Town: Chris Weale, Tamika Mkandawire (c), Joe Jacobson, Dave Winfield, Ryan Woods, Paul Parry (Reach, 88), Dave McAllister (Goldson, 71), Cristian Lopez (McAlinden, 74), Aaron Wildig, Tom Bradshaw, Jon Taylor
Substitutes: Joe Anyon, Alex McQuade, John Marsden, Darren Jones
Gillingham: Stuart Nelson, Joe Martin, Callum Davies, Chris Welpdale (Weston, 46), Danny Kedwell (Akinfenwa, 82), Cody McDonald, Steven Gregory (German, 70) Charlie Allen, Charlie Lee, Danny Hollands, Adam Barrett (c)
Substitutes: George Howard, Amine Linganzi, Leon Legge, Adebayo Akinfenwa, Bradley Dack
Referee: Graham Salisbury
Assistants: Joe Clarke & Darren Strain
Fourth Official: Andy Hendley
Attendance: 5,129 (253 from Gillingham)
Martin Wild reports from Greenhous Meadow
A goal in each half helped Shrewsbury claim a first league win since August as they saw off the challenge of rejuvenated Gillingham, 2-0. Joe Jacobson planted a first half header into the net to put Salop in front and with the game inside the last 10 minutes – at exactly the point where Town have become lax in recent matches – debutant Liam McAlinden eased the nerves with a composed finish from Tom Bradshaw’s slide-rule pass.
There were three changes to today’s starting line-up after last week’s last gasp drama secured a point against Carlisle United. Dave Winfield’s one game ban was completed against the Cumbrians and he was preferred to Darren Jones at the heart of the defence. Luke Summerfield has a groin problem so Dave McAllister came into the centre of midfield, and Cristian Lopez started having joined on loan from Huddersfield Town earlier this week with Adam Reach the man to make way. Town were able to field seven substitutes in what appeared to be the strongest bench this term, with McAlinden named amongst the subs.
Gillingham got us underway attacking the Salop Leisure Stand end of the Greenhous with the floodlights already illuminating the gloomy background. The lights weren’t the only bright things on display with the Kent’s side’s lurid pink away kit not exactly easy on the eye.
After a fairly lacklustre opening Town went in front just past the quarter hour. All Town’s best moments up to that point had come from the set pieces delivered in by Paul Parry’s trusty left boot. Gillingham had dealt with them all relatively comfortably but when he put a pinpoint corner right onto the head of an unmarked Jacobson, the defender put the ball into the far corner past a flat-footed Stuart Nelson to break the deadlock against a team that had won its previous two matches.
It was an important goal in the sense that some of the home supporters had become somewhat twitchy during last week’s game, perhaps most notably when the side held a slender one goal advantage. The onus now was on Graham Turner’s men to respond to some of the criticism levelled for a slightly cautious approach against Carlisle by going in search of a second.
Top scorer Bradshaw came within a whisker of making it two when he controlled Jacobson’s pass superbly to set up a difficult chance for himself from a tight angle. The young Welshman was oh so close to finding the far corner with a left foot shot across the keeper but luck favoured the visitors on this occasion.
Lopez was catching the eye too and although he wasn’t doing anything overly fancy, maybe that’s what was required with his intelligent use of the ball keeping Salop on the front foot. At the other end, Chris Weale had barely managed to lay a glove on the ball but that was about to change.
Despite Town’s territorial advantage they were almost made to pay when Ryan Woods tripped Cody McDonald about a yard outside the box and central in the ‘D.’ Up stepped Charlie Lee with a venomous strike that was kept out well by Weale and as the ball stayed live McDonald planted a back post header against the base of an upright as this time the good fortune fell on Shrewsbury’s side. It sparked Gillingham’s best – nay, only – spell of the half, and Town’s defenders had to be at their best to keep them at bay in a decent five minutes.
Three minutes before the interval it took a superb stop from Nelson to deny Lopez as the Spaniard’s firmly struck shot looked destined to double the hosts lead after neat link-up play between Parry and Woods.
Half Time: Town 1 Gillingham 0
Martin Allen made a change at the break with Myles Weston replacing Chris Whelpdale.
And it was the Priestfiled men that started the better after the turnaround. Callum Davies brought the first save of the half out of Weale who had to be alert to keep out the defender’s deft flick from Danny Hollands’ free-kick, awarded for a foul by goalscorer Jacobson. As play swung to the other end, skipper Adam Barrett did well to get in a timely block to stop Bradshaw’s effort from testing Nelson in the away goal.
The intensity of the play from both teams was now at its highest and there was a decent flow to the game. Jon Taylor, as per usual, remained a decent outlet ball for Town and when they countered, they did so quickly with the winger’s pace posing more than the occasional problem for a retreating defence. Only the end product was missing. But there wasn’t the same caution as Shrews had demonstrated for much of last week’s second 45, and therefore, there was less negativity rolling down from the stands and it made for a much better atmosphere.
Charlie Allen saw yellow for an ungamely challenge on Jacobson, before Taylor forced Nelson into a low save at his near post to concede the corner. Nothing came of it and it remained a tense affair.
Taylor did well to hold his line just behind the last defender to latch onto Aaron Wildig’s clever dink forward but he couldn’t get the right connection on the ball to lift it up and over Nelson. But the creativity still drew warm applause.
Woods fired a yard or so wide just ahead of Town’s first change, which saw McAllister withdrawn for Connor Goldson with just under 20 minutes left. And then McDonald headed over a rare Gills chance ahead of McAlinden replacing fellow debutant Lopez, who had given a neat and tidy display.
Bradshaw was enjoying himself too and he did brilliantly to lay on a very passable chance for Wildig but the midfielder wasted it and should have at least tested the goalkeeper from 15 yards with no-one in front of him closing down the space.
With nine minutes left, man-of-the-match Bradshaw turned provider again – this time with devastating effect. A superb reverse pass found McAlinden in space and his awareness of where the goals were enabled him to find the corner of the net with a really smart finish. With Town’s recent tendency to ship late and costly goals, there was audible relief from the five thousand home fans.
The nerves might have jangled again though had McDonald’s studs been a fraction longer – he would surely have then knocked home Ade Akinfenwa’s cross cum shot with four minutes to go. Allen held his head in his hands with the all-pinks still awaiting a first ever goal at the Greenhous.
Substitute Reach – who had only been on the field for a matter of minutes – made Nelson go full length to turn his 20 yarder behind as the clouds finally burst and the rains began to tumble. Town might have grabbed a third but easily ran down six minutes of stoppages to claim a second league win - with the clean sheet a welcome bonus for the players, management and coaching staff.
Full Time: Town 2 Gillingham 0