A three-nil win, but, as a commendably honest Brian Little admitted post-match, we were hugely flattered by this result. What he went on to say was more concerning. Apparently during the half-time interval he told wingers Beresford and Williams to tuck in, hang back and 'we'll win this 3-0.' Well, they did and we did, but the confidence and flow that had returned to the team during the first half deserted us as, under instruction, we danced back, beckoned them on to us and then let them rip us up. Only Musselwhite keeping and some truly inept Shrew finishing protected us. Brian did say that the players had perhaps taken his instructions too much to heart, but in all honesty what can he expect? The strength of this team is in it's ability to attack and if the manager cannot see that, then , frankly, it's a worry. Still, like a bottle of Spanish Cava we sparkled only briefly, but it was enough to do the job and ultimately survive the ensuing hangover.
Getting me out of that dubious metaphor were:
So Neil Roberts got an immediate start and the two most influential figures of the clash at Gay Meadow were absent, Alexander who had grabbed us a point with his late, late finish and Salop starlet Luke Rodgers who was suffering from whiplash. Saucy minx, we thought, but apparently it was the type you get from a car crump rather than during the act of love. Whatever, ultimately his absence was perhaps the more telling. The Shrewsters started rapidly, Mohan gave the ball away and the visitors went close. They were passing the ball attractively as they tend to do these days. All our early good stuff was coming through Dudfield and a swaying, penetrative run ended in a shot that was beaten wide. But the visitors were straight back at us, as Mohan was again culpable. He stood off ex Oxford, Forest and Rotherham chunky monkey Nigel Jemson, allowing him to put in a perceptive ball to his strike partner who lost out on a one-on-one with the Muss. This was not the last time that Ryan Lowe, for it was he, showed nothing of the accuracy and penetration of darting namesake John. The home crowd shifted uneasily, and grumbled at Mohan. A man who is not going to take on Jemson for pace will not willingly race a post box.
But on 16 minutes we were ahead. There has been much moaning recently about bad refereeing decisions, particularly about the penalty quite correctly awarded against us at Southend. Well, we got a beauty here. Sneekes, to general surprise, advanced into the area. One of their defenders, perhaps concerned at the effect of this unexpected activity, laid a restraining hand gently on our man's arm. Sneekes, like a five year old attempting a high jump, gave a little skip into the air, tucked his knees under him and landed gently on the turf. If that's a penalty then I'm a Dutchman, but no, that was Sneekes, it was and he was so. Ryan Williams stepped up, blasted the spot kick high to the keepers left and we were away 1-0. And for the next half hour we were back in the season of mist and mellow fruitfulness as we rediscovered our early season form and played perhaps as well as we have done all the campaign. Williams was transformed, running damagingly at the back-pedalling Townies, centrally as well as wide, interchanging with the ever-intelligent Dudfield. One such ended with a shot and save producing two corners. Both were defended, but from the second Holt found a fine long ball in. Greaves and Roberts combined skilful header and cushioned first touch to set up Dudfield who volleyed in sumptuously. 2-0 and the Shrews feeling hard done to again as they moaned about a possible offside.
Now we were flying, Williams was at the centre of everything, Edwards, blossoming still further as the boo boys have dropped him for the moment had a shot saved at the near post. But our man was not to be denied long, a tasty chip from Williams was the catalyst for a scramble in which the visitors keeper Dunbavin received a bit of robust attention during which he ended up scrambling on the floor and Mikey Edwards, goal -poacher extraordinaire, jabbed it home. 3-0 and yet more Shrew complaints. Our foot stayed flat for the remainder of the half as we kept at them, most outstandingly through Dudfield with a mouth watering solo effort comprising turn, run and shot from which Dunbavin produced a very fine stop.
From the turnaround we could see that it had, well, turned around. There was a fair breeze blowing towards the North stand and the Shrews had the spinnaker up straight away as they sailed into us. Jemson was the first to get a sight of goal, the ball breaking to him after a scramble but he dragged wide when scoring looked easier. Then a shot was flashed past an open goal with the Muss beaten. A Shrewster slid in to give it the touch it needed, managed to miss it and a completed a fine comedy moment by ending hanging from his boot stuck in the netting. High marks for style, though none for technical merit. Nothing daunted, once they had cut their lad free they were straight back at us and Musselwhite again saved excellently from a close range shot after both central defenders had vanished. Scarcely had we drawn breath and again we were filleted, this time Lowe and Jemson were two on one with Musselwhite, Lowe sized up the options, decided to go alone and again the Muzzter made a very fine stop. Custodian of the leather! Astonishingly, a two minute period could have seen 3-0 converted to 4-3 had the keeping been any less sound and the finishing anywhere near competent. I blame Whitmore.
The Coracles were bobbing along merrily and running the show completely. But we had the goals. And they continued to miss. An air shot by Wicks that would have comical were it not so inept left us with the now familiar sight of Musselwhite calmly facing the onrushing border hordes. Once more, they screwed up and screwed wide, another amazing miss. Brian had to do something and he did, bringing on Whitmore and Rowe for Dudfield and Roberts and, slightly later, replacing Edwards with Morley, causing joy to be unconfined in the Beill household. It probably improved matters as well, Whitmore's intelligent stewarding of the ball and refusal to waste it gained us a modicum of control which was later praised by his manager, who had apparently sent him on to do just that. He also played an excellent pass to put in Beresford and a typically gorgeous run to find Rowe although some fans were perhaps too busy blow drying their hair to notice. But it was odd to see us running the ball to the corner flag to run down the clock. We were, after all, three up, but the actions betrayed both the players anxiety and the mood of the game.
And so it ended and we won. And given that we've beaten a major rival so convincingly, at least on the score board, it seems carping to have so much negative to say. But here goes. It was startling to see us try and gift the game to the opposition after blowing them away in the second quarter of the match. Roberts did as well as he could have done but it's hard to say exactly what he will give to us. Sneekes was, I thought, woeful. He waved his arms, pulled faces and stood in the middle in the grand manner of those who could once do it but can no longer. This may still be premature, but I've yet to see what the manager presumably sees.
Mohan gave a performance that was, sadly, of his usual standard, Wicks had another poor game. The comment that he looks Goodison's equal looks sillier now than it did even a few days ago. If Bloomer is really not doing enough to displace either of these then he must be having some shockers in the stiffs. Most of all, the manager has got to believe in his side as an attacking force which is, I think, crucial to our success. Of course, it can't help if you are getting fans moaning at you as soon as results start to turn and a chairman apparently giving you three games to sort things out. I can't see that either of these things is helping the manager or his team and a desire to hang on to a lead with that at the back of your mind is understandable.
I too hold the view that if are to be realistic candidates for automatic promotion then we need 6 points from our next two games, of course there are plenty more games to go but if we can't win against two sides in the strife of Halifax and York then we aren't going to win anywhere.
And we should win. We can really play, as we did for 25 minutes in the first half. We did enough then, given that our luck seems to have turned markedly, to beat a good side who controlled much of the game. I mean, why am I complaining? If we can bottle our purple patch and our luck and Musselwhite's keeping from this game then we are still in big business.
Report by: Mark Gretton