Gillingham 0 Shrewsbury Town 2 - Report and pictures
Shrewsbury won away for the second match running to reach the magical 50-point mark and all-but secure their League One status, writes Lewis Cox at Medway Priestfield.
Well-taken second half goals from James Bolton and Tyrese Campbell backed up Sam Ricketts’ side’s win at Southend two weeks ago with another successful day on their travels
Town were deserved winners after enjoying the better of a watchable first period and were clinical by netting twice in the first 15 minutes of the second period.
A limp Gillingham display barely threatened Shrews, who stood tall and kept their clean sheet intact with some committed late defending.
Shrewsbury have lost just once in five games and now, unbeaten in three, seem to have successfully pulled away from the packed scrap to avoid League One relegation. The win lifted them one place to 13th, above their hosts Gillingham, who looked low on confidence.
Town have four games remaining to mathematically escape danger but Ricketts men are close to completing the job. Joyous away fans chanted about their team staying up.
Away form was so long a big issue for this Town team but they have banished that poor record with a huge six points from six available on the road at the crunch point of the campaign.
The win puts Salop six points clear of the bottom four, a gap that should prove insurmountable between now and May 4.
Ricketts’ only change of personnel from the late draw against Scunthorpe was up front. Campbell started for the first time since the late comeback success against Wycombe four games ago.
Fejiri Okenabirhie dropped down to the bench. He was joined by winger Alex Gilliead, the winger who has been out of favour and not featured for six weeks.
A worrying bout of sickness spread through the Salop squad in the week. Squad regulars Ro-Shaun Williams, Bolton, Josh Laurent and Ryan Sears had not trained until Thursday but all passed fit to make the 18.
There was no place in the squad for Aaron Amadi-Holloway - voted man of the match for his cameo from the bench last week - who travelled with the squad but missed out through injury.
Town came to Kent in decent spirits after a couple of crucial recent victories and a vital point rescued seven days prior. They were also unbeaten in five attempts at Priestfield.
Ricketts knew that the 50-point mark guarantees nothing this year, but the typical safety mark would be a very strong position to be on with four matches remaining after today.
Hosts Gillingham would also pass that mark with a victory today. Steve Lovell’s men began one place and one point ahead of their visitors.
It didn’t take the most studious analysis to know that 20-goal former Salop frontman Tom Eaves was the hosts’ main threat. Ricketts spoke about how the powerful forward had fulfilled his ability and understood his strengths more. The duo once shared a dressing room as Bolton team-mates.
It could barely have been a more open, frenetic start as the sun kept threatening to peek out at Priestfield.
There was early concern for Ricketts as Billy Bingham was allowed too much space outside the box and cracked the right post with a sweet low strike that Jonathan Mitchell was nowhere near.
It was hardly the start of a pattern though as the visitors flew at Gills. First Campbell stung the midriff of Tomas Holy before Shaun Whalley’s stunning free-kick bent and flicked the angle of post and bar on its way behind.
Town continued to out-run their hosts and caught them three on one, Whalley just overhit a reverse pass to Campbell and Holy got out to close the angle, while the Shrews forward found the side netting.
Gillingham were a little shell-shocked inside 15 minutes but they soon settled and began looking after possession better.
Town were worryingly open from a nothing Gillingham free-kick lofted into the box. Scott Golbourne and Omar Beckles left it, leaving Mitchell stranded and, thankfully, the backpeddling Brandon Hanlan could only head just over.
Beckles and Mitchell exchanged words in the aftermath.
Salop looked the brighter team. Home boss Lovell had suggested Town might be happy to sit in and defend on the road but were proving the opposite as the first half wore on.
The visitors, in luminous orange, put together some lovely moves, knitting 20 or more apsses together with some sharp one-twos proving too quick for Gillingham.
Whalley and Greg Docherty were at the heart of it. Town put some threatening low crosses across the Gills box but were unable to profit with any telling touch.
Gillingham had their moments, with former Shrews loan man Graham Burke busy, but Eaves was largely isolated.
Lovell injected a bit of pace into his side at the break by bringing on exciting midfielder Elliott List. The home side changed shape to 3-5-2 to match Shrews.
Town’s best chance at breaking the deadlock came minutes into the second half but Beckles was unable to convert after a whipped Whalley free-kick fell his way six yards out.
The defender looked as if he was being held back by a blue shirt but still prodded an effort at goal, only for Holy to stand tall and make the save.
Ricketts’ men deserved to be ahead on the balance of play and Bolton was the man to make it happen five minutes after the re-start.
The right wing-back combined with Whalley on the right flank, Shrews’ No.7 hit the byline before a smart and accurate cut-back was perfect for Bolton.
From the right side of the box the defender was able to help a tidy first-time finish into the far corner beyond Holy’s reach.
It was a lovely finish in front of the hardy travelling Salopians. The locals were unimpressed and getting pretty restless.
Gills did threaten a response. Right-back Luke O’Neill sent a well-struck free-kick inches wide of Town’s top right corner.
The home side forced a couple of corners but, having struggled at home in recent months, looked low on confidence.
Confident and rampant Shrews took full advantage. They fashioned an almost carbon copy chance to the opener, but on the opposite flank - and were again ruthless.
Docherty sent an accurate ball over the top that landed almost plumb on Campbell’s toe. Gills recovered but the ball found its way to Golbourne on the left flank.
The former Wolves man took his time before sending in a measured low cross for the on-loan Stoke man to help a scuffed but telling finish into the far corner.
Celebrations ensued in front of the away end as confidence and belief flooded through Salop players and fans.
Chants of ‘the Town are staying up’ filled the air as Town leapfrogged their hosts into 13th and dead set for the magical 50 points mark.
Shrews were professional in seeing out the game but it was largely finished as an encounter with Gillingham’s heads down.
Eaves sent a header at Mitchell, their only effort on target, but it was a tame effort to sum up their tame display.
The rugged late Shrews defending, featuring Anthony Grant and Beckles, typified Town’s recent resilience that has helped them near the safety line.
3 - Billy Bingham’s low left-footed shot from just outside the penalty area cracks Jonathan Mitchell’s left hand post.
5 - Right-sided Salop free-kick causes the hosts some bother. Omar Beckles throws his foot at it but the ball falls to Tyrese Campbell and his fierce half-volley flies straight at Tomas Holy.
7 - Lovely free-kick Shaun Whalley. Great power and curl from 25 yards and it flicks off the top right angle and behind. Close.
9 - And that’s another big chance. Town break quickly three on one. Whalley pass to Campbell is a little overhit and with Tomas Holy out to meet him the striker hits the side netting.
18 - Town almost undone by poor defending from a free-kick. Miscommunication between Beckles and Mitchell but Brandon Hanlan can only head over.
50 - GOAL!!!!!!! Brilliant finish from James Bolton after exchanging a couple of passes into the corner. Smart first-time effort into the corner.
61 - GOAL!!!! 2-0 and it’s Campbell this time to finish well into the far corner after a good move down the left. Scott Golbourne put in a good low cross.
89 - Sub Josh Rees has two efforts on goal unmarked from inside the box but they are remarkably blocked first by Anthony Grant on the line then by Beckles. Celebrated like a goal.
Gillingham (4-4-2 diamond):
Holy; O’Neill, Ehmer ©, Fuller, Ogilvie; Byrne, Bingham (List, 45), Parrett (Campbell, 73), Burke (Rees, 60); Hanlan, Eaves.
Subs not used: Hadler (gk), Lacey, Oldaker, King.
Shrewsbury Town (3-4-2-1):
Mitchell; Williams, Waterfall, Beckles; Bolton (Sears, 80), Norburn ©, Grant, Golbourne; Whalley (Laurent, 71), Docherty; Campbell (Okenabirhie, 83).
Subs not used: Charles-Cook (gk), Sadler, Gilliead, Payne.
Referee: Thomas Bramall
Attendance: 4,109 (246 Shrewsbury fans)
Position in the table: 13th
Star man: Omar Beckles - Defended like a warrior