Rotherham 0 Shrewsbury 0 - Report and pictures
Shrewsbury dug in for a hard-working point at Rotherham with a tireless defensive display on their way to a goalless draw in South Yorkshire.
One of Town’s soundest defensive performances under Sam Ricketts stumped a below-par Rotherham who might have had more of the ball but did very little with it.
Ricketts set his side up in a more pragmatic and solid system and they delivered with a performance full of energy, guts, discipline and bravery and the hosts found nowhere through.
The visitors, certainly in the first half, had the better chances on goal and were not shy of powering forward after the break either - albeit they were superbly drilled in their defensive shape.
Shrewsbury were far the happier team at full-time and came away pleased from an extremely solid display to take them to three matches unbeaten against the side that denied them promotion two years ago.
Ricketts’ side rode wave after wave of balls into their box but defender almost all of them, only relying one stunning Max O’Leary save late on. Town’s defensive heroes defended stood firm with countless blocks and clearances.
The Shrewsbury midfield ran themselves into the ground. By no means happy to defend and bursting forward at every chance to join the brilliant and tireless Callum Lang in attack.
It was Salop fans going home happy with a point that gives further evidence to Ricketts’ side finding their feet and beginning to make a point in League One.
Shaun Whalley came in for exciting new frontman Jason Cummings as Ricketts slightly jigged his Town team’s shape for the trip to South Yorkshire.
Town’s No.7, who has played in a front two this season, played out on the right side of a midfield five, while Josh Laurent took up a similar position on the left.
There was an emphasis on Whalley and Laurent to drift into midfield to make Ricketts’ side more competitive in that department.
While Shrewsbury have played with a back three all season, the defensive set-up was more of a back five with Donald Love and Ryan Giles slotting in as full-back on either side of the three centre-halves.
Loan signing from Wigan Lang ran the lone role up front with support, when possible, from the visiting central midfield.
There was no place in the matchday squad for Aaron Pierre for the second game running, with the defender reported to have picked up a knock in training. Striker Steve Morison was also omitted from the Town 18.
The trip to the impressive AESSEAL New York Stadium brought back memories of Shrewsbury’s memorable campaign two seasons ago. Stefan Payne netted an added time winner for Town’s 10 men that day.
The sides would go on to play at Wembley, where Shrewsbury’s Championship dreams were crushed.
Just two players started for Town who featured in that play-off final, the last time the clubs met in the league.
There was a flavour of Shrewsbury about the Millers’ ranks of 2019/20 as Carlton Morris and Freddie Ladapo, two former loan striker, started up front. Billy Jones, from Shrewsbury, started at right-back.
Kyle Vassell, yet another ex-Salop man, missed out due to an injury.
Town and Paul Warne’s Rotherham already had a grasp of each other after their EFL Cup contest last month, where both sides fielded much-changed line-ups and the Millers ran out 4-0 winners.
This League One clash pitted 13th against 14th, though both clubs had one match (or two in Rotherham’s case) in hand on rivals in the slightly-skewed early table.
Glorious weather conditions in Yorkshire helped, with Town’s blue and amber and the hosts’ splash of red, make for a colourful setting ahead of kick-off.
The 400 or so travelling fans were clearly winning the battle of the decibels despite finding themselves comfortably outnumbered.
But the Millers enjoyed the better of the first five minutes on the pitch. First Ladapo skimmed a header tamely wide before a slightly short backpass from Omar Beckles meant Ladapo was able to charge down Max O’Leary’s clearance. A resulting cross led to Morris sending a low finish wide.
But Ricketts’ side found their feet as an attacking force. Laurent clicked through the gears with a skillful run from left to right before releasing Lang in the box. His finish deflected into the path of Whalley - who was denied by a last-ditch challenge in the six-yard box.
Town’s clever big switches across the pitch from Sean Goss and Ollie Norburn picked out Ryan Giles as Shrews had more joy on the flanks. Laurent turned an effort on to the post from a smartly-worked short corner but the offside flag had been raised.
Home fans screamed for a spot-kick as ex-Town favourite Morris - given a good reception by away fans - went down early as Norburn threatened to dangle a leg in the box, but the decision was rightly waved away.
Ladapo showed a flash of his ability moments later with a sharp turn outside the box and fierce drive that was parried away by O’Leary.
Rotherham began to see more of the ball after 20 minutes but their visitors were making it increasingly difficult to penetrate. Shrewsbury were drilled into their positions and standing firm. At times all Town’s outfield players barring frontman Lang were behind the ball.
Warne’s hosts did have some joy from deep as an accurate long pass looked like releasing in-form Rangers loanee Jake Hastie but Ladapo got in his team-mate’s way.
Shrews proved they weren’t just in Yorkshire to defend by springing forward and posing a real threat.
Giles opted to make use of space that opened up in front of him and, from the left, darted infield, unchallenged into the box in a central area, where he shifted on to his weaker right foot and had a strike parried over by Daniel Iversen.
Ethan Ebanks-Landell lost his markers from the resulting Goss corner and headed another big chance wide at the near post.
With Lang a willing runner as ever Shrews felt they had an outball in forward positions. Town midfielders were smart on the ball more often than not and when they did get possession were looking after it well.
Millers fans grew more and more frustrated as half-time approached with no sign of a breakthrough.
Their side had precious little joy inside the Town box. Ladapo and big Matt Crooks had both headed off target before Hastie’s tame shot was blocked by Ebanks-Landell, but their inability to break Shrewsbury down meant the visitors were much the happier at the break.
A familiar pattern broke out after the break as the Millers, at times, looked devoid of ideas and too static in possession and movement.
Town defended long balls and crosses into their box very well, with all three centre-halves impressing. Whalley showed maturity and defensive diligence with a crucial back post interception to deny the hosts.
Shrews were unapologetic in eating up time whenever O’Leary was over a goal kick or they had a throw-in.
The hosts had more of the play generally but Town, led by the tireless and excellent Lang, remained interested in getting at Rotherham and testing their backline.
Lang held off challenges with skillful dribbling and laid a pass into Whalley who uncharacteristically shanked wide from outside the box.
As Rotherham angst mounted Town confidence grew. Norburn’s delightful switch of play fed Giles, who burned past his defender and crossed low, leaving Michael Ihiekwe to turn a low clearances inches past his own post.
Home boss Warne turned to towering striker Michael Smith on the midpoint of the second period, he replaced Ladapo.
Smith made a difference as the home side finally built a head of steam and forced a few set-pieces. All of which Shrewsbury defended well.
Williams made a stunning block as Smith let fly in the box before O’Leary safely claimed the low follow-up from distance by Ben Wiles.
Town fans were given a shot in the arm as they saw new hero Cummings readying himself on the bench and the ex-Forest man was sent on for the brilliant Lang with 16 minutes remaining.
It felt as if the Millers may force a clear chance on goal and one came on 77 minutes as Morris turned narrowly wide from seven yards out after Wiles had nodded across goal.
There was to be another big chance inside the final 10 minutes. A central free-kick was well delivered and picked out Ihiekwe, whose flicked backwards header looked destined for the far corner but for O’Leary’s stunning one-handed save at full stretch.
Rotherham forced another corner, but not content with just clearing their lines, Town broke five on and one and looked favourites to take advantage but Giles’ cross was booked with blue and amber bodies waiting to pounce.
Ricketts sent on Dave Edwards and Brad Walker for some fresh energy near the death as Shrews continued to throw their bodies in front of shots and clear everything in one of their finest defensive displays in memory.
There was to be no dramatic climax at either end and it was the travelling Salopians enjoying the post-match applause with their tireless players and a very satisfied Town boss.
Rotherham United (4-4-2):
Iversen; Jones, Ihiekwe, Robertson, Mattock ©; Lindsay, Wiles, Crooks, Hastie (MacDonald, 83); Ladapo (Smith, 67), Morris.
Subs not used: Price (gk), Wood, Barlaser, Lamy, Cooper.
Shrewsbury Town (5-4-1):
O’Leary; Love, Williams, Ebanks-Landell, Beckles, Giles; Whalley (Walker, 90), Goss, Norburn ©, Laurent (Edwards, 84); Lang (Cummings, 74).
Subs not used: Agius (gk), Golbourne, Vincelot, Udoh.
Referee: Carl Boyeson
Attendance: 8,380 (429 Shrewsbury fans)