Shrewsbury Town 1 Blackpool 0 - Report and pictures
Inspiration from midfield star Jon Nolan kept Shrewsbury Town battling it out at the top of League One, writes Lewis Cox at Montgomery Waters Meadow.
Nolan’s second-half strike downed resolute Blackpool as Town returned to winning ways in the league.
In an afternoon of few clear-cut chances, Nolan sliced through the Tangerines defence and stroked into the corner for his fifth goal of the season.
After winning just one of their last five in the league, this home victory was vital in breathing confidence back into the blue and amber fan base and confirming that Paul Hurst’s men were not done in their table-topping assault yet.
The League One summit remained as you were, with the top four sides winning and Town keeping hold of their second spot.
Birthday boy C Morris was handed a first league start since late October, when Town lost their first League One clash of the season, at Peterborough.
His last league goal was two months ago tomorrow in the midweek thumping of Bristol Rovers.
Also in was Shrewsbury’s fellow Morris. Midfielder Bryn returned to Hurst’s side for Ben Godfrey, who joined frontman Stefan Payne.
Town were hoping to re-establish their promotion credentials and improve a record of one win from five in the league.
Blackpool started with former AFC Telford and Wrexham defender Curtis Tilt and former Town loanee Jimmy Ryan. Ex-TNS man and Shrews fan Scott Quigley was on the bench - but former blue and amber hitman Kyle Vassell was missing through a hamstring injury.
Hurst was renewing acquaintances with his former Rotherham team-mate Gary Bowyer. The pair battled for the Millers left-back spot in the mid 1990s.
Bowyer has been praised by Hurst for lifting Blackpool well above their predicted struggle in League One this season. They headed to the Meadow in 12th with just one win in eight
If Hurst was critical of his side’s start in recent weeks, the only complaint here was that Town did little to work Ryan Allsop.
For the hosts were first to everything in the opening exchanges. Winning most of the 50-50 balls in midfield and winning the second balls too.
Wingers Alex Rodman and the in-form Shaun Whalley were heavily involved in direct runs at the Seasiders’ backline.
C Morris was also catching the eye. The powerful Norwich loanee showed his stature by winning aerial duels and offering himself as a willing runner on the Blackpool defences’ shoulder.
A lengthy injury to Tilt may have been a catalyst for a lull in the action. Both sides were sloppy in looking after the ball.
C Morris flicked a Blackpool free-kick towards his own top corner, calling Dean Henderson into action, before Birmingham loanee Viv Solomon-Otabor dragged a presentable chance wide after robbing B Morris.
The birthday boy was helping his side with some willing runs into the channels but the final ball was lacking for the home side, despite Rodman and others’ efforts to provide a threat.
Conditions worsened as the first period went on as did the spectacle. Neither side created anything, while loose passes and long balls flew into the stands.
Home Meadow supporters were less than impressed with the length of time that Bowyer’s visitors were taking over throw-ins and set-pieces.
Little flakes of excitement threatened to break through. Nolan, Whalley and C Morris broke clear after the former was hacked down. Again, as those before them, a final cross fizzled out into nothing.
Shrewsbury fans were whistling for more from their side in the tight affair, in which neither side offered their opponents any space to manoeuvre. Town supporters, spoilt in the early months of the campaign, were desperate for another spark.
Their were brighter signs, for the spectacle at least, early in the second period as ex Villa prospect Delfouneso blazed wide at the near post when found unmarked.
A crucial couple of minutes went the way of Hurst’s men.
First, an outstretched Toto Nsiala leg looked to catch Kelvin Mellor as the visiting full-back was sent sprawling in the box.
With the opposition dugout hopping for a penalty, referee Andy Woolmer waved away.
Barely 90 seconds later and there was a very different feel around the Meadow. Nolan skipped away with the loose ball in midfield, burst into a rare bit of empty grass, shifting the ball on to his supposed weaker left side before drilling a low strike into the bottom left corner.
Ryan Allsop, with the first effort he was tasked with saving all afternoon, could only help it into the corner.
Relief burst around the Meadow and Blackpool, previously pleased with the point they arrived for, were forced out of their shell.
A couple of corners were the highlight of what Blackpool were able to muster. One was missed by a distance by Tilt before sub Armand Gnanduillet powered a near post header narrowly wide.
Hurst’s men got forward in fits and starts. Wasting a couple of situations to put the encounter to bed, notably on the break and with set-pieces of their own.
But Shrewsbury were not seriously troubled despite the narrow scoreline. On a turgid, chilly, unglamorous afternoon there was still time for Nolan to add more brilliance. His lob, from 40 yards out on the right touchline, almost beat the backpedaling Allsop.
After cutting frustrated figures for much of the first period, Town’s supporters were left roaring their side off at full-time to chants of ‘Paul Hurst’s Barmy Army’.
18 - Carlton Morris flicks a Blackpool free-kick towards his own goal and Dean Henderson has to quickly backpedal to tip it over.
19 - Good reading of a visiting attack by Mat Sadler who got a crucial foot in to clear from Sean Longstaff.
22 - The dangerous Nathan Delfouneso sent a ball through to Viv Solomon-Otabor after robbing Bryn Morris but the forward drags a low effort wide.
24 - James Bolton does well to launch an attack by robbing the ball, taking on a man before he passes back to Jon Nolan and the Town midfielder lashes six foot over from distance.
40 - Shaun Whalley’s volley from a cleared corner is way wide. Nearer to the corner flag.
44 - Whalley, C Morris and Nolan combine well on the halfway line, the latter is hacked down but play goes on - a deep cross fizzles out. Curtis Tilt is booked for the foul on Nolan.
47 - Sean Longstaff slipped a nice ball into the unmarked Nathan Delfouneso but the Blackpool man fires wastefully wide at Henderson’s near post.
52 - Penalty appeal? Huge shout for the visitors as Kelvin Mellor is tripped by Toto Nsiala inside the box. The away dugout are screaming for a spot-kick.
54 - TOWN GOAL! That was needed! Fine ability from Nolan to bounce clear of a 50-50, power forward towards the edge of the box and strike low into the bottom corner from 20 yards. Supreme finish.
66 - Curtis Tilt heads high and wide from corner.
75 - Sub Armand Gnanduillet flashes a dangerous header just wide of the near post.
80 - James Bolton and Toto Nsiala have all the time and are unmarked from a corner
90 - Outstanding brilliance from Nolan who almost perfectly lobs Allsop from distance on the right flank. Cheeky, sumptuous effort - he’s full of confidence.
Shrewsbury Town (4-1-4-1):
Henderson; Bolton, Nsiala, Sadler, Beckles; B Morris (Godfrey, 77); Whalley, Ogogo ©, Nolan, Rodman (Payne, 88); C Morris (John-Lewis, 88)
Subs not used: MacGillivray (gk), Riley, Dodds, Gnahoua
Allsop; Mellor, Robertson, Tilt, Daniel; Longstaff (Philliskirk, 70), Ryan © (Gnanduillet, 70), Spearing; Solomon-Otabor, Delfouneso (Quigley, 80), Cooke
Subs not used: Williams (gk), Taylor, Aimson, D'Almeida
Referee: Andy Woolmer
Attendance: 5,620 (329 Blackpool fans)
Place in the table - 2nd (44 points from 21 games)
Star man - Jon Nolan, brilliance for the winner. Full of confidence.