Shrewsbury Town analysis: More last-gasp woe exposes Sam Ricketts to fury of angry fans

Saturday’s late capitulation at Ipswich rather summed up Shrewsbury’s season.

A dejected Ryan Barnett of Shrewsbury Town after Jack Lankester of Ipswich Town scored a goal to make it 2-1. (AMA)
A dejected Ryan Barnett of Shrewsbury Town after Jack Lankester of Ipswich Town scored a goal to make it 2-1. (AMA)

Flashes of encouragement, promise and positivity, drowned out by misery and despair caused by frustrating and avoidable errors. A third stoppage time sucker-punch in just 12 league games this season.

And, after the latest attempt at snatching a defeat from the jaws of a draw or even a victory, you have to wonder where to next for beleaguered manager Sam Ricketts?

Shrewsbury remain 22nd in League One and bang in trouble as they pass the quarter mark of the league campaign. Having taken just one win from their opening 12 league games, a gap of four points has opened up to the teams above them – at a time when Town don’t look like winning league games, that is most alarming.

Salop led from the fourth minute until the 75th at Portman Road. They were 15 minutes from an historic first victory at the home of the Tractor Boys.

But a wild shank into his own net by defender Ethan Ebanks-Landell was followed by goalkeeper Harry Burgoyne’s weak parry into the path of Jack Lankester to net a heartbreaking yet frustratingly predictable winner in the seventh minute of seven added on.

Ricketts condemned referee Tim Robinson for not awarding his side further penalties for a foul on Marc Pugh, shortly after Ollie Norburn’s early spot-kick, and then as Toto Nsiala hacked down Ryan Barnett late on with the contest stretched at 1-1.

The under-pressure boss also took another swipe at costly individual errors. Shrewsbury should have seen the game out. Ipswich created one or two good chances but barring that were well below-par for a side who had won five from five home league games prior to kick-off, without conceding.

The late heartbreaker comes after Gillingham and Swindon have already pinched added time points against Town this season. The worrying trend of switching off late on is far too familiar.

It adds weight to the theory that the side have simply lost the ability to see out points and wins in the league, where it truly matters.

It was interesting, in an empty stadium where you can hear a pin drop and player reactions are more audible, to hear defender Ro-Shaun Williams volley a mouthful of pent-up frustration towards his own dugout after an Ipswich chance with the scores locked at 1-1 late on.

Ricketts said in his post-match media duties that most of his side’s performance, quoting up to 98 per cent, was ‘excellent’ and ‘very good’. But once again, in the crucial moments, Town have fallen.

Sam Ricketts the head coach / manager of Shrewsbury Town. (AMA)

Yet Ricketts must look inwards as his league record continues to concern. Town’s league form, dating back to Boxing Day, reads three wins in 26.

That is an eye-popping statistic that comes with the caveat of an FA Cup run that saw Shrews lock horns with Liverpool and a global pandemic cutting short a season when Town had mustered a couple of wins.

But the start to the current league campaign has been disastrous from a blue and amber point of view, it is comfortably Shrewsbury’s worst start to a League One campaign of the modern era.

The Town board have been extremely patient in their backing of the boss. Micky Mellon left with form poor in early October 2016 – with Town 22nd after two wins from 11 games – and John Askey was sacked on November 12, 2018, with Shrews 18th with four wins from 17 games.

Supporters’ frustration watching on from home has reached fever pitch. Town fans are deeply unimpressed and many are demanding change. Many are worried as they look at the league table, worried that a six-year stay in the third tier could be in jeopardy.

When asked whether he was the man to lead the squad’s turnaround, Ricketts admitted it ‘was not for him to answer’.

Given the chance to continue into tomorrow evening’s important clash at MK Dons, who are 17th after losing to Hull on Saturday, Ricketts needs to show the turnaround can happen now. There is no time left for second chances.

It was almost a different story in Suffolk on an afternoon where Shrewsbury started well for a second consecutive Saturday but were were left with the same sinking feeling late on.

Town were 15 minutes from a first victory in their history at Portman Road at the 13th attempt of asking.

Norburn’s penalty – Shrewsbury’s first of the season and a first since Jason Cummings’ against Liverpool in January – was the first league goal Ipswich had conceded this season and Town’s first league goal at Portman Road since 1957. What a shame no fans were there to celebrate it.

Town felt hard done by the officials. Ricketts and his staff were apoplectic with rage as a second penalty was turned down for a Mark McGuinness clip on Pugh just 16 minutes in.

When ex-Town magician Jon Nolan limped off after just 20 minutes, adding to Ipswich’s injury woes, it looked like it could be Shrewsbury’s afternoon. Ironically Nolan was replaced by late hero Lankester.

Brad Walker of Shrewsbury Town and Jack Lankester of Ipswich Town. (AMA)

Ipswich saw more of the ball as Town’s bright start wore off as the first half grew on but the visitors kept them at arm’s length. The Tractor Boys created precious little of note while Salop, through Pugh, Shaun Whalley and Shilow Tracey, were a threat on the counter. Skipper Norburn gave his best display since returning from a knee injury earlier in the season.

Town’s defence, heavily criticised in recent weeks, were answering their doubters with a couple of superb blocks and key interceptions at the big moments.

Burgoyne made a crucial save past the hour mark with the hosts guilty of wastefulness.

Ipswich saw most of the ball but Shrewsbury had their moments late on through Pugh, who couldn’t make them count.

And with 15 minutes to go Ricketts’ men, yet again, were punished. A cross from the right that should not have been allowed and Ebanks-Landell’s wild shank with his weaker left foot left Burgoyne scrambling. It was another defensive error.

At 1-1, the contest became open. The visitors gave as good as they got. Barnett could have won a penalty. But then came the potentially fatal hammer blow as Burgoyne flapped at Alan Judge’s shot and Lankester did the honours leaving Shrewsbury facing some big questions.

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