As wins over weakened League Two sides go, Tuesday was as important as it could possibly be. With all the negativity around the football club at the moment, a defeat to a League Two side wouldn’t have played well. I dread to imagine what the atmosphere heading into this first home league game of the season would have been like. While the League Cup may not be incredibly important, we have averted an early season crisis at the very least.
The significance of that win over Portsmouth ultimately rests on how we do in this meeting with Shrewsbury. Although we made hard work of a heavily-rotated League Two side, there isn’t a lot we could have done about their two goals and the three goals we scored demonstrated a level of attacking threat and spirit that questioned this current Sky Blues side could produce.
The performances of Ryan Haynes and Ben Stevenson on Tuesday night may have caused Mowbray to re-think his squad options. Most thought the arrival of Lewis Page on loan would see Ryan Haynes phased out of the side, possibly for good, but a performance that recaptured Haynes’ breakthrough displays two seasons ago means there is genuine competition at left wing-back. Stevenson’s assurance on his debut may have convinced Mowbray to make the youngster fourth-choice central midfielder once Chris McCann returns from suspension. Stevenson could well start this game should Mowbray go for Rose over Dion Kelly-Evans at right wing-back.
The impact of Kyel Reid and Jodi Jones from the bench on Tuesday demonstrated how important those two are going to be this season as our attacking threat. If Reid is fully match-fit in time for this game, it’s then a question of whether Mowbray wants a striker in Marvin Sordell who can take advantage of what those two will create or Ruben Lameiras who look to exploit their pace with paces in behind Shrewsbury’s defence.
Although there were defensive signings rumoured to be on the way, no-one has been signed in time for this game. Similar to last week then, it leaves us sweating on the fitness of Sam Ricketts and Jordan Willis, which could either see Jack Finch involved or force Mowbray to alter his tactics. Given that we were potentially going to be handing a debut to Juhani Ojala, a player with no experience of English football and hasn’t played since last October, we may have avoided giving a player a baptism of fire, albeit at the cost of having to play potentially unfit players in his stead.
Last Time We Met
Our last meeting with Shrewsbury at the start of March was perhaps one of the most frustrating games of last season. Having lost the past three games, our hold on sixth-place was slipping and a big performance was needed to re-invigorate the season. A big performance came, Aaron Martin gave us an early lead, we had a few decent chances to extend it, even Marc-Antoine Fortuné was having a good game. Two poor defensive errors allowed the home side to claim a lead they didn’t relinquish.
Our last home game against Shrewsbury was more satisfying, a game that was possibly Marc-Antoine Fortuné’s other good performance for us. It was just an exercise in the superior attacking quality we had over a quotidian League One side, Shrewsbury were probably on top before Armstrong gave us the lead. Fortuné extended it from the spot and Armstrong added a third after half-time, all without us playing particularly well. It was also a game notable for it being the league debut for Reice Charles-Cook in goal, he hasn’t relinquished his first-choice status since.
How Are They Doing?
A lot of casual observers have noted that Shrewsbury signed a lot of players this summer, and early on in the transfer window. However, the players they’ve signed are largely journeymen from around this division so they are question marks as to whether the squad is any better. In particular, the departure of Crystal Palace loanee Sullay Kaikai severely reduces their attacking threat after the youngster almost single-handedly kept Shrewsbury up last season with his goals and assists.
What manager Micky Mellon has tried to do is make Shrewsbury a more resilient, robust side, in the hope that a loss of attacking penetration can be compensated for by improved defensive solidity. Players like Gary Deegan, Jim O’Brien and Adam El-Abd are going to make Shrewsbury fierce competitors in this game and we’re going to have to stand up to a more physical test of our credentials than we have faced in the opening two games.
Although Shrewsbury lack pace on the counter-attack, they play some neat, overlapping football to create opportunities after soaking up pressure. New loan signing Ivan Toney from Newcastle will be key in holding the ball up in attack, while also being the only genuinely pacey player that Shrewsbury have on their books. Although Ajay Leitch-Smith, Louis Dodds and Jim O’Brien are all decent enough players to be supporting in attack.
Shrewsbury’s defence will be marshalled by Adam El-Abd, who was nicknamed El-Bad during a particularly poor spell with Bristol City but is a grizzled, muscular, albeit immobile, centre-back who suits teams who defend deep and narrowly. Goalkeeper Jayson Leutwiler is one of the better ones at this level, although he had a shocker against MK ‘Dons’ whenever he had the ball at his feet. Weirdly for Shrewsbury’s defensive style of play, they have two attack-minded full-backs in Joe Riley and Junior Brown and we should be looking to isolate them against Jodi Jones and Kyel Reid.
Shrewsbury are more or less built to put in a classic League One team away day at the Ricoh Arena, where they’ll look to bully us, block the middle of the pitch, defend deep and hit us on the counter. Although we came from being a goal behind against Portsmouth on Tuesday, playing against a full-strength side in the same division as us with points at stake is an entirely different prospect. I would imagine that if we fall behind in this game, it’s going to be tough to get back in it.
In an earlier draft of this preview when it looked like Juhani Ojala was set to make his debut for the club, I predicted that we would lose due to the likelihood of a defensive lapses. Although it’s frustrating we haven’t managed to bolster our threadbare defence, it’s probably better to go with what we’ve got rather than throwing someone in at the deep end. Altering my prediction somewhat, I can see us edging this 1-0.