Shrewsbury Town 1 Gillingham 1 - Report and pictures
Omar Beckles’ important second-half equaliser earned Shrewsbury Town a sixth draw in 13 games this season.
Visitors Gillingham led from the late stages of the first-half as Stuart O’Keefe converted a penalty following Ryan Giles’ poor foul.
Both sides lacked a cutting edge in a scrappy game that was edgy throughout, particularly with low-scoring Town struggling to forge a leveller.
But the point, secured with 25 minutes to go, made it three matches unbeaten for Shrews, who dropped to 14th. Town went closest to a winner through two late headers from subs Dave Edwards and Fejiri Okenabirhie but couldn’t find a winner.
Ricketts made one switch from the side that earned a point on the road at Sincil Bank last Friday night.
Summer capture from AFC Telford United Daniel Udoh was handed his first league start for Town in place of Okenabirhie.
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There may have been a low-profile feel to the Meadow ahead of kick-off, with the Kent visitors bringing limited numbers up on a cold midweek evening, but the clash presented an opportunity for low-scoring Shrews to show their intent in attack.
Town fans in the Salop Leisure Stand safe standing did their best to whip up an atmosphere as Shrews sought to improve on their tally of 10 goals in their first 12 league games against the side three places and points below them ahead of the action.
Ricketts had insisted that goals were on the way for his side according to the shot-count statistic anyway. Steve Evans’ Gills were still searching for their first away league win of the season but had managed four draws in six away from Priestfield.
The visitors, who have won just once in 13 attempts against Town, signalled their intentions early on as Regan Charles-Cook, twin brother of ex-Shrews keeper Reice, fended off Aaron Pierre’s attention and sent in a dangerous low cross that Max O’Leary did well to smother.
The home side’s first venture forward of any note saw Jason Cummings cleverly feed Giles whose cross was inches from the Scot’s head.
Defender Connor Ogilvie flashed a header wide from a deep free-kick as Town’s marking was found wanting from the set-piece.
Ricketts’ men began to wrestle a bit of control after 20 minutes. They moved the ball and got in some decent wide positions, Giles in particular sending in some fine deliveries from the left.
Jack Bonham was forced into his first save to deny Josh Laurent’s curler from the edge of the box after the midfielder made a powerful 40-yard surge forward.
But despite monopolising the ball, Salop were not testing the Gills backline and there were audible signs of fans wanting more going forward.
Udoh worked hard but was unable to run off an earlier knock and was replaced by Okenabirhie after half an hour.
It was another powerful drive by Laurent from one half to the other to conjure the best chance of the game, releasing Cummings whose low drive was well saved by Bonham.
Evans’ men showed they were here for more than a point and troubled a Town defence who looked shakier than their usual selves.
A couple of crosses flashed across goal before Giles got a high challenge inside the box all wrong and caught Tom O’Connor. Referee Will Finnie pointed at the spot immediately with Giles left head in hands.
Experienced campaigner O’Keefe did the honour, sending Max O’Leary the wrong way to find the left corner as a clean sheet fell by the wayside.
Half-time boos greeted the home side from a less than impressed crowd.
Town faced a big second half and needed to respond from their sluggish display to take anything from the home clash.
But it was the visitors who threatened the scoreline further as Mark Marshall was denied by O’Leary from a tight angle after Alex Jakubiak’s enterprising run. The winger was then off target from a similarly narrow angle.
Fans were itching to see Shaun Whalley involved and Ricketts sent the No.7 on before the hour mark.
The unimpressed home crowd had just began chants of ‘attack attack’ as Town found a crucial equaliser. A half-cleared corner was sent back in from the left by Sean Goss and Beckles converted with aplomb from 10 yards.
The priceless leveller felt like a big goal and Shrews had 25 minutes to find an even bigger second.
But it was by no means one-way traffic as O’Leary was on his toes to parry a deflected Gills cross over the top.
Town fans urged their side on as Edwards was sent on for Cummings with 17 minutes remaining, with Whalley shifting into a forward role with Okenabirhie.
Shrews appeared to have more options with Whalley and Edwards flanking the striker but chances weren’t frequent.
Opportunities did arrive as the final 10 minutes approached, however, as Ollie Norburn’s fine pass released Donald Love and he found Whalley but Gills defended strongly.
Seconds later Whalley blasted one over the top-right angle from Love’s header. Gills bit back with sub Mikael Ndjoli testing O’Leary before Brandon Hanlan sliced over on the swivel from close range.
The big moments came in five minutes added time from perfect Whalley and Love crosses, but Edwards and Okenabirhie could not head on target.
Shrewsbury Town (3-5-2): O’Leary; Williams, Pierre, Beckles; Love, Norburn (c), Goss, Laurent (Whalley, 59), Giles; Udoh (Okenabirhie, 30), Cummings (Edwards, 73).
Subs not used: Murphy (gk), Golbourne, Walker, Thompson.
Gillingham (4-2-3-1): Bonham; Tucker, Ehmer, Ogilvie, O’Connor; Jones, O’Keefe; Charles-Cook (Lee, 80), Marshall (Hodson, 90+3); Jakubiak (Ndjoli, 82), Hanlan.
Subs not used: Walsh (gk), Mandron, Cisse, Pringle.
Referee: Will Finnie
Attendance: 5,076 (186 Gillingham fans)