ITEN Match Preview: Shrewsbury (A)
Fans often look over the fixture list and pick out games they see as “winnable”. The concept of a “winnable game” is a bit of a misnomer in truth as Rovers head to Shropshire to take on a Shrewsbury Town side in as tough a spot as they’ve been all season, hoping to banish the collective bad memory of last Saturday’s 2-1 loss at Gillingham.
Opportunity Knocks for Devante
Darren Moore has taken to tinkering with his line-up game-to-game of late, and he will have to do that again this weekend. The big talking point surrounding this fixture was set to be the quick return of Fejiri Okenabirhie to his old club, but the striker signed from Shrewsbury last month is suspended after receiving a red card for violent conduct against Gillingham. That loss could be Devante Cole’s gain, with the fellow new boy figuring to return to the starting XI to lead the attack aiming to net his first Rovers goal.
Cameron John endured a tough afternoon in the Medways, responsible for both of Gillingham’s goals, but despite calls in some quarters for the manager to turn to young left back Danny Amos, John should keep his place in the full back position for the time-being. If his confidence was knocked by that double own goal display, it won’t be helped by being dropped here and his undoubted qualities as a player can only be enhanced by his continued involvement in the team.
Top scorer Kieran Sadlier should return having figured from the bench last week, but Darren will be grateful for the selection headache in his front four as he plots a way past the Shrews and back into the thick of the Play-Off race.
Ricketts After a Remedy
Shrewsbury are enduring a miserable slump at the moment with only one win since Christmas, that being a last-minute victory over Bristol City in the FA Cup that set-up their meeting with runaway Premier League leaders Liverpool. It is now ten games without victory in League One for the Shropshire outfit, but manager Sam Ricketts says this is a game he’s looking forward to despite the growing pressure facing him.
Injuries have hit the side hard and the news that influential midfielder Ollie Norburn will miss the rest of the season only adds to the problems. Forward Shaun Whalley may be fit enough to feature on the bench, but he and January signing Josh Vela are both unlikely to figure as key players against Rovers, whilst Brad Walker is also nearing a return. For the time being, it appears that vastly experienced central midfielder David Edwards will continue alongside in-form Josh Laurent, who dazzled against the Champions-elect of English football last month.
The Shrews are the second-lowest scorers in League One and failed to register a shot on target in 21 attempts in their 2-0 loss at home to Accrington a fortnight ago, but in Jason Cummings have a predatory striker who could find form at any moment, whilst Conor McAleny has added verve to the forward ranks since his mid-season arrival.
Ricketts’ side have shipped ten more goals than they have scored through this retched recent run, combining an impotent attack with haphazard defensive work for a perfect storm of struggle. Rovers profited from some of that slack defending in the Keepmoat meeting between the sides a little over six weeks ago, and the likes of Niall Ennis and Kieran Sadlier will be keen to pounce again.
On that night, in which goals from Ennis and Tom Anderson secured a 2-0 win for Darren Moore’s side, Rovers also cut through Shrewsbury’s midfield like a hot knife through butter, with the tandem of Norburn and Sean Goss unable to cover the space being created for Ben Whiteman and Ben Sheaf to work their magic. The presence of Edwards may shore things up a bit for the Shrews but, as was the case against Gillingham last weekend before Okenabirhie’s dismissal, Sheaf in particular will look to stride forward and exploit gaps in the opposition’s midfield.
Prior to January’s clash, Rovers were winless in five matches against Shrewsbury, a run going back to 2016 with the last victory at the New Meadow for the South Yorkshire side coming courtesy of a late Keshi Anderson goal in a 2-1 scoreline in October of 2015. James Coppinger also scored that day, with Nat Knight-Percival registering for the Shrews in what was Darren Ferguson’s very first game as manager of the Rovers.
Rovers also won 2-1 in Shropshire in the 2012/13 season, and again it was courtesy of a late winner with Kyle Bennett’s stoppage-time strike sending Brian Flynn’s side top of League One, a position they would ultimately retake on the final day to win the title. Both of those wins came in Tuesday night fixtures, with Rovers not registering an away win on a Saturday against Shrewsbury since October 1993, when a Graeme Jones goal secured a win at the old Gay Meadow.