Town: Jayson Leutwiler (Mark Halstead, 46), Mickey Demetriou, Liam Lawrence, Connor Goldson (c), Nathaniel Knight-Percival, Josh Passley, James Collins, Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro (Andy Mangan, 71), Ryan Woods, Bobby Grant, Mark Ellis
Subs not used: Scott Vernon, Anthony Griffith, Ashley Vincent, Jordan Clark, Cameron Gayle
Cambridge United: Chris Dunn, Richard Tait, Greg Taylor, Josh Coulson, Ian Miller (c), Tom Champion, Robbie Simpson (Sullay Kaikai, 60), Liam Hughes, Kwesi Appiah, Ryan Bird (Luke Chadwick, 63), Tom Naylor (Wesley Atkinson, 76)
Subs not used: Will Norris, Adam Cunnington, Michael Nelson, Matty Blair, Wesley Atkinson
Referee: Tim Robinson
Assistants: David Benton & Steven Rushton
Fourth Official: Marc Perry
Attendance: 5,346 (346 from Shrewsbury)
Martin Wild reports from The Abbey Stadium
For the second week in succession, Shrewsbury’s goal scoring prowess deserted them in a goalless affair at The Abbey Stadium. Town had the majority of the possession but couldn’t get their noses in front when the chances came to do so. Not that they overworked Cambridge’s goalkeeper, but Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro in particular, will feel that he ought to have done better with a couple of first half opportunities that might have yielded an additional two points.
Shrews chief Micky Mellon was forced into a couple of changes for the long trip to the Abbey. Jermaine Grandison reported in sick yesterday so Mark Ellis came into the side, and Mickey Demetriou stepped up from the bench with James Wesolowski nursing a slight hamstring pull.
The home side got the game underway on a chilly but sunny day in Cambridgeshire with United’s keeper Chris Dunn staring directly into the bright sunshine.
A really good Town move on 11 minutes brought the game’s first real opportunity. Skipper Liam Lawrence started things off with a great cross field ball to Bobby Grant and when James Collins laid the ball off for Ryan Woods, the midfielder intelligently picked out Lawrence who was in space on the right edge of the penalty area. Lawrence got the shot away but it bent wide of Dunn’s right hand upright.
Robbie Simpson picked up a silly yellow for running his studs down Connor Goldson’s heel after the defender had turned a loose ball back in the direction of Jayson Leutwiler.
Town were perhaps demonstrating the greater finesse in the opening 20, but last season’s Conference play-off winners had shown that Ryan Bird in particular might prove to be a handful for the three Shrews defenders.
Lawrence couldn’t sort his feet out when a Grant cross fell invitingly but in fairness it would have taken brilliant technique to convert the volley.
Leutwiler needed attention midway through the first half but it was hard to see how he had come by the injury. Just below us substitute keeper Halstead was preparing himself for action.
After 25 minutes it took a superb intervention from NKP to deny Bird after an inviting cross from Kwesi Appiah looked set to favour the Cambridge striker. But there was Knight-Percival with a brilliant block on the six yard line offering full protection to his goalkeeper.
There was a decent atmosphere in the ground with around 350 Salop fans on the far side, under a covered terrace not dissimilar to the Old Riverside at the Gay Meadow.
Appiah saw a goalbound shot blocked by Ellis but with half an hour on the watch, neither keeper had been called upon to make a save.
Ten minutes before the interval came that first opportunity for Akpa Akpro. Collins clever back heel flick got his strike partner into a footrace for the ball with a U’s defender, and the burly Frenchman got away. He couldn’t keep his composure though and fired over.
That must have still been playing on his mind seconds later when he was sent clear by Lawrence’s pin-point through ball. All Akpa Akpro needed to do was keep his composure and Town would have led at a crucial stage of the game. With Dunn cruelly exposed by a defence that had gone AWOL, Town’s number 26 blasted horribly wide from an opportunity that had been bought, paid for and gift-wrapped with a big blue and amber ribbon all around it. Christmas had come early for the home side – without question, they should have been behind.
Collins had another chance to send Town in at half-time with the lead but he headed over Grant’s probing free-kick when well placed.
Half-Time: Cambridge United 0 Town 0
Leutwiler failed to return after the break and Halstead took his place between the posts for Shrewsbury, just as he had done in the recent FA Cup tie at Walsall.
Town were denied the first goal after 53 minutes when Dunn did really well to keep out Grant’s low drive at the foot of the post. A minute later Demetriou became the first Shrews player booked for a mistimed tackle on Appiah. The resultant free-kick was easily dealt with and we were still level.
But to say Town had been knocking at the door would have been an understatement. Time and again they worked the ball into good areas and were dominating central midfield. Only the killer instinct in front of goal was missing.
They came close again just past the hour when NKP’s header clipped the top of the bar from Grant’s corner. On another day the points may well have been in the bag already and yet here, the outcome was still in the balance despite Town’s clear supremacy.
The bar shuddered again with 66 minutes played when the ball fell nicely for Grant some 25 yards from goal. The midfielder let fly and with Dunn nowhere near it, the woodwork came to United’s rescue for a second time in barely five minutes.
Mellon made his first outfield change with 20 minutes left, bringing on Andy Mangan for the industrious figure of Akpa Akpro who had missed the best chances of the match.
Knight Percival followed Demetriou into the book as the first signs of frustration began to kick in. And there was an injury scare for the hosts when Richard Tait fell awkwardly after winning a superb header on the edge of his own box to clear the danger. It came minutes after Richard Money had made his third and final change but the right back was able to continue after treatment.
Mangan just failed to get on the end of Collins’ flicked header but Grant’s corner this time was a poor one.
Luke Chadwick fired over for the U’s with Halstead still waiting to lay a decent glove on the ball in more than 40 minutes on the field. And as Town came forward again, Lawrence shot well wide from long distance.
A lightning break in added on time saw Grant bring a terrific stop from Dunn, but a linesman’s flag would have denied Town a dramatic late winner in any event.
Full-Time: Cambridge United 0 Town 0