Oxford United v Shrewsbury Town: Shrews set for new test with stylish U’s

Shrewsbury passed their Gillingham test with flying colours, but the challenge Oxford pose tonight could hardly be more different.

Shaun Whalley of Shrewsbury Town and Robbie Cundy of Gillingham. (AMA)
Shaun Whalley of Shrewsbury Town and Robbie Cundy of Gillingham. (AMA)

Town stood up manfully to the barrage of physical and set-piece tests thrown in by Steve Evans’ bulldozing Gills at the weekend, writes Lewis Cox.

And this evening they will face a schooling of more possession-based fluid football at Oxford against the U’s for the first time this season – despite it being mid-April (this re-arranged first fixture was postponed due to Shrews’ FA Cup exploits, the reverse clash is to come on May 1.)

To a coach like David Longwell, the paradox of styles is a dream. Town’s management staff, including boss Steve Cotterill from afar, will formulate tactical ploys and counter-plans to negate Karl Robinson’s hosts who, in ninth, have a very slim outside chance of a late play-off charge.

Oxford could hardly be in better spirits. They hammered Crewe 6-0 on the road on Saturday, with six different scorers on target.

While Salop successfully rolled up their sleeves and put bodies on the line to earn a point from Saturday’s bruising battle in Kent, they will certainly be asked different questions in Oxfordshire, against a side who like to move and control the ball.

“There is no right and wrong ways to play,” insisted Town first-team coach Longwell.

“Gillingham have their style, Oxford have their style, we have our way we want to play football and it’s still developing.

“I think, from a coaches’ and players’ point of view, the league is great for that, coming up against all different styles.

“Some teams are direct, some teams try to build up more, for our players it gives different ways for us to defend against it.

“The biggest thing is it keeps us on our toes. Our players were excellent at times on Saturday, to defend so well against Gillingham, because they are really hard to play against.

“We come from there probably disappointed not to get three points and then go to Oxford, who are a completely different style, but we have a lot of trust in the players, very rarely they’ve let us down this season, there’s an honesty and trust between the manager and players.”

Not only content with defending a rugged route one approach on Saturday, Town played some of their brightest football in recent weeks against the play-off facing Gills.

Some patterns of play involved 20-something pass moves and led to openings on goal. Longwell admits the opportunity for Cotterill’s Town to experiment and progress their playing style has come as a result of easing the fear of relegation with vital wins after the manager’s appointment.

Longwell added: “I do see the style progressing. If you look what he’s done previously, the gaffer wants teams to play.

“But when he came in, the situation we were in, it was about winning games.

“There’s a progression about how we take the team forward. We had to win games, be good defensively and build from that base.

“As that’s gone on the gaffer’s then implementing, can we play a little more football? Can we build that through?

“The biggest credit I can give our boys was that Gillingham made two subs at half-time and changed their shape because we were on the ball and passing it. There have been real good signs over the period. We’re trying to enhance it.

“The players want to play with that style, we’ve got good footballers in there. Norbs (Ollie Norburn) was getting on the ball a lot, and we try to build through him, and play out through the centre-backs.

“When you’ve got good players in there, Vels and Gossy, you want them on the ball and to feed the full-backs and so on.

“We had 17 shots, not as many on target as we want, but a lot comes from playing decent football. We want to continue that, but there’s no divine right, teams can be up and at you and stop you.”

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