Shrewsbury Town 1
Bradford City 1
By Adam Raj
When the draw was made, this was certainly an underwhelming tie, and a freezing, wet November afternoon in deepest Shropshire is not really what comes to mind when someone mentions “the magic of the FA Cup”. Especially given our lengthy injury list, this was seen as a very tough ask to get anything today.
Gary Bowyer made two changes from last weekend’s fantastic result – Danny Devine, making his 50th City appearance, replacing the suspended Callum Cooke and Dylan Connolly replacing the ill Harry Pritchard. It meant that City lined up in a 4-2-3-1 shape with Aramide Oteh playing just behind James Vaughan.
Probably most surprising of all, the forgotten man Jake Reeves was included in a match day squad for the first time in 650 days. It was really good to see the midfielder back in the fold and it’s to be hoped that he isn’t too far away from getting some minutes under his belt, because a fit Jake Reeves is better than any of the midfield options who featured today.
City started the game brightly, knocking the ball around confidently and Dylan Connolly was proving too hot to handle for Shrewsbury defender Aaron Pierre in the opening stages. We looked to have resolved the ball retention issues which were present last week, by not lumping it forward but trying to dictate the tempo in midfield.
Nineteen minutes on the clock and Oteh was alert to capitalise on a poor backwards header from Pierre. He took one touch over the onrushing keeper Joe Murphy and his second was to volley the ball into the back of the net. It was a deserved lead for the Bantams but seemed to wake up the hosts. City lost the early composure they had, going long more often and becoming sloppy in midfield. We seemed to struggle to get to grips with Shrewsbury’s 3-5-2 system and their wing-backs seemed to be in acres of space and always available for the switch of play.
And ultimately, that was the source of the equaliser. Shrewsbury attacker Shaun Whalley played a cross to the back post where left wing-back Scott Golbourne headed back across goal for Josh Laurent to tap home. The game from then on became a scrappy affair and neither side created anything of note for the remainder of the half.
The second half saw Shrewsbury step it up a gear, pressing the Bantams trying to force mistakes. But to City’s credit, they defended well, with Anthony O’Connor and Ben Richards-Everton making some last ditch tackles. Ten minutes into the half and Dylan Connolly was set through on goal by Oteh but the Irishman took one too many touches and ultimately failed to even get a shot away. A big chance wasted but it wasn’t to be the last.
Bowyer changed the system to match up the hosts, Kelvin Mellor coming on to replace James Vaughan, who worryingly went off injured. Mellor slotted in at centre half and Adam Henley, who had a difficult afternoon, moved to right wing-back. Jermaine Anderson also replaced Zeli Ismail in what was a double change from the City manager.
Bowyer had talked about players who were given an opportunity keeping their place should they perform well, following Callum Cooke’s red card last week.
Whilst Devine played fairly average, Anderson was sadly utterly hopeless when he came on. His passing was wayward and he lost out in pretty much every 50/50 challenge. Still, he managed to get into good goal scoring areas twice but made a mess of it both times. The first was from Connor Wood’s terrific ball in – Anderson unmarked in the area volleyed it high and wide from 6 yards out. The second came from another excellent cross, this time from Mellor, and Anderson completely missed the ball. I don’t think Anderson will have any complaints when he’s left out once Cooke is back available.
Shrewsbury flashed a few crosses across the box but that was about as threatening as they got. They lacked that bit of magic to open up what was a stubborn and committed City defence. As the game petered out, Bowyer, without any attackers on the bench, threw Paudie O’Connor on upfront which was a strange move but I suppose it highlights the current injury crisis we have.
Taking everything into account, it was a good result this afternoon, even more so when two of Shrewsbury’s first choice central defenders and skipper Ollie Norburn will most likely be missing from the replay given their international involvement with Grenada the previous day.
So, a fairly decent chance to get through to the next round and hopefully an added incentive from next week’s second round draw.