate.
Quite simply Town offered little where it mattered and addressing that big problem in the market will be boss Turner’s priority this week.
By Gwyn Griffiths