Town: Jayson Leutwiler, Mickey Demetriou, Liam Lawrence (c), Cameron Gayle (Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro, 61), Connor Goldson, Nathaniel Knight-Percival (Jermaine Grandison, 35), James Collins, Ryan Woods, Mark Ellis, Bobby Grant, Mikael Mandron (Tyrone Barnett, 57)
Subs not used: Mark Halstead, Jordan Clark, Connor Randall, Scott Vernon
Southend United: Dan Bentley, John White (c), Ben Coker, Adam Thompson, Michael Timlin, Will Atkinson, Ryan Leonard, Jack Payne (Myles Weston, 83), Jerome-Binnom Williams, Jake Cassidy (Barry Corr, 75), Joe Pigott (Shaquille Coulthirst, 68)
Subs not used: Paul Smith, Luke Prosser, Gary Deegan, Adam Barrett
Referee: C. Boyeson
Assistants: N. Greenhalgh & R. Jones
Fourth Official: P. Hobday
Attendance: 5,276 (416 from Southend)
Martin Wild reports from Greenhous Meadow
Shrewsbury Town lost their position as league leaders this afternoon when they were held to a 1-1 draw by Southend United. A second half strike from Southend’s Jack Payne put Phil Brown’s team ahead, and for long periods they looked set to complete the double over a Town side that were far from their best. But a sublime finish from deadline day capture Tyrone Barnett five minutes from time, preserved Town’s unbeaten home record on a difficult afternoon at a freezing Greenhous Meadow.
Despite the addition of former Peterborough striker Barnett, Micky Mellon decided to stick with the team that won a tightly contested affair at Newport last week, and Barnett had to be content with a place amongst the subs.
Town kicked off attacking towards the Salop Leisure Stand and an early burst from Mikael Mandron soon brought the home fans to their feet. And before two minutes had been played Town should have been ahead. Mickey Demetriou’s deep cross landed at the feet of Bobby Grant, but with all the time in the world, the midfielder screwed his right foot shot a yard wide. It was a poor attempt and boss Mellon held his head in his hands as a glorious opportunity to really test Southend’s mettle skipped by.
Five minutes later it took a fine stop by Jayson Leutwiler at the base of his right hand post, to stop Joe Pigott’s towering header from finding the corner of the net. And then John White was left in far too much room from a corner with Mark Ellis needing to clear the danger as the Shrimpers threatened once more. Shrews were being tested at set pieces with Adam Thompson going close again for United when he was left unmarked at another flag-kick.
A couple of times the ball didn’t run too kindly for Grant – one in particular when a smart through ball clipped his heels as he looked to break free of the last defender.
Mandron was seeing plenty of the ball and showing some great touches for a big man. But Southend looked tricky customers on the counter with Payne their chief playmaker, and the home defenders being stretched on more than one occasion.
The pitch was looking a bit threadbare before the game got underway and it cut up quite badly during the first third of the game. Town were dealt a blow just past the half hour when influential defender NKP limped off to be replaced by Jermaine Grandison. It was a like-for-like swap though with Shrewsbury staying with a tried and trusted three pronged defence.
The first half had been full of honest toil by the hosts but their overall performance may have been affected by that early miss by Grant.
Half-Time: Town 0 Southend United 0
At the resumption Ryan Woods did well to keep a 25 yarder down, but Dan Bentley saw it all the way and gathered comfortably.
There were muted appeals for a Southend penalty when Pigott went down under a challenge from the outstanding Connor Goldson, but there were few complaints from the lanky striker.
Skipper Liam Lawrence was next to try his luck from distance but once again it was food and drink for Bentley. In the next attack on 54 minutes, United struck and it was the impressive figure of Payne who shot beyond Leutwiler - just as Mellon had signalled for Barnett to get stripped. Brown couldn’t contain his excitement and danced a jig of delight on the pitch.
Mellon reacted instantly sending on Barnett for young Mandron and Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro shortly after for Cameron Gayle. Town certainly had plenty of firepower in the final third but the service had to improve significantly if there were to be any profit from the manager’s bold move.
Pigott bent an effort a whisker away from post and bar otherwise the points might have been banked already. And didn’t Brown know it down in his technical area as another impromptu pitch invasion briefly threatened.
Bentley did well to push out a Goldson header from Lawrence’s corner and Barnett volleyed over with a snap shot from a half cleared free kick. But these weren’t clear cut openings – with that second minute chance for Grant easily the best created by the home side. For a game of such magnitude, Salop had been strangely subdued - although credit must go to the visitors for a well executed game plan that had largely nullified the creativity of the erstwhile league leaders.
With 15 minutes plus stoppages to play the Shrimpers appeared to be in control of the game, with the home supporters clearly getting more and more agitated with each passing minute.
But with five minutes of normal time remaining came a goal out of absolutely nothing to square things up for Town. Bentley came to punch clear and left his goal unguarded and Barnett swivelled to took aim for the far corner from a seemingly impossible angle. The accuracy of the shot needed to be pin-point and it was – finding the net via the far upright to give Barnett a perfect start to his Town career. It was a goal worthy of winning the biggest of games and all of a sudden the crowd sensed the unlikeliest of victories.
Shrewsbury did everything they could to hit Southend again, but in the end, it was a point gained rather than two points dropped for Town, who still remain in the automatic promotion places.
Full-Time: Town 1 Southend United 1