The Taming of the Shrews
I left home for the match at 11 a.m. on Friday (you never can tell with the M25) with a mixture of emotions. Of course, I wanted Wolves to win but, having grown up in Shropshire, I always look for Shrewsbury Town`s results and want them to do well ... but not score against us.
In a sense, therefore, I got the hoped-for result (though, ideally, I would have preferred a victory by four clear goals as that would have put us into an automatic promotion position). We obtained the three points and Shrewsbury played well enough to convince me that that won`t get relegated at the end of the season.
But did Shrewsbury play well or did we merely make them look good? Unfortunately, for long passages of play yesterday it was the latter. Once again, we surrendered the midfield: from my position at the corner of the Roland Wycherley Stand (WW supporters were in the stand to my right), I had a good view of the gaps that kept on opening up as ST players drove forward.
It`s not surprising really as Sako and Ismail are lightweights in defence and only Davis can consistently dispossess opponents of the ball. But, he is lacking confidence at the moment and it shows. As he is fouled out of the next match, Foley or Edwards have the chance to take his position. As an enforcer, I prefer Foley but Edwards would give us more options going forward (until he pulls up lame). He came on for Ismail in the 65th. minute but did not make much of an impression.
Of course, McDonald performs Edwards`s role as a box to box player but he too has been affected by the communal jitters currently sweeping through the team. He displayed some neat touches but self- doubt is creeping in. In the 55th. minute, having skilfully given himself an opportunity to shoot by driving firmly into the box, he elected to pass to Sigurdarson. However, BS, like me, saw KM`s scoring chance, and did not expect to receive the ball. Weale gratefully gathered it up.
We also faced an aerial barrage from the flanks with Shrewsbury`s wingers regularly pumping in balls from the by-line. From one cross in the 76th. minute Main should have scored from close range but his header flew over the bar. Not only were our own wingers not picking up their opposite numbers but our overlapping full backs were often out of position. Golbourne was particularly guilty of this. He really does like to get forward and as the game progressed he became more prominent in attack. But, it leaves us vulnerable on the break. He looks like a Ward mark 2.
All this puts pressure on the central defenders. Both Batth and Ricketts played well - they had to - and I lost count of the number of clearing headers Ricketts accomplished. Batth put in a similar shift; on one occasion in 57th. minute his timely interception cut out a cross to a ST player clear on goal. On this showing, the Ricketts-Batth partnership looks solid but, for reasons referred to above, I would still pair Batth with Stearman, allowing Ricketts to revert to LB.
Behind them, Ikeme had a typical day at the office, routinely keeping us in the match with a couple of stupendous saves. In the 16th. minute everyone in my section of the stand (except me) jumped up, thinking that ST had scored at the other end of the pitch. As we did not have to restart the game from the centre circle, clearly Ikeme had somehow kept the ball out. Three minutes later he was at full stretch to save a 35 yard effort by Woods. He was also helped by ST`s poor finishing. In the 2nd. minute Main with a clear sight of goal sliced the ball wide from the edge of the box. Other chances went begging. In the 60th. minute a glorious, flowing ST movement saw the ball crossed to Main a few yards out, only for him to side-foot it over the bar.
Upfront, Sigurdarson and Griffiths had their chances. Indeed, Sigurdarson could have scored within seconds. Chasing a poor ball back to the goalkeeper from the kick-off, Weale`s frantic kick out bounced off BS and round a post. With his pace, his surging runs posed a real threat on the break. Griffiths showed his customary deft touches to bring others into play but he too has lost his edge. In the 25th. minute a ST mistake put him through on goal with only Weale to beat. However, at the vital moment he lost control of the ball and the goalkeeper gathered. Hampered by an ankle injury, which required attention at half-time, he made way for Cassidy in the 65th. minute. Cassidy again made little impact, which makes me wonder why KJ is not giving McAlinden a chance.
Apart from Sigurdarson, we lacked sharpness in attack, though occasionally we saw examples of neat interchange of passes ... followed by yet more sloppy ones. It`s a problem all over the pitch. Sako was his usual unpredictable self, while Ismail had a quiet game. His marker seemed to have the measure of him, though in the 79th. minute he cut inside to give himself the opportunity of a shot. It flew high over the bar.
The match was decided by a controversial penalty in the 84th. minute but as the build-up to the incident occurred at the far end of the pitch amid a goalmouth scramble, none of us our end knew what had happened. For ages uncertainty reigned, though the reactions of the ST players suggested a penalty. Sako, adopting the SEB tactic, blasted the ball straight at the goalie. It`ll come unstuck one of these days. Sitting among ST supporters I kept my head down.
As the ref sent off Taylor, the player who had handled the ball, we had 11 minutes to double our lead against a team a man short (it should have been 10 minutes but the ref added at least another minute to the four allocated). We never really looked like scoring. The players, taking their cue from the fans, seemed more intent on running down the clock.
Mulling over the game with my friend, a Shrewsbury supporter, we both thought that ST deserved a point at least. Indeed, 30 minutes into the game I feared a Shrewsbury win. We gradually improved and by the break we were the better side. Fortunes ebbed and flowed in the second half, though on balance we shaded it on points. In particular, we regularly made good progress down the left wing with Golbourne and Sako combining well. Even so, ST remained a threat, whether down the middle or on the flanks, and they had their chances to score.
After Tuesday`s debacle, we had to win this game and we did so. But, it was hard work and we rode our luck again. Unless we do something to shore up our midfield we are going to struggle. KJ is aware of the problem but at the same time his sound bites include comments that suggest a degree of complacency. It`s almost as though he is thinking longer term than the result at the end of this season. We are a work in progress and it appears as though he is determined to see it come to fruition with his current squad, with all the youngsters in it.
His argument must be that if he holds his nerve, the youngsters, leavened by the sprinkling of experienced players, will come good and the team will be unstoppable. Moreover, he will have done it on the cheap. I still buy into his philosophy but I would like to see a couple of loanees brought in to strengthen the squad, especially in midfield. After all, a succession of bad results could affect our confidence, especially that of the youngsters, and this will put back, if not derail, the project.