Shrewsbury verdict: Swings and roundabouts after just two league games
It’s a cliché, but Town have felt the swings and roundabouts of a league season inside the first two games.
It’s a bit simplistic to say that Sam Ricketts’ men didn’t deserve to beat Portsmouth and didn’t deserve to lose at MK Dons but it isn’t too far wrong.
It was a pretty forgettable encounter at Stadium MK. Neither side were overly impressive and clear-cut goalscoring opportunities were very few and far between.
In fact, Dave Edwards’s flying volley five minutes from the end of normal time was the first serious save Lee Nicholls had to make. Max O’Leary, in Town’s goal, had been just as untested.
There was very little between the teams. Shrews probably edged it in territory around the opposition box but there was a lack of quality in the final third from both. Rustiness at this stage of the season is still a valid excuse – particularly for the hosts playing their first game of the campaign – as new players bed in and transfer business remains to be done.
It was a scrappy game decided by a scrappy and unjust – Shrewsbury would argue – winner in the third minute of three added on.
Still, if you don’t buy a ticket then you’ll never win the jackpot. The adage fits. If you don’t shoot you won’t score.
Sub Rhys Healey’s effort was as tame as most before it but a cruel flick off former Dons loanee Ethan Ebanks-Landell, who put in yet another assured display in defence, meant keeper O’Leary was wrong-footed.
Most of a decent crowd of almost 8,000, albeit so sparse in the impressive 30,000 all-seater, were euphoric.
More than 600 away fans that braved the gale-force blustery conditions were wondering, like Ricketts and his staff from the dugout, just how Shrews had lost a game they could have won. Town looked like they were making the threatening moves late on.
Those Town followers could again leave the match knowing their team look solid. Yes, this time they were beaten late on, but defensively Shrewsbury kept MK Dons’ attack to next to nothing.
Losing Ro-Shaun Williams early to injury is a big concern. Hopefully he isn’t too bad. But Omar Beckles slotted in very well. Ebanks-Landell and star man Aaron Pierre were very good – again.
Ricketts bemoaned his side’s luck after the game. It may seem like an obvious manager excuse to roll out into post-match interviews but the Shrewsbury boss was right in saying he doesn’t often curse a lack of fortune.
The telling late deflection went MK Dons’ way. The game’s other big deflection, away from Edwards three yards out just before half-time, took the ball – somehow – on to the Dons crossbar and to safety.
There were more factors that sided with the home side, in the form of the officials – certainly if you take Ricketts’ view.
Man in the middle Brett Huxtable, rather renowned by Salop fans, could have pointed to the spot for Town on at least two occasions – both where the lively Shaun Whalley – back in the team and looking a sharp as ever – was manhandled.
First Whalley was clearly pulled back after a hospital ball from defender Joe Walsh before Shrews’ No.7, starting in attack with Steve Morison, was fouled after a clever short corner. The penalty claim was ignored because of an offside flag that, according to replays, was incorrect.
So you feel for Town in a sense. They were unfortunate. But they rode their luck at times against Portsmouth on the opening weekend. Shrewsbury did not play particularly well, despite their manager believing they were better going forward than against Pompey.
The quality in the final moments, and at times the inability to read where a good cross or pass was falling, cost Town in the end.
Service from wide areas was good. Ryan Giles, yet again, and Donald Love put in inviting deliveries but the presence in the penalty area was lacking.
Edwards was busy at times, with two efforts – one from three yards and one from 25 – that almost made the difference but support and creativity from central midfield was lacking and is an area that requires improvement.
Town are in the market for another central midfield man and are lacking the energy and creativity that the injured Josh Laurent and Ollie Norburn bring. Romain Vincelot, in the defensive midfield role, deserves credit for another professional display.
Luke McCormick, the young midfielder on loan from Chelsea, has ability but is extremely raw at this level and at times it shows with a lack of composure or a wrong decision.
Shrewsbury have not, thus far this season, been able to build through the thirds and launch attacks from central midfield. A ploy is to use diagonal passes from defence to hit Morison or the wing-backs, but Town must mix things up.
Despite the late sucker punch there were positives to bring back up the M1 from Buckinghamshire as this new-look Salop continue to fine tune.
The defence still looks like a unit that won’t concede many goals. Pierre, Ebanks-Landell and Beckles got their heads on everything and were only undone in a cruel manner.
And that is definitely a solid platform to build on. Ricketts will know there are important personnel coming back from the treatment room, while a couple of gaps are still to be plugged in the market – with the deadline looming three weeks today.
Whalley, back in the starting XI, showed he must absolutely remain there as he looked sharper than ever days after turning 32.
Fans will have a nagging concern over a lack of creativity in the middle of the park and are desperate for another striker through the door. But only time will tell how the squad looks this time next month.