Shrewsbury verdict: Solid at the back but Town struggle up top
It was another blank in front of goal for Shrewsbury Town but at least they continued to look solid at the other end.
At times last season Shrewsbury were conceding chances and goals at an alarming rate and Sam Ricketts admitted fixing that issue was an absolutely priority over the summer.
And fix it they have as in three league games they have conceded just once, the deflected added time strike at MK Dons.
But has the focus and attention on making his side solid cost Town in offensive areas? There is a case to be made here. All the talk is currently focused on Town’s lack of creativity, firepower and goals.
Supporters are concerned at one goal – Ryan Giles’ rocket against Portsmouth on the opening day – in four games in all competitions.
Ricketts said after the Rochdale stalemate – a draw that could have gone either way and was nearly pinched by the visitors but for the assistant’s flag – he was satisfied with the potency and firepower in his ranks. But it is no secret the manager is looking for a final centre forward to take his No 9 shirt. That is likely to conclude Town’s business for the summer. It is a move the manager will have to get right.
The current lack of goals will not simply be solved by whoever is holding that shirt before the September 2 deadline, but the chosen frontman will come with a lot of expectancy.
Shrews were lacking creativity in the middle of the park, which has become a little bit of a theme.
New signing Sean Goss was handed a full debut 24 hours after signing, while fellow recruit Louis Thompson came from the bench before the hour. Goss was neat and tidy with the ball and his set-piece created Town’s best chance for Steve Morison, who should have converted.
But for periods Shrewsbury’s midfield options lacked any tempo, spark, dynamism and imagination to provide sufficient support to the front two.
The midfield is going through an extreme transitional period.
One new signing was in from the start and one played more than half an hour. Neither have had any pre-season, so it is a tough ask to go straight into competitive action. Romain Vincelot missed out through a neural injury while Dave Edwards and Luke McCormick again featured from the off. Neither have quite hit the right notes at the beginning of the season for varying reasons.
It is difficult to come to a definite conclusion on Town’s areas of concern in midfield as two brand new players settle in and two key first-teamers remain in the treatment room.
Ollie Norburn and Josh Laurent are two or three weeks away from a return.
The latter could be back sooner. Their energy, drive, determination and ability on the ball should make a big difference both in the tempo and quality the midfield displays.
Indeed, when Ricketts’ men got to grips with the game after an opening half hour dominated by the visitors it was left wing-back Giles and makeshift striker Shaun Whalley acting as the creative forces – not for the first time this season either.
Town did not get enough from Morison, whose performance lacked the hunger to really unsettle the Dale defence and cause them problems.
He had a few choice words and frustrating reactions when long balls did not go his way.
The experienced striker is not the most mobile, which is understandable, but he cannot expect everything to be teed up on a silver platter.
Still, while Shrewsbury were fortunate and grateful a late flag ensured they took a point, on another day they could – and should – have netted at least once themselves.
Both strikers Morison and then his replacement Fejiri Okenabirhie missed gilt-edged chances that should have been taken.
It’s a worn-out cliché, but at least Ricketts’ side are making some opportunities.
The other major positive is yet another shutout as performances from new defenders Aaron Pierre, Ethan Ebanks-Landell and Donald Love again caught the eye.
Pierre in particular has the opportunity to become a real fans’ favourite at Montgomery Waters Meadow. His stylish defending almost looks easy at times.
A slightly languid style from his huge frame is easy on the eye and his imagination is a fun watch. He sent a bicycle kick inches wide just before half-time and is exactly what Ricketts wants from his centre-halves, to bring the ball out of the back and prove an offensive threat themselves.
Town are still looking in decent shape at the back without the influence of injured young stopper Ro-Shaun Williams, who plays such a key part in this side.
Rochdale are a decent side. They play good, brave, attractive football. They look a much more progressive team than MK Dons, who managed that late winner against Town the weekend before.
Shrewsbury have the makings of a decent side once their key injured trio make a return and the final crucial body is in through the door.
Another centre-forward option will provide more competition in attacking areas and that is just what Town need, while the new signings and returning influential figures of Norburn and Laurent can make a significant difference.
Ricketts has stated that his side are managing games in the meantime with the lengthy injury list on their hands. It is to their credit that they are managing clean sheets and not shipping goals.
But supporters will want to be excited by the long-awaited final striker and want to see more chances and goalmouth action as the games progress. Bringing in a sufficient difference-maker in front of goal might be the difference.