Cod Almighty | Match Report
17 December 2015
Ah, Shrewsbury on a Tuesday night. How we celebrated when the TV extravaganza ended nil each.
Still one week on and here we are. Arriving at the New Meadow, we immediately remarked how this is exactly what the Fentydome on Peaks Parkway would be like: no pubs, generic housing and assorted American franchise eateries. Entering the stadium was no better, soulless being the adjective of choice. While it appears more spacious, it only holds 700 more than Blundell Park.
If you wanted to sum up Shrewsbury Town as a club, the banner next to the Stone Island-clad kindergarten to our right did so. It threateningly bayed for the home team to 'Breathe on em Salop'. The home fans attempt to sing was silenced by a rendetion of the 80's classic "Where were you at Blundell Park" by the 286 Town supporters present. At the other end, one banner summoned "The Spirit of 79", a reminder that my first visit in 1981, to the old Gay Meadow, took place when both clubs were at their post war zenith. In Shrewsbury's case just their zenith.
And so to the game.
An unchanged Mariners started exactly as they had done eight days earlier: snappy tackles, cute movement, crisp passing. The game was fought in midfield with few chances. Jon-Paul Pittman had a shot blocked and the hosts managed a tame shot and a poor free kick. Town were then dealt a blow as the busy JPP was forced off injured to be replaced by Omar Bogle.
Minutes later, the first real chance and it was gilt-edged. Neat Town passing freed Conor Townsend his cross found Craig Clay, unmarked and around ten yards out from the centre of goal. His first touch was class. His second ballooned the ball high over the bar.
The 286 held their heads in their hands. It was to become a recurring theme.
The first half came and went. It had been a battle for control with few chances, but Town continued to more than match their opponents.
Town offered their usual lacklustre beginning to the second half. The hosts got temporarily on top. Equally shortlived, the kindergarten found a voice.
Then Town began to find their stride again. Clay finally forgot his miss; he prompted, he passed, he shone. Craig Disley interrupted the Shrews play, he drove Town forward, he tackled, he outfought. Andy Monkhouse was always available, always in space. Nathan Arnold grew in confidence. Toto Nsiala was just everywhere.
Townsend skied a free kick over. Bogle twisted one way then the other in the box before blasting into the side netting from a tight angle. Others may have been better placed.
The hosts managed an attack, a cross shot evading both James McKeowncca and the far post. But Town were now dominant. Corner after corner conceded by desperate tackles and blocks. Town were camped like the Greeks at the gates of Troy, in the hosts' last third. Pádraig Amond glanced one wide. A melee in the area but still the goal wouldn't come.
"We'll be playing you next year" taunted the 286. The fans from the third flight club looked at their feet, shuffling uncomfortably at the truth in the chant.
The last 15 minutes and the best of all came and went. Podge crossed, Bogle retrieved, made an inch and returned the cross to the far post. Podge waited but Arnold rose and met the ball with a firm header three yards out. The 286 leapt, fists punched the air... and strangled exultations faded away. Somehow Shrewsbury's keeper leapt too, and with the ball already past him arched a left arm backward and clawed the ball away for yet another corner. Unbelievable.
The end beckoned. Gowling flashed a header wide from eight yards and the 286 began to think it wasn't our night. They were right.
With two minutes left, having outplayed, outfought, and outpassed their league one opponents for 184 of 186 minutes the hosts broke. A shot was palmed away by Macca, only the second of the night. If the world was just it goes out for a corner. It isn't, it doesn't, and the third shot on target flies into the opposite corner.
The home fans, stunned, finally rejoiced. The 286 sang defiantly. The players, hunched, fatigued and gutted, clapped but couldn't disguise the bitterness of the defeat. We tramped dejectedly back to our cars and coaches on the soulless, generic housing estate and began the long trek home.
But be buoyed. In 186 minutes of football against a club two divisions higher, we battered them.