Question of the Week
How long before new manager arrives?
By: Ian Townsend
FOR the first time in three years the lure of "The Imp" loomed large. The weather was without putting too fine a point on it "bloody awful". Town without a home win all season, on paper, were unlikely to improve on that record against a Shrewsbury side second in League 2. The omens were not good!
But then I remembered. I was meeting the 13 year old son of a friend of mine from London who had travelled up on his own. How could I not match that commitment?
Once inside it seemed many others were contemplating the easy way out as it looked as though we'd be struggling to get 2000 in the ground for kick off.
Town lined up as follows:
Barnes in goal,
A back four of Stockdale, Bennett, Atkinson, and Hope ("deputising" again for the injured Newey)
Midfield saw Clarke, Kalala, Trotter, and Hegarty. (who got the nod over Llewellyn when Boshell failed to recover from the virus which had affected him in the week.
Up front Proudlock looked to improve on his scoring feat against Vale last time out was partnered, on his debut, by new signing Jean Akpa Akpro who received a warm reception from the Town faithful.
On the bench: Montgomery, Llewellyn, Bore, Jarman and the wonderfully named junior Bradley Wood.
Town broke a recent habit by kicking towards the Pontoon first half which would see them aided by the strong wind.
The game began as expected with Shrewsbury stroking the ball around with the confidence which comes from being second in the table. However the wind, which was to be like a twelfth man for Town soon began to make it’s presence felt and led ably by Kalala Town began to make inroads. Within the first ten minutes good running from JPK and noticeably Clarke saw the ball delivered into the box with some power. Unfortunately no Town player was able to supply a finishing touch as the ball steadfastly refused to be cleared.
Shrewsbury were reduced to the occasional break . The ball was swerving in the air and Barnes did well to catch a high ball under some pressure.
In truth it was nearly all Town and hopes were raised even further as Clarke pinged a ball into the box where Trotter caught it on the "full" but unfortunately hit it at a comfortable height for the keeper to punch it over the bar. The resulting corner was overhit with Town’s "big guns" all waiting to feed off a decent delivery.
Town kept up the pressure and, as the ball fell to Clarke on the edge of the box he volleyed with the shot just curving away from the post with the Shrews' 'keeper in all sorts of bother.
At this point a word about the referee who had clearly decided he wasn't going to make any allowance for the difficult conditions particularly where Town were concerned. The game was continually stopped as Shrews players went to the floor rather easily. Shrewsbury set out their stall with some interestingly "agricultural" challenges on any Town player who showed some urgency in going forward. These went unpunished, much to the chagrin of Proudlock in particular who suffered the most. Within a minute of the last challenge the on-loan striker found himself in the book as he sought revenge with a poor tackle of his own.
Midway through the half Town fans got their first look at the potential offered by Mr Akpro as he first received the ball wide and whipped in a great cross which was bundled out for a corner and then gave a Shrews defender five yards start before beating him on the by-line for another corner.
The ref. enraged the Town fans once again as he gave a free kick for handball to Shrewsbury in a dangerous position when it looked very much like ball to hand but fortunately the free kick came to nothing.
The half drew to an end with an uncomfortable feeling that Town would regret not capitalising on the wind and the Pontoon doom mongers nodded sagely as they opined that Grant Holt wouldn't be as understanding come the second period.
HALF TIME Town 0 Shrews 0
Almost as though they had sensed the crowd’s fear Town came out for the second half with their sleeves rolled up as they sought to break the deadlock. Hegarty signalled their intentions with some good work down the left with his cross being deflected for an early corner. Unfortunately the resultant flag kick failed to beat the first defender.
Then it was Akpros turn to get in on the action as first he made a bit of space before powering in a good effort which wasn't far wide and then was played in by an excellent Hegarty ball. As he ran on to it he was upended by a Shrews defender. With the crowd screaming for a red card the referee probably made the right decision by showing a yellow as he wasn't the last man. Barnes was reminded of the strength of the wind as a huge clearance by the Shrews keeper bounced over his goal although he had it well covered.
Then, on 53 minutes, the deadlock was finally broken. More good work down the left found Akpro in the box. He missed his shot but the ball squirmed across the box to Proudlock who had his back to goal. In one movement he swivelled and fired home off the underside of the bar for an excellent strike.
Could Town hold on for the best part of 35 minutes?
At times it looked unlikely as, reminiscent of Port Vales winner last week the defence briefly nodded off leaving a Shrews forward through on goal. Fortunately his placed shot finished the wrong side of the post with Barnes beaten.
Then, from a corner Holt glanced a free header just wide.
"Cometh the hour cometh the man" is an adage which had more than a ring of truth in it today. The "man" was captain Ryan Bennett who leading by example made three superb interventions to prevent dangerous situations within about five minutes as Shrewsbury cranked up the pressure. The last was absolutely sublime as he stepped in front of the attacker and played a superb ball to Clarke down the right. This lead rubbed off on his colleagues who to a man put in a final 20 minutes of pure concentration, effort and not a little skill.
There was still time for more from Akpro as he made a fine challenge on the left before firing into the side netting.
As the fourth official indicated three extra minutes, the crowd, sensing the importance of the occasion chanted Mariners almost non-stop.
In truth Barnes hardly had a second half save to make. For the first time at home this season Town had accomplished a win with an excellent team effort. The relief on the final whistle was palpable. Town fans were singing down the Grimsby Road. Have Newell’s men turned the corner? Maybe, they have taken the first tentative steps. Here’s to Aldershot.
FINAL SCORE: Town 1 Shrews 0
Man of the Match:
Many, many candidates but for me Bennett just shaded it from Akpro, Kalala and Stockdale. A true leader’s performance. It looks increasingly likely that that young man may be plying his trade elsewhere in the not too distant future.
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