Match Overview

After some encouraging performances for The Shrimps of late, the 3-1 home defeat on Saturday to Cheltenham Town has somewhat deflated the recent optimism. 

The goals conceded didn’t demonstrate the same defensive solidarity and commitment we’ve seen. Going forward, whilst we did have our chances, at times we lacked the creativity and invention to break up a well-structured Robins side. We’ll have to be much better if we have ambitions of picking up the vital wins to stay in the division. Hopefully starting this evening at The New Meadow against Steve Cotterill’s Shrewsbury Town. 

Fortunately, the one encouraging aspect so far is that the two sides above us – Wimbledon and Fleetwood – have also been unable to win. We’re only 1 point behind both, despite not winning in ten games. Fleetwood haven’t picked up a win in their last eleven, whilst Wimbledon haven’t won in eighteen games! One new threat though is Gillingham. Under Neil Harris, they have picked up more points and after a crucial win against Doncaster away last Saturday have now gone one point ahead of us. With it being so tight, every point and win will prove vital for survival come the end of the season. 

As I write this preview I feel a sense of Deja Vu. Less than a month ago we prepared a preview for this game, only for it to be called off a few hours before kick-off due to a waterlogged pitch. 

I’m very grateful to again get the expertise of Gerry Leahy and Ollie Warner from Salopcast.

What are they expecting from the game? 

Gerry,

“After Josh Vela’s sending off against Portsmouth a couple of weeks back there were big fears over our lack of midfield options, especially with midfield enforcer David Davis going off injured (and subsequently being ruled out for the season) in the same match.  However, the lack of options saw a much-needed change of shape with a 3-4-3 on the table and a more attacking line-up on show.  This brought about a win and two nil-nil draws that both really should have been victories and an increase in our buffer over the bottom four.

With Vela’s suspension over, he came straight back into the team in the 2-1 home loss to Oxford on Saturday and Cotterill reverted to the previously more negative 3-5-2 setup.  However, it wasn’t all bad as the second-half display against Oxford was very good and with a bit more luck, Town could easily have come away with something.  So, I would expect the shrews to line up the same way and hope for a similar performance level and better outcome!”

Ollie,

“The Morecambe game was an outlier and our worst defensive performance of the season. Our start to the season was very poor and the Morecambe game a big disappointment.

I expect a tighter game from a Salop perspective, we are defensive and have the best defensive record in the bottom half, we actually have the 3rd best defensive record in the league. It is a game we cannot afford to lose, especially given Morecambe’s league position. An early goal could make the game quite interesting!”

Shrimps’ Selections

As mentioned, Saturday’s result and performance were troubling after a recent run of encouraging performances. 

One theory I have is that in recent games – against Ipswich, Plymouth and Bolton – the opposition sides took the game to us and our system worked well at countering these sides when they lost possession. Michael Duff set his side up to be broken down and challenged us to come at them and break them down. We came close on occasions, but at the crucial times lacked the quality finish, final ball or cross required. 

Whilst Shrewsbury haven’t been the most prolific side in the division – averaging just 0.79 goals per game in the League – as the home side they’ll be more expectation for them to come and attack a side third from bottom. This could work more in our favour compared to how Cheltenham came to The Mazuma Stadium to dig in and catch us out from defensive lapses. 

One crucial aspect which will dictate how we set-up is who we have available. Shrimps fans took a big sigh when they listened to Derek Adam’s pre-match interview and he mentioned a number of key players were doubts – centre forward Cole Stockton, attacking midfielders Adam Phillips and Aaron Wildig, full back Ryan McLaughlin and centre back Rhys Bennett. 

If these all remain out, then there won’t be a whole lot of different options. 

I anticipate the Gaffa may bring Fane back into midfield to add a bit more steel and also height in the defensive aerial battles. In Derek’s first game in charge at home to Ipswich, he was ever-present in breaking up opposition attacks and was involved in fourteen interceptions according to Wyscout. 

He also came off the bench to replace an injured Aaron Wildig away at Bolton, but in the other games he hasn’t been involved at all. In what could be a rather scrappy affair, he could prove useful to win those critical midfield battles. 

If Cole is deemed unfit to start, then the question is who replaces him? Dylan Connelly has been a brilliant partner for Stockton in the last few games, running himself into the ground with his dogged effort and his pace will always create concerns for an opposition defence. 

I believe Derek would see Jon Obika as the more natural fit to replace our 19 goal starman. When Cole wasn’t 100% away at Plymouth, Obika came on and offered a similar threat off the bench so I foresse him going down that route. 

This is of course largely assuming that those mentioned end up being unavailable.

The Shrew’s Selections

Gerry,

We’re getting to the point where there are almost no selection decisions to make and I expect the line-up to remain unchanged, although one great positive from Saturday was the return from injury of Shaun Whalley who stepped off the bench to make his 250th Shrewsbury appearance, it is unlikely that he is ready to start a game yet though.

Ollie,

I expect we will start with the same side as Saturday. We often stick to the same starting lineup as selection decisions are limited by our small squad. We registered 17 players including an 18-year-old with the conclusion of the January transfer window.

The Shrews’ Strengths

Gerry,

“Due to two poor transfer windows in a row, the squad is smaller than anybody would like, this has led to the manager sticking with the same team and system for the majority of games, this continuity has given us a defensive resilience with Cotterill producing a well-organised and disciplined back-line that gives little away.  Even in games where we have been clearly outclassed, we haven’t given too much away – only conceding more than two goals once.   The recent change of system has been refreshing and much needed, getting an extra attacking player on the pitch has made a great difference.

Other recent positives include January signing Tom Flanagan – signed on a two and a half year deal from Sunderland – he has come in and looked very assured, the backline has a very settled look to it now with seemingly no way back for Aaron Pierre.  Look out too for Elliott Bennett’s set pieces which have been great all season and perhaps slightly underappreciated.”

Ollie,

“Our strengths are our defensive record, our organisation, fitness and hard work. We are not a team that will give in easily. We are hard to break down and have not been turned over all season. 

Cotterill is a very good tactician and will often come to a game with a clear game plan. However, this theory is under pressure given recent results.

It is very hard to be positive about Shrewsbury ahead of this game, despite some better performances, we have only won one in thirteen games.”

According to The Analyst, Shrewsbury have conceded the joint fourth (with MK Dons) fewest goals from open play in League One – 25. 

Incidentally, Morecambe have conceded the most in the division with 48. 

Another strength from Cotterill’s men is their potency to put crosses into the box. According to Wyscout, they have delivered the seventh most crosses in the division with 649 compared to a League One average of 570.88. One of the main sources is from 33-year old right wing-back Eliott Bennett who has averaged 4.16 crosses per game with a total of 158. On the left-hand side, 22-year-old George Nurse has delivered 109 with a success rate of 33.03%. As a reminder, Gerry and Ollie have them both to start in the wing back roles. 

Shrewsbury have no reluctance putting the ball into the box, but the main question is can someone be on the end to take advantage.

The Shrews’ Weaknesses

Gerry,

“After a summer transfer window that was lacking in any activity, the departure of captain Ollie Norburn to Peterborough did little to promote any optimism, this was quickly realised with a run of eight defeats from the first twelve games.  However, to be fair to the manager he did turn things around and results improved although his arrogant/dismissive post-match demeanour remained.  When the January window arrived, it was hoped that some of the glaring holes in the squad would be addressed – very little creativity in the squad – with no recognised no. 10 despite the system crying out for one and no replacement RWB meaning that 33-year-old Elliott Bennett has been pretty much an ever-present there. Sadly, it wasn’t to be with four in (Janneh, Fornah, Bondswell, Flanagan) and four out (Pyke, Leshabela, Cosgrove, Ogbeta) and the imbalance in the squad remaining.

There is certainly still the feeling that the squad is weak, however recent results have been decent and with a couple more wins we can hopefully start to plan for next season, where the pressure is on the head of recruitment Keith Burt to come out of a transfer window with a more balanced squad.

Our major weakness continues to be in the attacking third of the pitch, with few creative midfield options and the goals drying up from Udoh/Bowman – although to be fair to Bowman he did manage one on Saturday only to then go and miss a brilliant chance with his newfound confidence!”

Ollie,

“Goals, goals, goals. We have only scored two goals in the last seven league games. We are really really poor in attack. We do not create chances and we are not very good at converting the chances we do create. For those familiar with xG this stat might shock you, against Wycombe we had a total of 0.23 xG after 95 mins of football. We are truly inept at the moment and it is a real worry. In 2022 we did not score against Crewe, Bolton, Gillingham, Wycombe, Plymouth, Rotherham and Cambridge. Not being able to score against teams at the bottom of the league demonstrates how poor we are in attack.

Our inability to score goals links directly to our poor recruitment. We have two senior strikers, no number ten or attacking midfielders, one injured winger and only one right wing-back who is a converted winger. We also sold one of our best attackers in January. Our recruitment for attacking positions is utterly abysmal.”

Shrewsbury have scored the fourth lowest number of goals in League One. 

They’ve underperformed their expected goals of 44.51 by 12.51 goals according to Wyscout, which would suggest they’ve not been clinical enough in crucial moments. 

Opportunities against The Shrews

Gerry,

“As already mentioned we are defensively pretty sound however if Morecambe can draw the Shrews out from their low-block then there could be opportunities, you would hope that a home match against a team lower down the table might mean that Cotterill shows some attacking intent, which could easily give rise to some opportunities for the visitors. If the shrews do attack more and leave space at the back then I definitely think this could be an area of success for Morecambe, our defence is not particularly quick so hitting us on the counter-attack could be a great tactic. 

I would also look to close down goalkeeper Marko Marosi as quickly as possible, as he has shown some weaknesses with the ball at his feet.”

Ollie,

“Salop play 3-5-2 so opportunities are available in wide areas if you are brave and keep your full back high up the field creating overloads. We have also been weak defending spaces between our wing-back and central defenders. In addition, we have been poor at conceding goals from crosses. Due to our defensive approach, counterattacks are one of the best ways of creating goal-scoring opportunities against us.”

Looking back at my previous notes from the postponed fixture, our main opportunity was to play on the counterattack. Whilst I think this remains the case, it is somewhat of a worry that some of our key players to this strategy – Cole Stockton and Adam Phillips in particular – may be missing. Neither had their best game on Saturday, but their performance away at Bolton illustrates how effective they can be on the break. 

If these two are missing, we will rely on the combination play of Obika and Connelly to carve out chances on the counter attack. 

If we can go back to defending better, like we were doing prior to Saturday, then perhaps our best opportunity would be to keep it tight and look to nick a goal against a low-scoring Shrewsbury side.

Threats from The Shrewsbury

Gerry,

“Luke Leahy has been our best player this season (not just saying that because we share a surname!) and he has really become quite influential from his unfamiliar centre midfield role, look out for him popping up in some dangerous situations and linking up well with George Nurse at LWB. The majority of Shrewsbury’s attacking threat comes down the wings, so look out for Elliott Bennett getting involved on the right side too.

Sadly the front two of Udoh and Bowman has not really kicked on after a promising period midway through the season, it does look like the partnership is not quite right and it probably just comes down to a lack of quality, Tom Bloxham can count himself unfortunate to be dropped at the weekend, so hopefully, he has a part to play.”

Ollie,

“Our threats are few and far between. Our right flank is our most dangerous side with Vela and Bennett linking up to good effect. Scoring from a set-piece is often our best chance of scoring.”

According to Wyscout, Bennett averages the most key passes per game for Shrewsbury with 0.45 per game. He’s followed in second spot by Rekeil Pyke with 0.44 albeit with only 3 key passes as a player on the periphery of the main squad.

A key pass is a pass that immediately creates a clear goal scoring opportunity for a teammate.

LET THE BATTLE COMMENCE!

As with last Saturday’s game against Cheltenham, I feel this is more of a vital game for the Shrimps than it is for our opposition as we can’t afford to lose any ground on Wimbledon, Fleetwood and now Gillingham. Infact, we need to overtake two of those to stay up. 

Shrews fans may disagree and feel the importance of this fixture to get a result against a side lower in the league having won just twice in 2022 and find themselves just 6 points above the drop. 

It’s very cliched but with Shrews being a low scoring side but solid at the back whilst The Shrimps are a bit Jekyll and Hyde in both boxes, the game will be dictated by who can take the vital chances that come to them. Derek Adam’s men haven’t taken chances in key moments in recent weeks, whilst Shrews have underperformed in front of goal across the season as a whole. Who will step up and grab the critical three points? 

I’d like to say a big thanks to Gerry and Ollie from Salopcast for their excellent insights into The Shrews.

I hope you enjoyed the preview and analysis. If you did, please follow ShrimpsOnline for more news & updates. FEEL FREE TO LEAVE COMMENTS BELOW.

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1 Comment

  1. JOHN TRAYNOR on 15 de March, 2022 at 9:31 am

    a good read – a shrews fan.



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