Dour. That’s how I described Shrewsbury on the podcast this week. I thought we’d face a tight game against a dour, organised side and to one end I was right.
However, calling them dour was not right at all; they’re a vibrant side with a decent ethos and perhaps just lack that all-important striker to make them into a top-six team. That’s not to say they were great, but I wouldn’t want supporters to look at this result and think ‘Wimbledon away’ all over again. This was a solid 1-1 draw and one that could, quite easily, have become better for us as the minutes ebbed away.
I didn’t travel but I have watched the whole game back and it was certainly a competitive game against a decent side who will be well clear of any relegation scrap at the end of the season. They are organised and the conditions made the game a little more interesting as well. What you have to remember is two of our players, Conor Coventry and Tyreece John-Jules were making their senior Football League debuts; this was a young Lincoln City side taking to the field.
The pre-match chatter certainly seemed to focus on who wasn’t playing, rather than who was. There’s plenty of talk about which players might be leaving the club and after Michael Appleton’s post-match comments it seems as though perhaps we’ve seen the last of Bruno. we’ll have to wait and see on that one, but I’m also very surprised Michael O’Connor wasn’t in the side. He’s been arguably our best player on occasions this season and I can’t help but feel taking too much experience out of the side is dangerous.
Harry Anderson was injured and MA spoke afterwards of his eagerness to get Harry involved again. I think in what was looking like a 4-4-2, Harry is effective and offers a natural width that I’m not sure Hesketh does on the flank. Personally, I’ll be gutted to see any of the title-winning side go but the manager sees these players every week and we know that he has a lot of decisions to make around an ageing squad at the end of the season.
Even with the unfamiliarity between some of our new faces, I felt we started the game very well. Shrewsbury have won every game in which they’ve taken the lead this season and that’s because they can defend, they’re tough to break down and have the foundations of a very good side. However, the feeling I got from the crowd was their fans are still expecting more; after a couple of years challenging at the top of the table, they’ve become oblivious to the positives they have, or at least a section of them have. I think we can all identify with that at some point, certainly last season or the last year of Keith’s reign we had the same feeling around the Bank.
It was clear to me that this was going to be an even tie, two sides cancelling each other out, but not in the unentertaining and dour way they did in the 0-0 draw back in October. Shrewsbury seemed to have the wind to their advantage and played nice football into the final third, then hoped swirling crosses would evade our defence. Jason Shackell, the subject of quite a bit of criticism over the last few days, had a good afternoon in difficult conditions and I was pleased to see him and Bolger looking solid.
Conor Coventry, in my opinion, took a bit of time to adjust to senior football but grew into his role as the half went on. John-Jules I could say the same about, he took a few knocks early on which I’m sure the Under 23 level didn’t serve up. Still, he was involved in the best chance of the game on 30 minutes, with Morrell and him providing a great chance for Tyler Walker, which Max O’Leary managed to save expertly. The game felt like it needed a goal and it felt like one was coming too.
Sadly, given Shrewsbury’s stat of always winning when they score first, they got the opener. It was a naive challenge from Coventry in the area and absolutely the right call to point to the spot. Ollie Norburn, a player I have admired for a while, smashed home the penalty. As the home fans celebrated I couldn’t help but try to remember the last time a side missed one against us. That’s the sort of question I often find myself tagged in on Twitter with others turning to me for the answer!
The final ten minutes of the half absolutely belonged to the home side and they were unlucky not to make it two. I think we showed some terrific character in that final period because our young side could easily have imploded. Shrewsbury were energised, their fans clearly felt a weight had lifted and if they were to have gone on and grabbed a second, it would have been a tough final 45 for our side. Instead, we blocked, we got in the way and we fought to ensure it remained 1-0 at the break. Whatever you hear about the second half, this ten minutes showed us a lot about this young side; this was the first time the XI had played together and in 45 minutes you saw the development; you caught their potential with the Walker effort and then in those dying minutes you saw the determination that is sometimes lacking in a side boasting five loan players in the starting XI.