Town: Leutwiler, Demetriou (Mangan, 54), Goldson (c), Knight-Percival, Clark, Woods, Ellis, Collins, Vernon (Akpa-Akpro, 54), Gayle (Grandison, 17), Wesolowski
Subs not used: Burton, Vincent, Lawrence, Griffith
Hartlepool United: Flinders, Parnaby (Richards, 39), Bates (c), Harrison, Austin, Brobbel, Miller, Walker, Compton (Holden, 90), Wyke, Franks
Subs not used: Dixon, Collins, Harewood, Woods, Hawkins
Referee: Jeremy Simpson
Attendance: 3,368 (218 from Shrewsbury)
Martin Wild reports from Victoria Park
Shrewsbury Town suffered their first league defeat of the season this afternoon to give Hartlepool their first points of the campaign on home soil. The Shrews started the game poorly and fell behind to a fifth minute goal from Charlie Wyke. And with Town failing to score in a league game for the first time this season, Brad Walker punished them further with a killer second after 79 minutes – a goal which came wholly of Shrewsbury’s own making.
There were changes to the team after the JPT exit in midweek at Deepdale. Connor Goldson, James Wesolowski, Scott Vernon and James Collins all returned to Micky Mellon’s starting line up following that 1-0 defeat against Preston. Andy Mangan’s recovery from injury saw him named amongst the subs and Liam Lawrence was also on the bench after completing his three game suspension.
After a mirky journey all the way to County Durham, by the time kick-off came around the sun had finally managed to peer through the gloom.
The home side wasted a glorious chance after just 90 seconds when Wyke dragged his shot a yard or two wide after Jonathan Franks had laid on the opportunity. The on-loan Middlesbrough striker had caught Town napping and should have scored. He didn’t have to wait too long to make amends. Goldson couldn’t win a 50/50 challenge inside his own half and when the ball was worked down the left channel, it was fed quickly into Wyke who swept it into the corner to give the hosts a fifth minute lead. With three central defenders it left Salop exposed and vulnerable in the right-back berth once Goldson had lost out, and the home side had inflicted maximum damage.
They might have doubled their lead too when Ryan Brobble completely miscued in front of goal after Franks had again gone skipping through a strangely off guard Town defence. It wasn’t too much of an exaggeration to say that Salop might have been three adrift within 10 minutes against a side that had lost five of its first six matches.
Mellon made a quick change after 17 minutes with Cameron Gayle replaced by Jermaine Grandison, after the former West Brom man failed to respond to an ankle knock picked up earlier in the game.
The small band of travelling Salopians away to our left did their best to rouse their team but although the threat had dissipated somewhat at one end, sadly there was precious little at the other one either. Vernon did head a Ryan Woods cross wide of the upright just before the half hour but that was all that Town had mustered, with the struggling home side certainly having had the edge in the first third of the match.
Town’s first shot on target came when Mickey Demetriou’s raking 40 yard cross-field pass was deftly flicked on by Mark Ellis, but Collins couldn’t get any meat behind his shot and it was an easy gather for Scott Flinders in the home goal.
Flinders had to save again when Wesolowski’s clever dink was volleyed on by Vernon but the effort was straight down the throat of a grateful keeper, and another routine stop.
Collins headed over Grandison’s cross in the closing minutes of the half and it was a clear indication that Shrewsbury had settled and finally found a bit of fluency after the most lethargic of openings.
Last week’s matchwinner Jordan Clark had a chance in stoppage time from a free kick awarded just outside the box, but couldn’t repeat his Luton heroics and fired well over. And Town’s wretched half concluded with Wesolowski yellow carded for an infringement just inside the Town half.
Half Time: Hartlepool United 1 Town 0
Hartlepool kicked off the second half with the yellow and blacks now attacking the end behind which their travelling support was gathered. Neither manager had made any further changes during the interval.
Town started well with Collins’ awareness setting up an opportunity for Grandison but despite two bites of the cherry, the defender failed to find a way through a resilient Pools defence.
Clark was booked early doors for simulation when he was ‘tripped’ on the edge of the area but the ref wasn’t falling for it, and as soon as Clark picked himself up from the deck, sure enough, there was the yellow in front of his face.
Hartlepool were still looking menacing down both flanks though and it was hard to see why they had struggled for much of the campaign.
Collins twice fired well over and Town survived a huge penalty appeal when Nathaniel Knight-Percival tangled with Brobbel – although the initial foul might have been given in Town’s favour. The home fans howled their disapproval but the man in the middle must have seen it as a six and two three’s.
Mellon made a double change 10 minutes into the second half with Demetriou and Vernon replaced by Mangan and Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro. It saw Salop revert to a more recognisable 4-4-2 formation.
The best of the chances were still falling to the home side and Brobbel might have embarrassed Knight-Percival midway through the half when the defender dallied and Brobbel nipped in. Only his timing was wrong or it might have been two-nil.
It was end to end stuff but Town were at least seeing their equal share of the football. They weren’t creating too many clear cut openings. Mangan pulled a shot just wide after 71 minutes and you sensed an equaliser might knock the stuffing out of a United side that had lost both their previous games here without scoring.
Scott Harrison and Collins both found their way into the ref’s notebook after some needless argy-bargy, and it all came as a result of Flinders failing to give the ball back for Town to take a corner. When it finally swung over, the ref failed to notice that a Pools defender was all over Collins like a rash and you rarely see officials brave enough to give pens in situations like that.
Akpa Akpro fired straight at Flinders with the game now inside the final quarter hour and Town still trailing to that early goal.
Shrews conceded again with 11 minutes to go and it was a shocker. Clark threw to Grandison midway inside the Pools half and Grandison’s intended return fell woefully short. Away went the home side down the left and Jack Compton’s deliciously inviting ball fell perfectly for the on-rushing Walker, who had timed his run to perfection to crash his 10 yard shot sweetly beyond Jayson Leutwiler.
If Town’s task looked tough before, it looked positively cavernous now with the hosts piling men behind the ball.
Flinders saved twice in quick succession from Collins and Woods but it simply wasn’t the visitor’s day. A brilliant run by Brobbel might have brought a third but really, that would have been just a bit too much for the 218 away following to stomach. It would be a long journey home for those wearing Town colours tonight.
Full Time: Hartlepool United 2 Town 0