Shrewsbury Town 2 Coventry 1 - Report and pictures
Super-sub Shaun Whalley returned from injury to score a dramatic stoppage time winner as Shrewsbury came from behind to beat Coventry.
It was the story of Sam Ricketts’ three substitutes as Whalley, who came on at half-time with the hosts 1-0 down, hammered in a controlled volley at the back-post as the Meadow erupted.
All three Town subs were involved in the dramatic winner - Whalley’s first goal since February - as Jason Cummings spread for Ryan Giles who crossed for the ferocious finish.
Scott Golbourne had drawn Town level midway through the second half from a scrambled corner after Jordan Shipley’s first-half opener had City ahead.
Shrewsbury were well below-par in a nothing first-half performance but the comeback victory is up there with some of the boss’ finest in charge of Town.
It was Whalley’s first appearance in almost a month since the FA Cup replay at Bradford as the attacker overcame as calf injury.
Town, who climb above Sunderland to 11th, were good value for at least a draw with their second-half recovery. There were some hairy moments late on at 1-1 as both sides threatened a winner.
Promotion-chasing City were threatening a first win at Shrewsbury since 1958 but the late defeat demoted the visitors from their top six position in League One.
But it was the hosts who took advantage of five minutes added on with a wonderfully-constructed finish that led to brilliant scenes of celebration inside the Meadow both in celebrating the goal and the full-time whistle.
Max O’Leary made a couple of routine stops late on but the visitors never truly stretched the Town keeper in what finished one of the highlights of the season to date.
Both sides were unchanged ahead of the blustery Meadow contest.
The festive period was in full swing inside the stadium as side’s did the very necessary warming up, with Christmas tunes blaring out on the public address system.
Ricketts, who finished his playing career at Coventry in 2016, was pleased with the point his side took from free-scoring Oxford seven days prior and stuck with the same personnel for the return to the Meadow.
Town’s system was designed for midfielders Josh Laurent and Dave Edwards to support lone striker Fejiri Okenabirhie, who again got the nod over Cummings.
Shrewsbury were boosted to have Whalley back on the bench from a calf injury that has sidelined him for four weeks.
The Sky Blues, in the play-off positions ahead of kick-off despite not winning away in the division all season, were also unchanged from the side that picked up an eye-catching FA Cup replay win at Ipswich in midweek.
As well as getting this season’s away monkey off their back, Mark Robins’ men were looking to oust a staggeringly poor fruitless run in Shrewsbury.
City had only won once in 17 visits to Town, and that came all the way back in the old division three (south) in 1958.
Coventry are playing at Birmingham City’s St Andrew’s this season after leaving the Ricoh Stadium due to a dispute that has seen fans forced away from their city for home games.
Home average attendance have been down at 5,000 this season but Robins’ promotion-aiming squad have travelled well and packed out a sold out away at the Meadow, making all the noise ahead of kick-off.
Ricketts’ men repeated their trick from the early stages of last week’s stalemate at the Kassam Stadium.
The hosts were bright and sharp in everything they did early on. Looking for quick interchanges and pressing on their Sky Blue visitors - who were all in white.
Shrews were winning second balls and their 50-50s in midfield, with Laurent a spark moving his side forward through the gears.
Edwards was also a busy presence up alongside the winning running of Okenabirhie as Shrewsbury showed more energy than their opposition early on.
Coventry got forward in patches with some joy down the left flank but Ethan Ebanks-Landell and O’Leary dealt well with deliveries into the box.
Aaron Pierre’s header from Donald Love’s accurate first-time cross looked threatening but was grasped by Marko Marosi 20 minutes in for the contest’s first effort on target.
Town’s early gusto had died down as the visitors came into the clash. Ollie Norburn picked up an unwanted early booking for a rash challenge midway through the first half.
A lovely knitted move down Shrewsbury’s right Okenabirhie dig out a dangerous cross that was just beyond the run of Sean Goss.
By 26 minutes the visitors gave the buoyant away end something to really cheer. Midfielder Jamie Allen made an intelligent run to the right byline and just about kept the ball in to dig out a deep cross that was met by Shipley’s towering climb.
The attacker, a Sky Blues local and fans’ favourite, is enjoying a good run of form and saw his well-placed header drop, almost in slow motion, into the bottom right corner beyond O’Leary’s despairing reach.
It was to be no 13th clean sheet in 27 for Ricketts’ side who needed to respond.
They tried and got into positions to send in dangerous deliveries but the Coventry defence kept their hosts at arm’s length.
After a five or 10 minute period of lull where Shrews were doing little to trouble City, Ricketts’ men found a bit of tempo with halfway approaching.
Okenabirhie headed over from Golbourne’s cross after Goss has switched play well. Shrews were back in charge of the ball but really struggling with their final pass or cross.
Lone striker Okenabirhie was isolated and starved of service but worked hard to make things happen. He took things into his own hands, taking the ball from Norburn after the captain had won it back, before charging past two defenders and striking a well-hit shot from outside the box, but keeper Marko Marosi gathered it well.
A smattering of boos greeted the half-time whistle with Ricketts knowing he needed to react.
Out came Whalley for the start of the second half in place of Goss as Ricketts went more attacking.
Whalley lined up alongside Okenabirhie with Edwards just behind the front two.
The home side were fortunate they did not fall further behind in the early throes of the second period. O’Leary conceded a cheap throw and the keeper and Pierre made a hash of clearing Fankaty Dabo’s launched throw but Shrews just about survived.
But Ricketts’ change did undoubtedly liven things up for the hosts. Whalley’s presence in attack gave the Sky Blues defence much more to think about.
Whalley’s quick-thinking almost played Love into a brilliant position near the right byline. It was an inventive pass applauded by Ricketts and the Town fans.
Town were enjoying all of the ball and territory in the City half. They were getting into some promising positions with Robins’ visitors struggling for a way out.
Ricketts adding yet more impetus to Town’s attack by sending on Ryan Giles just before the hour. The Wolves loanee, like Whalley, made an instant impact by tearing down the City right and delivering dangerous crosses.
An Okenabirhie cut-back from the right line looked set for Norburn to fire goalwards but Edwards took charge and saw his effort charged down.
City’s only breather came as big defender Michael Rose to head a corner narrowly over.
City’s Callum O’Hare failed to find Shipley as the visitors should have punished Shrewsbury but, moments later, Town were level.
Midway through the half a Giles corner from the right led to an almighty scramble with Town trying to get their shot away. It dropped to the back post where Golbourne scrambled an effort goalwards that somehow crept in via the post and one of half-a-dozen white shirts on the line.
It was an untidy leveller but Ricketts, his players or the fans cared not.
It felt like the considerable wind was in Shrewsbury’s sails.
Giles helped lead the charge and again scampered clear down the left. It took a cynical Kyle McFadzean foul to stop him and Giles was feeling the effects of the knock for five or 10 minutes with the boss looking on with concern.
Shrewsbury were not to have the final minutes to themselves as it appeared they might.
Shipley sent a searing free-kick just over O’Leary’s top left corner. It didn’t miss by much.
Ricketts sent on Cummings for Okenabirhie but the Sky Blues again went inches from an historic winner with sub Matt Godden just unable to stretch to convert at the back post.
The away supporters were left unhappy with several of referee Tom Nield’s decisions as the game sat on a knife-edge with minutes remaining and a decent chunk of added time owing to Sam McCallum’s late injury.
And five minutes added on was the decision of the fourth official.
But Shrewsbury only needed one of those minutes to dash Coventry dreams as Cummings, Giles and Whalley combined for a superb winner in a thrilling crescendo to the afternoon.
Shrewsbury Town (3-4-3):
O’Leary; Love, Williams (Giles, 59), Ebanks-Landell, Pierre, Golboure; Goss (Whalley, 45), Norburn ©, Laurent, Edwards; Okenabirhie (Cummings, 83).
Subs not used: Murphy, Beckles, Walker, Udoh.
Coventry City (4-2-3-1):
Marosi; Dabo, McFadzean, Rose, McCallum; Kelly, Walsh; O’Hare (Bakayoko, 90+2), Allen, Shipley (Kastaneer, 90+2); Biamou (Godden, 63).
Subs not used: Wilson, Mason, Hyam, Westbrooke.
Referee: Tom Nield
Attendance: 7,336 (1,529 Coventry fans)