Shrewsbury Town 2 Portsmouth 0 - Report and pictures
Shrewsbury Town were deserved of a dominant 2-0 victory against in-form Portsmouth that leaves them second at Christmas, writes Lewis Cox at Montgomery Waters Meadow.
Goals from Shaun Whalley and Stefan Payne made it back-to-back wins for Paul Hurst’s men, who have banished any thoughts of a blip to keep them firmly in the automatic promotion hunt at Christmas.
The three points were thoroughly deserved as Shrewsbury returned to some of their best, most relentless football of the season - with Kenny Jackett’s flying Pompey unable to deal with free-flowing Town.
A Whalley missed penalty with the score at 0-0 was not enough to damper Town belief and drive as they recovered to go again and win by clear daylight.
A league run of one win in five now seems to have been banished to the history books as Hurst and co embark on another fine run of results.
They will need all that energy and more as they head to leaders Wigan on Boxing Day in a first v second clash, where Town will aim to dent the four point gap.
Boss Hurst decided on an unchanged squad for the visit of in-form Portsmouth.
That meant that the Morris boys, Bryn and Carlton, kept their places in the starting XI. Both played from the off against Blackpool last week and did enough to keep their places.
Top scorer Stefan Payne remained on the bench while on-loan Norwich man Ben Godfrey - who it has been revealed this week is likely to remain at Town beyond January - joined him.
Pompey went into the Meadow clash with a couple of injury issues of their own as midfielders Kal Naismith and Stuart O’Keefe were forced to miss out.
The festive clash was billed as a tight affair. Thirteen of Hurst’s side’s 18 victories in all competitions this season have been by the odd goal.
While Jackett’s Pompey, in such good form ahead of their trip to the Meadow, have won by the same margin in seven of their last nine victories.
That run had last season’s League Two champions on the cusp of the play-offs before kick-off.
The atmosphere was at fever pitch before a ball was kicked. The 1,000 plus visiting Fratton Park faithful were bang up for creating a rowdy atmosphere and the home crowd rallied in response.
And it was the home side who were sharpest of the blocks. Hurst’s men confidently zipped the ball across the deck and spread it around.
With Shrews on the front foot, the first contentious moment of note was C Morris losing his footing.
After a ball through the inside left channel, the on-loan striker touched the ball ahead of his defender and seemed to be brought down but referee Darren Handley saw nothing doing.
Alex Rodman was unable to connect to a fine Shaun Whalley cross before Jon Nolan was narrowly off target from distance.
Winger Rodman then had a goalbound strike well blocked by defender Matt Clarke as Shrewsbury made all the early moves.
The visitors, backed by a buoyant following, did threaten, first with some lively Jamal Lowe ruins and then Matt Kennedy.
Town certainly edged the opening half hour. They looked decisive with their football and often had the south coast visitors chasing shadows.
So much so that three Pompey men were in the referee’s notebook before the break. Clarke, Jamal Lowe and Brandon Haunstrup - a young left-back up against a tricky customer in Whalley.
The encounter had a similar feel to the home clash with Bradford almost a month prior. Town enjoyed the better first period but clear-cut chances were at a premium with nothing of note for visiting shot-stopper Luke McGee to do.
The second period began without the same high intensity as the first but the Meadow livened up eight minutes in as the exuberant C Morris was upended by McGee.
The striker powered beyond two defenders, who looked like they were running in mud in comparison, to a long Abu Ogogo ball - upsetting the odds to win the race.
McGee was also too slow and lost to Morris and brought the No.9 down. Definite penalty.
Up stepped Whalley, who had scored four from five spot kicks this season, but his weak effort was tame and straight at the goalkeeper, who did not even need to dive.
Concern swept around the Meadow at the fear Town had passed up their big moment. Even more so when Pompey talisman Pitman smashed a free-kick at Henderson seconds later.
Town were relentless and refused to down their heads. Hurst’s men were first to everything,. Unforgiving in their work rate and enthusiasm.
They were rewarded moments later. Five minutes after a horrid penalty miss, Town’s No.7 atoned.
Midfielder schemer Nolan recycled a ball on the edge of the box, deployed his trademark drop of the shoulder and shimmy on to his left foot and let fly. The effort was heavily deflected at McGee, who scrambled across to his left byline to keep the ball in.
All he succeeded to do was keep the ball in play for Whalley who gratefully accepted the invite and stroke into the empty net from a tight angle.
Euphoria and belief swept back into the blue and amber sails.
Jackett’s Portsmouth showed a few signs as life as they went about chasing a leveller in front of their now despondent following.
As Jackett shuffled his pack, Town’s defending was second to none. James Bolton in particular was superb at mopping up dangerous crosses.
But Henderson was never stretched into any serious save.
Hurst sent on top scorer Payne for C Morris with 15 minutes to play. The former offered a fine standing ovation.
Six minutes after arriving on the pitch Payne was into double figures for the season. A goal that summed this team up as tireless energy from skipper Ogogo and Payne caused defender Clarke to lose his bearings and surrender possession.
In raced Payne to bear down on McGee’s goal and send a finish into the top corner via a
deflection off the goalkeeper.
His first goal since the memorable last minute winner at Rotherham.
A scoreline that the hosts deserved for, as Jackett feared ahead of the match, a relentless energy and enthusiasm that was simply too much for Pompey to handle.
The victory kept Town second, taking advantage of high-flying rivals dropping points, behind Wigan - who smashed seven in at Oxford.
The Latics may have warmed up for the Boxing Day cracker in style - but plucky Shrewsbury are still right there in the automatic promotion places.
8 - Pompey survive a penalty appeal as Alex Rodman drops down after seemingly being caught. Referee waves play on.
18 - Jon Nolan flashes a strike a few feet over from 20 yards.
19 - Matt Kennedy lets fly from distance but Dean Henderson parries away with little fuss.
24 - Rodman cuts infield after a neat Town move and his curled, goalbound effort is blocked by Matt Clarke.
44 - Jamal Lowe and Brett Pitman combine before Pompey’s top scorer has a go from 40 yards but it flies over.
53 - Penalty Town! C Morris’ energy is incredible as he races beyond defenders to reach a long ball before being brought down by Luke McGee.
The keeper atones, however, and makes a simple save from 12 yards to deny Whalley’s tame spot-kick.
54 - Brett Pitman smashes a 25 yard free-kick straight at Dean Henderson.
58 - C Morris sends a fine flicked back header towards goal from Omar Beckles’ cross but McGee catches easily.
59 - GOAL TOWN!!!! Whalley atones! After his horrid penalty the winger takes advantage of an awful piece of goalkeeping by McGee and slots into an empty net from a tight angle after Nolan’s strike was heading harmlessly wide.
81 - TOWN SECOND!!! Relentless pressure from Abu Ogogo and sub Stefan Payne who win it from a Pompey defender, Payne powers clear and finishing into the top corner via a McGee deflection.
Shrewsbury Town (4-1-4-1):
Henderson; Bolton, Nsiala, Sadler, Beckles; B Morris; Whalley, Ogogo ©, Nolan, Rodman (Godfrey, 87); C Morris (Payne, 75)
Subs not used: MacGillivray (gk), Riley, Dodds, Gnahoua, John-Lewis
McGee; Thompson, Clarke, Burgess, Haunstrup; Close, Rose; Lowe (Bennett, 61), Evans, Kennedy (Hawkins, 61); Pitman © (Chaplin, 76)
Subs not used: Bass (gk), Main, Donohue, May
Referee: Darren Handley
Attendance: 7,429 (1,094 Portsmouth fans)
Star man - Carlton Morris. Almost a complete forwards’ display
Position in the table - 2nd. 47 points from 22 games