Verdict: Shrewsbury Town’s new Joker has the last laugh at Dons
There’s a new joker in the pack at Shrewsbury Town but Jason Cummings’ finishing will be no laughing matter to League One rivals this season.
Shrewsbury’s new main man in attack took just five minutes after coming off the bench to rescue Sam Ricketts’ side a deserved point at AFC Wimbledon.
Cummings, who arrived for an undisclosed fee from Nottingham Forest on deadline day, showed in his 23-minute display – even at this stage where his fitness levels are low – what he can bring to this squad.
There is no suggestion he is the final piece of the jigsaw or finishing touch to this Salop squad, but Cummings’ finishing touch in front of goal is that of an accomplished marksman.
The Scotland international, 24, is a jovial figure and not one to hide his emotions. His big-money move from Hibernian to the Championship didn’t quite come off.
But if Town can keep his head down and fitness up, they might have brought in a gem whose reputation of an exciting signing is very much justified. Cummings is covered in tattoos but one piece of inked artwork will – hopefully – become quite the symbol with Town fans this season.
The striker has the image of Joker’s mouth, from the Batman films, printed between the thumb and index finger on his right hand.
He raises it to his face, so the Joker’s smile covers his mouth, when the ball hits the back of the net.
It’s a ruthless look from a centre-forward who will hopefully show a ruthless side in his time in Shropshire.
Town have been begging for a talismanic striker for a number of years and this one could hardly have got off to a better start. Ricketts says that, after a minimal pre-season, Cummings is not quite ready for a start. But the more minutes Shrewsbury can get in his legs from the bench the sharper he will be.
The former Hibs hotshot stung the midriff of keeper Nathan Trott minutes after entering. He attempted a cheeky overhead kick, again saved by the shot-stopper, and saw a late one-on-one well defended.
But those were the mere highlights, the striker’s movement showed an obvious attacking knowhow. A pedigree that, should Salop get him up to speed, will be tough to live with.
The finish was cool when somebody less composed could have connected poorly or blazed over. Credit Ethan Ebanks-Landell – making up for his first-half own goal – and Ryan Giles for their part in the build-up.
And despite the striker only netting once previously in the calendar year, out came the Joker as the new cult figure enjoyed himself with the away fans behind the dugouts.
Cummings joined fellow debutant Callum Lang on the pitch at Kingsmeadow. The Wigan loanee, who recently turned 21, didn’t net, but his Town bow was no less impressive.
The busy Scouser has bundles of energy and showed it. He put himself about, chasing lost cause after lost cause and winning possession for his side. In flashes he also showed the ability he possesses.
Ricketts is not lacking in options in those forward positions any more. Shaun Whalley was suspended and Fejiri Okenabirhie (hamstring) was unavailable, but Salop still packed a punch in attack in south west London. Fans’ prayers have finally been answered.
With the equally as important boost of skipper Ollie Norburn, the heartbeat of the team, back in the ranks, Town look quite the unit. Ro-Shaun Williams, another injury victim, was back in the XI, albeit the relegated Omar Beckles can feel harshly done by.
The 429 Salopians who travelled down to the capital were still put through the ringer at the Cherry Red Records Stadium.
Ricketts’ visitors were sluggish for the most part of the first half.
For much of the early part of this season, Town have been watertight defensively. But, here, the Dons were bullying Shrews’ backline every time they whipped a ball into the box.
Town’s defenders don’t lack height, but organisation and simple clearances were lacking.
As for Shrewsbury’s attacking play, they were functioning in fits and starts but never managed a sustained period of pressure on the home goal before the break.
It was a real game of two halves, to use the exhausted cliché.
Whatever Ricketts said at the interval, and he insisted voices weren’t raised – rather points made with clarity, the visitors were much better after the break.
They mixed up their attacking play a little more. Long balls for Lang and then Cummings to chase were utilised rather than the intricate build-up that so often broke down in the first half.
Ebanks-Landell must take credit for a brilliant long diagonal pass to release Giles for the equaliser.
Town had dominated but with the scores locked inside the last 10 minutes, something of a basketball game broke out with both sides racing forward.
But Shrewsbury’s defence looked far more accomplished at this stage. Wimbledon claimed for a few hand balls inside the Town box but, that aside Shrews defended their goal brilliantly, they got a foot in when required and put bodies on the line. Whereas every set-piece caused Salop problems in the first period, they defended them well afterwards.
Ricketts and Town supporters will hope it is the second-half display that can be replicated moving forward. Williams, Norburn, Lang and Cummings are just four who are working their way into this side.
A point on the road, particularly after trailing, is always welcome. Backing it up with a much-needed home win tomorrow evening against a flailing Southend is very much on Town’s to-do list. The Joker will happily have the last laugh again.