Analysis: Shrewsbury Town’s flying wing-backs coming to the fore

As Shrewsbury recorded what felt like a significant victory – just a second in nine league games this season – the influence of their wing-backs is becoming more and more apparent.

Luke Leahy and Elliott Bennett were involved in both of the goals in the comeback win against visiting AFC Wimbledon on Saturday and, in truth, rescued their side from a rather perilous position.

Steve Cotterill’s men conceded an awful goal on the half hour, the poorest they have shipped this season, to hand the lively, youthful Dons side the advantage.

The Montgomery Waters Meadow crowd responded with frustrated jeers from the stands, mainly at just how their side had managed to concede five seconds after taking a free-kick in Wimbledon territory. Town’s wait for a clean sheet this season goes on.

Town were bottom of the pile in League One at that point. Fans let their concerns known.

But the hosts had played well in what was, until that point, an open, entertaining game against opposition enjoying a fine season.

Given what was at stake, the look of the table and the manner of Wimbledon’s opener, it was pivotal that Shrewsbury registered before half-time.

Step forward the wing-backs. Leahy and Bennett, ironically, were two of the three involved in Town’s calamitous work to gift-wrap Dons an opener.

Between the pair and midfielder Josh Vela, the Shrews men were unable to make sense of quick routine over on the left flank. Bennett dawdled, his pocket was picked, and Wimbledon broke like the Red Arrows. David Davis, Town’s only covering player, was vastly outnumbered and Dons worked the counter excellently for winger Dapo Mebude to sweep into the corner.

Undeterred, Town’s wide players responded about 10 minutes later and, crucially, before the break.

Shaun Whalley, again operating centrally where he enjoyed another good afternoon, fed Bennett wide on the right and his deep cross was spot on for Leahy, his opposite wing-back, to plant a superb looping header over keeper Nik Tzanez and into the far corner. It was textbook stuff for his first Shrewsbury goal, after going so close at Sheffield Wednesday seven days earlier.

A quieter, calmer second period boasted one big Shrewsbury highlight, a boisterously-celebrated winner from a very popular source.

Daniel Udoh, whose name fans enjoy to chant regardless of whether he is on the pitch, emerged for the quiet Sam Cosgrove – who will feel he needs to bring more to the table – and popped up just moments later to dispatch an excellent header from Leahy’s fine cross, this time from the right.

Man of the match Leahy’s delivery means that Town’s wing-backs, the source of width in such important roles in Cotterill’s favoured 3-5-2 formation, have now been involved in Town’s last four goals, which have yielded five points in a run of three games unbeaten.

Leahy and Bennett started the season brightly, but perhaps came off the boil somewhat as their side’s confidence waned. They have, however, turned on the style over the last few weeks, in becoming influential members of the starting XI and providing the ammunition – and work-rate to ensure their defensive duties – the manager expects.

It is no secret. Visiting boss Mark Robinson highlighted afterwards that his side were more than aware of Shrewsbury’s threat out wide, but was at a loss as to why Town were allowed to supply.

For popular goalscoring match-winner Udoh it was also a key moment. His excellent header – a typical centre-forward’s effort – was a first league goal of the season and a first goal since his EFL Cup double some seven weeks ago.

Relief was palpable for Udoh and his manager admitted afterwards he had struggled for form somewhat while the goals dried up. The former AFC Telford man, however, remains an excellent impact substitute when he doesn’t start games and this came to the fore again.

Town were solid and convincing in their seeing out of a crucial three points in the final 20 minutes. Wimbledon, who would’ve gone into the top six with a win, only threatened once of note through top scorer and sub Jack Rudoni, who headed wide after a rare defensive lapse. That aside, Town were as convincing as they have been at the back this season.

Supporters responded at the final whistle, acknowledging the effort and graft that had gone into a fine turnaround win.

That is just one league defeat in five now for Town, who crucially proved they can add a win to recent draws. Vela hobbling off injured is a concern, but this recent run has eased fans’ feared somewhat ahead of another chance at home points against Wycombe tomorrow.

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