Analysis: Chastening defeat for Shrewsbury Town poses questions going forward
A chastening and alarming second-half demise allowed Charlton to take Shrewsbury apart at a canter and pose real questions of Town’s ability to move away from trouble this season.
Supporters’ reaction to this Montgomery Waters Meadow reverse, a heaviest home defeat in some 25 months, was understandably concerned.
More worrying is how little fight or belief was left in Town players in a second half where Charlton sliced through Salop time and time again. Goalkeeper Steve Arnold barely had a moment’s peace and kept the score half-respectable.
It put paid to Town’s fine home record of no defeats in 10 and one in 18 – something Sam Ricketts’ side could do without given they have they poorest away form in League One.
Not even the Dave Edwards factor, his presence on the bench or on the pitch after 77 minutes, could cheer Town fans up leaving the Meadow at 5pm.
This was an eye-opening defeat and, given the very thin cushion between Shrews and the chasing pack, fans are well within reason to wonder whether this side have the tools to pull themselves away from danger.
It is difficult, as a fan, not to make a knee-jerk reaction after such a poor performance and result. Performances have, by and large, been of an acceptable and improving standard under Ricketts but this was anything but.
Town’s issue is, when they have played well and should have taken three points, they have managed just one and it has left them vulnerable.
At this stage, past the halfway mark, with 19 games to go in League One and just three points separating Shrewsbury and the bottom four, it would be wrong to say relegation isn’t a threat this season.
On paper and in spells this season Shrews have had players that, collectively, should not be near the bottom four but, for reasons, it hasn’t worked.
Against Charlton they looked toothless going forward and there to be got at every time the impressive Addicks burst forward with pace and guile. The midfield was passive and lacked battle.
Luke Waterfall was the chief guilty party, he had a torrid time and was at fault for the first two goals but to pin the entire defeat on him if unfair – 95 per cent of Town players were below their best.
Boss Ricketts has shown he can draw a response form his players after a wretched display. Salop responded from a dismal Boxing Day at Accrington Stanley to put in a far more cohesive and convincing performance at Sunderland three days later.
Perhaps tomorrow’s FA Cup replay clash at Stoke is inconvenient timing but Shrewsbury need to refocus themselves for bigger and more important battles in league football looking ahead – beginning at Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road on Saturday, where a repeat performance just cannot do.
There is little margin for error and it is understandable why supporters are fearful of a the trapdoor.
Ricketts has a lot to work on in this crucial transfer window. Two signings in – although Edwards must build up his fitness and hurt his groin on Saturday and Brad Walker is back at Wrexham – and five out the door are merely the start of a busy month.
A clear the decks approach will see more head out the exit door and several key position to be patched up.
The issue the Town boss has is that, as he has said a couple of times, rebuilding and performing necessary surgery on a squad in January is far from ideal with very few attractive options available.
Charlton are a good side, probably the most impressive Town have faced this season, but one crumb of comfort Shrews can take is that for the first 45 minutes there was not much to separate the teams.
The Addicks, with the raw pace and power of Lyle Taylor and Karlan Grant up front, were bound to be a threat to Waterfall, Mat Sadler and co and attacked wisely.
Lee Bowyer’s men seemed to happy to let Town make slow progression into their half – to a point – and then the visitors sprung and hit the hosts hard and quick.
Blue and amber shirts could not keep up with such lightning speed. But, frustratingly, it was through a corner that Salop shipped the opener.
Town did finish the first period OK and Ricketts was expecting more of the same after the break but got the total opposite. Ollie Norburn’s poor blind backpass helped set the tone and Grant should have scored but for Arnold.
It just didn’t stop. The Charlton juggernaut kept running through and over Town in every position as chance after chance came their way – poor finishing and good goalkeeping was the difference between 3-0 and six or seven.
Ricketts was honest after the match in how he saw his side’s confidence drain during the second half. At one and two-nil heads dropped.
Shrewsbury have no need for a confidence crisis, particularly at the Meadow, where they have been so strong. Ricketts has a big job on to inject some belief and confidence into his ranks.
The boss described the group’s ‘fragile nature’, an alarming was to hear a squad described and something else that desperately needs to change.
If Town suffer more woe similar to Saturday then the league table will only make for harsher reading as the season nears make or break time.
Then there is the required quality to boost Shrewsbury in the areas they need it, particularly in attack where Fejiri Okenabirhie has gone off the boil and Aaron Amadi-Holloway looks low on confidence.
A possible groin injury to Edwards topped off a bad day all round.
Town could be facing a long and severe battle ahead.
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