Having won the first of three home games on Tuesday night, you felt four points from today and next Tuesday would be the minimum requirement, with six obviously welcome. But I did have a sense of foreboding that today’s game might not be a classic as walking across Blackheath in the morning there was a veritable gale blowing, while not long before the game we had a hailstorm. And it wasn’t a classic, or a win.
It might have been better, could easily have been worse as having gone behind in the second half we missed the first opportunity to level things but took the next, only to almost blow it in the final five minutes as the substitutions to chase the game and try to win it left us unbalanced and we coughed up three good chances. In the end a draw was a fair result, Shrewsbury may well feel they deserved all three as for much of the game they did a job on us.
The team showed only one actual change of personnel, with Forster-Caskey not fully fit and/or in need of a breather Famewo came in, giving a back four in front of Amos of Gunter, Pearce, Famewo and Maatsen, with Pratley moving out of central defence and into central midfield alongside Watson, getting the nod for that role over Shinnie or Morgan. It meant an experienced/aged midfield pairing, with Bowyer taking the ‘tried and trusted’ option and the emphasis on keeping it tight, but it wasn’t going to be a day for too much creativity and nice passing. Millar and Morgan were retained in the wide position, athough which one on which side remained to be seen (in the event Millar was on the left), while Stockley and Washington continued up front.
Shrewsbury had the best of the first 10 minutes, with their rather fluid formation causing us problems and us proving rather slow out of the traps with misplaced passes. But that period didn’t last and we slowly got more of a grip on the game, pushing them back and dominating possession. With Shrewsbury happy to drop quickly behind the ball it was clearly going to be a struggle to break them down, but we’d seen the same in midweek and then patience was eventually rewarded, so there was no reason to panic.
In truth in the first half we had some decent positions but only one real chance. Just after the half-hour Maatsen got forward down the left and squared the ball for Stockley in space. He tried to place the shot but was probably too careful with it and the keeper saved comfortably. Better placement or a full-bloodied wellie and we might have been ahead. There was one unsettling moment at our end as a cross from the left saw Amos come out for it and try to punch, only to connect with their guy’s head. He’d already got his head to the ball and it was going wide, but you felt that if he’d missed the ball there would have been a fair shout for a penalty. Otherwise the only real point of note in the first half was Pratley picking up a yellow for pulling back one of their guys, which raised the spectre of another red.
At the break we can’t say we were unfortunate not to be ahead as we’d only created one real chance and not taken it. We had after the first 10 minutes nullified Shrewsbury as an attacking threat, but their ambitions in that area had in any event been limited. On top but yet to turn that into goals, again all very reminiscent of Tuesday night. Just needed one of their defenders to clatter into one of us and give away a penalty and all would be well.
As at the start of the game we began the second half rather sluggishly, with Shrewsbury more prominent in our half. We picked up another yellow as Maatsen tracked a guy back a long way and was judged to have fouled him. The free kick was notable, for providing the best laugh of the afternoon. It was a long way out, noted at the time the guy can’t shoot from there. But he did, only that it was more with the instep than hitting through the ball, was hit to the centre of the goal, and from 30 yards or so it ended up as more of a back pass to Amos than an attempt on goal.
More worrying, on 55 minutes the game changed as for once we went to sleep and the back and Shrewsbury took advantage. One of theirs had the ball on the right side and was put under no pressure at all, no challenge. He looked up and to be fair put in an excellent cross. It eluded both our centre backs and their guy seemed to have run away from Gunter. He ended up placing his header into the net from close range. A collective defensive mistake rather than anyone making a howler.
That did throw us and for some minutes Shrewsbury looked like they could add a second, understandably getting a lift. And just after the hour Bowyer rang the changes, to personnel and formation, with Pratley, Millar and Stockley replaced by Shinnie, Smith and Aneke. That involved a change to a midfield diamond, with Watson at the base flanked by Shinnie and Morgan and Smith at the point.
For a while we struggled to get used to the new set-up, but as we did we went on to create the opening that should have seen us draw level. Nothing too complicated but Washington played the ball in from the right side and it found Aneke with the goal gaping. He put too much on it and, as in a previous game, instead of finding the net came crashing back off the bar. Hitting the bar is still a miss; and this was a bad one in a game of few clear-cut chances.
There was a nasty feeling that that could be that, a decent chance in either half not taken. But we kept at it and with a little over 10 minutes of normal time left we did equalise. It was a goal almost entirely of Washington’s making, and a demonstration of how to finish coolly and clinically. There seemed little on as he collected the ball in the box, but he turned and drifted inside with it, dummied, then hit it back across his body low into the corner of the net. The keeper might have saved it but as Steve Brown in the commentary box pointed out by his movement Washington had given himself the option of putting it in either corner. He had the time to think about what to do and executed the job of putting the ball into the net very well.
That, we hoped, would be the cue to go on and perhaps win the game, at least to be pounding on Shrewsbury’s door as they tried to hang on to a point. Instead just after we made another change, bringing on Jaiyesimi for Morgan. Fair enough you’d think, he would slot in on the right. But instead he ended up playing in a more central position and now we seemed to be making it up as we went along. And Shrewsbury very nearly took advantage.
In the final couple of minutes and then five of stoppage time, instead of us peppering their goal, we three times almost gifted them the points. A poor pass to Gunter saw him then give away possession, only for their guy to blaze over. Then a bad defensive header left Amos stranded and instead of chipping into the net their guy hit it over. And there was another chance at the death that I can’t remember but by then was just thinking please give us the final whistle.
That was the way the game turned out. It would have been different if we had taken the one decent chance in the first half, if we had not gone to sleep for Shrewsbury’s goal, if Aneke had buried the chance he had. On the other side of the coin having fallen behind against a team that doesn’t concede many we kept going, after missing one did manage to equalise, and then could easily have lost it at the end. So we take the point (we don’t have a lot of choice); if we'd lost the mood would be very different, but now Tuesday is another must-win game.
Amos – 7/10. Another game where he was not called on to make great saves, although there was one he turned round the post. Did come for one in the first half he didn’t make.
Gunter – 6/10. No complaints, but through the game we didn’t create much down the right side and he may well have been at fault with their goal.
Pearce – 7/10. Another decent game, just have to look at both our centre-backs’ positioning for their goal.
Famewo – 7/10. Mostly solid, good strength, but also erred towards the end in their flurry of chances.
Maatsen – 7/10. Most of our attacking threat came down the left and in this he played his part.
Morgan – 6/10. Fair enough, did good work, but we struggled down the right side.
Watson – 7/10. Fairly effective in protecting the back four, although for much of the game that wasn’t needed.
Pratley – 6/10. Reasonable game before he was taken off, although another yellow had us on tenterhooks.
Millar – 6/10. Also some good work, just not his best game for us and looked a little jaded.
Stockley – 6/10. Less effective than in most previous games. Looked a little tired.
Washington – 8/10. Not just the goal, his movement and hold-up play caused them problems. But he did take the goal well, the other forwards could learn from him about being cool when the chance comes.
Shinnie – 7/10. Thought he was tidy and effective.
Smith – 7/10. Also decent contribution.
Aneke – 6/10. Missed a glorious chance in a game of few good opportunities.
Jaiyesimi – 6/10. I’m just curious why he came on and didn’t seem to slot in as a wide player.