Being away from the game on Saturday has granted me some perspective on our current woes. Having not been subjected to what sounded like 89 dire minutes of football, topped off by a late penalty and another defeat, I can still see this situation as very much salvageable. We’re not at the ‘we might as well just pack it in’ phase, yet.
A win tonight against Shrewsbury Town, as unlikely as it looks based on recent performances, puts us back in the play-offs. Perhaps that will provide some kind of boost to what is clearly a side lacking in confidence and ideas.
In light of Sean O’Driscoll’s sacking at Walsall following an 8-game winless run which nonetheless still sees them in fourth place, it’s interesting that those suggesting that Tony Mowbray is solely accountable for this poor run are still portrayed as somewhat hysterical. The players are getting a lot of criticism, and perhaps deservedly so, but the manager is responsible for putting this squad together, motivating the players and picking a system that plays to their strengths.
Is Tony Mowbray getting the best out of the resources he has available to him? And are we really content to let this chance of promotion slip away in the hope that things might be better with the same manager and an entirely different squad?
Personally, Tony Mowbray still has some credit in the bank for saving us last season and starting this one off so well. While there’s still the chance of making the play-offs this season, I’m fairly content to let him remain in situ. Two defeats this week though would likely tip the balance, especially as a manager of Tony Mowbray’s experience should have been better equipped to avoid this dreadful run of form we’ve been on since November.
As for the team tonight, we’re likely to see the return of Aaron Martin to the back four following an injury to Baily Cargill. As Mowbray doesn’t seem likely to drop Sam Ricketts, that means that the captain will continue to play irrespective of what has been a long run of poor form. There is an argument that a player of Ricketts’ experience would be just what is needed in a tough Tuesday night away trip to a team battling relegation, but any benefit of experience is being outweighed by poor performance after poor performance.
Leaving aside the John Fleck–Romain Vincelot central midfield partnership that appears to be creaking over the past few games, it’s once again looking like a game of musical chairs further up the pitch. Where will the eeny-meeny-miny-mo stop for this game? I’m stumped.
Last Time We Met
Back in early October, we weren’t quite sure what this season was going to bring, we knew we had a good squad but we had seen that they were a bit inconsistent from game to game. Heading into a home game against Shrewsbury Town, we had to hand a debut in goal to Reice Charles-Cook after Lee Burge had been laid up with a virus.
On the day, it was our pace on the counter combined with a solidity at the back which put our opponents to the sword. We won 3-0 thanks to an Adam Armstrong brace and a Marc-Antoine Fortuné penalty, without really playing at our very best but knowing we had the firepower to win the game regardless. Seems a long time ago now.
How Are They Doing?
Shrewsbury have found it an adjustment taking the step up a level this year in League One. They lost key defender Connor Goldson to Brighton and midfielder Ryan Woods to Brentford in the summer, both now regulars at Championship level, which made manager Micky Mellon’s task to put a competitive squad together this season that more difficult. A 7-1 loss to Chesterfield at the start of January forced Mellon into a re-think as he cleared out several players, including top-scorer James Collins, to improve the atmosphere around the changing room.
It hasn’t been any specific player’s arrival that has seen Shrewsbury put together their recent improvement in form but they have been tighter at the back and got a bit of luck here and there. The Shrews are undefeated in their past five league games, winning their last two and know that a win in this game could put them eight points clear of the drop.
Along with this decent run that they’ve put together, Shrewsbury have managed to bring back key Crystal Palace loanee Sullay Kaikai after he was recalled back in December due to injury. Kaikai is a direct and creative presence in midfield who dovetailed well with Fulham loanee Larnell Cole back in the autumn when Shrewsbury looked to have finally moved on from the losses of Goldson and Woods.
Shrewsbury’s top-scorer this season is Shaun Whalley, an inconsistent winger released by Luton in the league below last summer. With Sullay Kaikai, who has only appeared in 15 games this season, and Nathaniel Knight-Percival, a defender, their next top scorers, it should be apparent that Shrewsbury lack a genuine goal-scorer. This is a side built on physicality and hard-work, who you would imagine will be looking to exploit our weakness from set-pieces.
We’ve got to be approaching this game as an opportunity to get back into the play-offs and move on from our torrid run of form. The problem is that this is a sentiment we’ve been repeating ad nauseum ever since the first post-Gillingham wobble. It’s hard to move away from the sentiment that even if we were to win this game, it would only delay the unravelling of our season rather than reverse it.
I just don’t see how this team is going to be able to match the intensity of a side battling against the drop, especially as we’ve rarely attacked these mid-week games with any kind of panache for much of the season. I think we’ll lose this game 2-1, with the 1 being charitable to the level of attacking threat we’ve produced over the last few games.