Bristol Rovers 1 Shrewsbury Town 1 - Report and pictures
Shrewsbury Town old boy Alex Rodman denied his former side just a second away league win of the season as a 1-1 draw at Bristol Rovers keeps 10-man Town in the bottom four, writes Lewis Cox at the Memorial Stadium.
Sam Ricketts’ side enjoyed a half-time lead in Bristol after Shaun Whalley netted on his first start in four months.
But Rodman, who spent 18 months at Shrews and scored for them at Wembley last May, netted an unmarked header from a corner after the break to earn Graham Coughlan's men a share of the spoils.
Dave Edwards came from the bench to make his second appearance since returning to Town last month but was sent off for a lunge after barely 10 minutes on the pitch.
The edgy bottom of League One clash was billed as a six-pointer. Ricketts’ side were the better team in the first half but gave their hosts a foothold in a bitty encounter dominated by the officials.
Gas fans had already called for Ollie Norburn and Scott Golbourne to be dismissed before Edwards copped for a red.
Town remain with just one win away this season. They climb one place to 22nd and remain just a point from getting out of the bottom four, but may look back on this trip as a real chance to claim three points.
With the League One table showing Shrewsbury and Bristol Rovers separated by just a point in 23rd and 20th, respectively, there was a real feeling of a big-game for Town in the build-up.
Now Ricketts’ men are out of the Cup competitions, it was time to focus on the bread and butter - League One survival.
The manager has pointed out the big number of games since his appointment, one every four days, and suggested that a number of players were struggling for fitness.
It was no surprise to see the Town chief make five changes to the side that were unlucky going down at Premier League Wolves.
In case Manchester United signing Ro-Shaun Williams as part of a three-man defence. There were also starts for Scott Golbourne at left wing-back, while Mat Sadler and Anthony Grant returned from suspension.
Attacker Shaun Whalley started a Town game for the first time since October 20 having overcome a couple of muscle injuries.
It was a surprise to see Luke Waterfall dropped to the bench, the first time the big defender has been benched in the league since his summer arrival.
Familiar faces in Alex Rodman and Abu Ogogo started the game for Bristol Rovers. The latter making his home debut and the former very much in form.
Town needed a boost on the road having won once away in the league this season.
The visitors were lively early on. Ollie Norburn and Josh Laurent showed their intent in winning the ball from Ogogo. Laurent followed his challenge up with a deflected strike from distance that landed not far wide.
Shrews were a threat from the following corners. Twice Sadler attacked the near post and threatened to score, while new boy Williams got on the end of two more corners inside 15 minutes but was unable to convert.
Town were intense from the off and won the ball back well. The returning Whalley showed his threat with a couple of fine runs, leaving the home crowd edgy.
But it was the Gas who had the clearest first opening of the game through Liam Sercombe. He escaped the attentions of Town’s back three but could not really stretch Steve Arnold in the Shrewsbury goal when he should have scored.
Shrewsbury’s impressive start stuttered as the game became bitty and angry.
Norburn and Ogogo were booked for their latest coming together, of which it appeared the latter reacted.
Minutes later Norburn flew into a tackle, where he appeared to take man and ball, and all Rovers players - and fans - screamed for a second yellow. Norburn was fortunate to escape with a yellow. Busy referee Peter Wright then booked a member of Rovers’ coaching team.
When the anger had settled down, Town looked much the more composed and confident side with the ball and it was no surprise to see Ricketts’ men ahead before the break.
It was a lovely piece of play for the visitors - all in black - on the edge of the box to create.
Whalley picked the ball up on the left flank, gave a delightful one-two with Laurent, where the latter’s flick fell perfectly for Whalley, who composed himself to round a defender and slot in via a deflection.
It was some way to mark Town’s No.7’s first start in four months as he very much announced his return.
It was the first time Ricketts’ side had been ahead in the league in six games, going back to Sunderland in December.
Crucially, Town saw the lead into half-time, despite a late, needless foul given away by debut man Williams, where a free-kick was nervously flicked behind the visitors’ goal.
Ricketts resisted the option of bringing off Norburn at the break but responded by doing just that as Coughlan – a former Salop captain – changed his strikeforce on 50 minutes.
Jonson Clarke-Harris and Alex Jakubiak replaced the ineffective Tom Nichols and Gavin Reilly. While Greg Docherty came on for Norburn.
The subs were made while Town were prepared to face a free-kick near the right corner flag for a foul committed by Golbourne.
And Chris Lines’ delivery found Rodman, with the freedom of the Town area, to head into the top corner. The former Salop man was totally unmarked.
The Memorial Stadium was bouncing and the visitors were in the ascendency with their new forwards troubling Town. Arnold made a sprawling save to his left to deny Sercombe’s effort from distance.
Town needed to wrestle back some sort of control and composure after losing their way. Docherty made an impact with some nice touches and combination with Whalley.
The pair combined for a real chance for the visitors on the hour but Docherty sent his low effort from a tight left angle inches wide of the far post.
But Town were struggling to keep their hosts at bay as it was the Gas with another clear opening in a fairly open game. Sercombe was again wasteful after latching on to Sadler’s clearance inside the box, he could only shoot at Arnold.
The game was, understandably, edgy but more so bitty from a referee who was struggling for control. The ball spent as much time out of play as it did in action in the second half.
Another flashpoint came as Golbourne lunged in on a Rovers player, catching him in the ankle. The Memorial again cried for a red card but the Town man escaped with a caution.
A nervy final quarter of the game could have gone either way, with some excellent - and some heart-stopping - last ditch defending in both boxes.
Town sub Docherty had to be subbed off himself after failing to recover from a ball whacked into his face. Edwards returned from his groin injury for the final 15.
Edwards was involved as a shot was blocked on the edge of the box after the impressive Beckles demanded a handball inside the home penalty area.
But Town’s Welshman was involved further when shown a straight red with five minutes remaining.
The clash had been played in a melting pot atmosphere and Edwards paid the price for storming into a challenge in a midfield battle. He was forceful in his challenge and didn’t win the ball, but gave the official a decision to make.
Neither side could be accused of not trying to steal all three points towards a very tense finale but there was a lack of quality at the death.
Ricketts and his side had to settle for the point, just their ninth on the road this season. As they remain on one away win and remain in the League One drop zone.
5 - Mat Sadler gets good contact on a Scott Golbourne corner but it’s headed wide at the near post.
6 - Shaun Whalley’s low free-kick is spilled by Jack Bonham who claims at the second attempt.
15 - Biggest chance so far falls for the hosts but Liam Sercombe can’t convert from six yards despite finding himself totally unmarked.
35 - Goal Shrewsbury! Fantastic move between Whalley and Josh Laurent, the latter’s lovely first-time flick is perfect for Whalley who takes his time and scores from inside the box via a deflection. Big goal.
53 - Goal Rovers, Alex Rodman with a free header from Chris Lines’ free-kick.
61 - Sub Greg Docherty is inches wide from a tight left angle of the penalty area.
85 - Dave Edwards, who replaced sub Docherty after he picked up a head injury, is sent off for a lunge in the midfield.
Bristol Rovers (4-4-2):
Bonham; Partington (Clarke, 80), Lockyer ©, Craig, Holmes-Dennis; Sercombe, Lines, Ogogo, Rodman; Nichols (Jakubiak, 50), Reilly (Clarke-Harris, 50).
Subs not used: Smith, Upson, Sinclair, Matthews.
Shrewsbury Town (3-4-2-1):
Arnold; Williams, Beckles, Sadler ©; Bolton, Norburn (Docherty, 50, Edwards, 78)), Grant, Golbourne; Whalley, Laurent; Okenabirhie (Amadi-Holloway, 70).
Subs not used: Mitchell (gk), Sears, Waterfall, Campbell.
Referee: Peter Wright
Attendance: 8,322 (469 Shrewsbury fans)
Position in the table: 22nd (32 points from 31 games)
Star man: Shaun Whalley - Great return topped with a goal