Shropshire Star

Analysis: A day to forget for Shrewsbury as nothing goes right

Sometimes, football being football, unfortunately you have to experienced days like these.


Days when nothing goes right, however hard anyone tries.

And Shrewsbury certainly tried, there was no lack of effort or dropping of heads.

But in all honesty, from the moment Alfie May smashed home Ryan Jackson’s cross within a minute of the second half, on the back of Cheltenham skipper Sean Long notching just before the interval, we could all have packed up and gone home.

Because Shrewsbury were never able to build any sort of head of steam or put any sort of coherent passages of play together. Or even a shot on target. It was just one of those days.

There was mitigation however, and plenty of it.

Having battled to a crucial win against Burton Albion seven days previously, Steve Cotterill would have liked nothing better than to name exactly the same starting XI, or at least have the flexibility to try to improve it if he wished.

Instead, of the four changes made by the manager, three were enforced, including one which only became necessary a few hours before kick-off.

That was because Jordan Shipley, who was inked in to occupy the left wing-back berth made vacant by the painful news of the season-long absence of George Nurse, had to depart fairly sharpish as his wife had gone into labour. The subsequent arrival of Shipley junior was the best bit of news Shrewsbury received all day.

Cotterill had already lost his trusted goalkeeper Marko Marosi in the week, needing reparatory stitches in the hand injury which he had to battle through against Burton, and then Nurse, and then Shipley.

No wonder he revealed post-match that he had selected three different teams for the game – part of the reason behind such a difficult day at the end of a difficult week.

The goalkeeping one was perhaps the least troublesome. Harry Burgoyne, in for his first league start in almost 18 months, looked composed and confident and had made an excellent save in tipping Lewis Freestone’s header over the bar just before Long’s close-range opener, both chances from the regular artillery of Cheltenham’s long throw.

The keeper could also do nothing about May’s deadly close-range volley from Jackson’s cross straight after the interval, a comfort blanket from the hosts from which they then understandably grew in confidence and an advantage they never looked like relinquishing.

It was perhaps in the outfield positions that the absences were felt most keenly.

In losing Nurse to a luckless season-ending injury on top of Udoh, the experience of over 100 appearances from the 2021/22 campaign is no longer available to the Shrewsbury manager.

And, whoever comes in to replace them – and that is the challenge for those waiting in the wings – as Cotterill admitted, it is also about the ‘functionality’ of the team.

Skipper Luke Leahy was, as might be expected, solid and creative enough in reverting to his former left wing-back position and Taylor Moore’s performance in midfield sufficiently impressed Cotterill that losing his captain from the engine room wasn’t necessarily any overall cause for concern.

But there was certainly a general lack of flow and cohesion to Salop across all parts of the pitch, suggesting that the loss of key men, and enforced changes of personnel through the week, played a major role.

That having been said, there had genuinely been nothing in the game prior to Cheltenham’s two-goal salvo either side of half-time, barely any goalmouth action of note, and it was those two incidents which completely shaped the final result.

In the early skirmishes it was probably Shrewsbury who looked the smarter and the stronger, Christian Saydee causing a nuisance for Cheltenham with his power and relentless running and Tom Bayliss twice getting in behind the defence.

Goals change games though, especially two of them, in quick succession, and as the hosts’ reserves of confidence and energy lifted, the reverse happened to Shrewsbury who seemed sapped of all momentum and unable even to threaten to mount any sort of comeback.

It was still only Salop’s second away league defeat of the season, albeit the second in succession, and they still occupy 12th position in the League One table, still a more than decent return given the competitiveness of the league, resources available and injury issues thus far.

There were some positives on the availability front, Elliott Bennett making his first league start of the season, substitutes Aiden O’Brien and Julien Da Costa returning from spells on the sidelines, and Cotterill will now undoubtedly be using all his experience to put together a team which can aim to kick on from what is still – despite this defeat – some sturdy foundations.

The strains of Ken Dodd’s ‘Happiness’ boomed out over the tannoy to great Cheltenham’s win, a triumph for boss Wade Elliott against the manager he played for and who has had such a substantial influence on his career.

Cotterill himself enjoyed plenty of happiness during his sensational spell as Cheltenham’s boss a couple of decades ago, and has also enjoyed far better days than this since taking the helm at Shrewsbury.

The travelling fans were still supportive at full time, and there is a bigger picture that the team’s ability to produce results should see them recover from a week of setbacks and make further progress in the coming weeks.

Hopefully, after a more settled and positive week, MK Dons on Saturday might just bring a far better day at the office.