Shrewsbury Town: Jayson Leutwiler, Connor Goldson, Liam Lawrence (c), Jermaine Grandison, Ryan Woods, Bobby Grant, Mark Ellis, Mickey Demetriou, Cameron Gayle, James Collins (Andy Mangan, 71), Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro (Tyrone Barnett, 71)
Subs not used: Mark Halstead, Dom Smith, Scott Vernon, Mikael Mandron, Jordan Clark
Cheltenham Town: Trevor Carson,Craig Braham-Barrett, Troy Brown (c), Matt Richards, Wes Burns, Jack Deaman, Zack Kotwica, Matt Sparrow (Joe Hanks, 67), Durrell Berry, Shaun Harrad, Mathieu Manset (Omari Sterling-James, 61)
Subs not used: Matthew Gould (GK), Harry Williams, Bobbie Dale, James Bowen, Jamal Lawrence
Referee: T. Kettle
Assistants: K. Morris & O. Yates
Fourth Official: P. Hobday
Attendance: 5,117 (1,705 from Shrewbury)
Martin Wild reports from Whaddon Road
Town are back in League One! An immediate return to the third tier was finally secured with a Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro goal enough to land promotion for Micky Mellon’s side. Sadly, from a home perspective, Cheltenham’s stay in the Football League ended with Hartlepool’s win making it impossible for them to escape the dreaded drop.
Town made two changes to the side that won against York last time out and both were up top. James Collins and Akpa Akpro returned to lead the line with Tyrone Barnett and Andy Mangan both named amongst the subs.
There was a great atmosphere inside this tiny ground as the two teams emerged from the tunnel, with the 1700 away fans in fine voice both away to our right and on the far side. It was by some distance Cheltenham’s highest crowd of the season – in fact, the first attendance over 4,000 – with Town backed by the highest away following of the campaign to this pretty part of Gloucestershire.
Before kick-off there was an impeccably observed minute’s silence for the 56 victims of the Valley Parade disaster 30 years ago. With applause due for three Town fans who have each tragically lost their fight for lives in recent weeks – most recently Colin Bloomfield – this promised to be a day were emotions would be clearly evident all around Whaddon Road.
An 11th minute rendition for little Lloyd Burton was observed to a man with our friends from Cheltenham also paying their own tributes to the young lad who lost his cancer battle earlier this week.
On the pitch Ryan Woods had a long range strike which was food and drink for Trevor Carson, and Mathieu Manset also cracked one from distance - although that one was closer to the town centre than Jayson Leutwiler’s goal as the ball sailed high out of the ground.
Just before the 20 minute marker Bobby Grant unleashed a venomous strike from 25 yards that Carson did well to beat away, and Liam Lawrence saw the games first card when he was cautioned for shirt pulling, having let the ball run away from him on an exceptionally bobbly surface.
Almost immediately Town struck with the goal taking a wicked deflection off a Cheltenham defender before Akpa Akpro’s shot found its way past a helpless Carson. Not that anyone in the packed away stands cared – it was a precious lead and laid a decent foundation.
As Cheltenham rallied, there were huge claims for a home penalty midway through the half when Craig Braham-Barrett took a tumble under Cameron Gayle’s challenge, but the referee was well placed and correctly awarded the corner.
With half an hour played there was a huge let off for Salop when Wes Burns climbed high to meet Matt Richards’ cross, only to see his header bounce the wrong side of Leutwiler’s post.
There wasn’t a lot in the game with the outcome so crucial to both sides but for very different reasons. The Whaddon Road side were teetering on the brink of a drop to non-league, and their efforts to date had been of the type of standards expected from a team fighting for Football League survival. It might not have been pretty but the battling qualities were there alright.
The games second card went to Shaun Harrad who left birthday boy Leutwiler requiring medical attention following an aerial challenge, but there didn’t appear to be any malice in the striker’s attempt to put the Town keeper off claiming a high ball. And in first-half stoppage time, Leutwiler had to be fully alert to sprint from his line to deny two Robins’ strikers, after Manset’s beautiful through ball had split the defence. The Swiss stopper was soon called into action again as he thwarted Burns seconds before the whistle with another smart, and brave, intervention.
Half-Time: Cheltenham Town 0 Shrewsbury Town 1
Town got the second half started attacking towards their own fans who were still going through their repertoire of promotion songs.
Jermaine Grandison headed a Lawrence corner wide in the first chance of the half as Shrews forced a couple of early flag-kicks.
There was barely a thing to report in the opening quarter of an hour with tension aplenty all around Whaddon Road, although Leutwiler had to tip over Cheltenham’s first effort on target – a hoof forward from Carson at the other end!
Collins attempted a shot for Town from just outside the ‘D’ when he might have strode forward, and Carson dealt with it routinely. The hosts were still very much in the game and tested Shrews with a couple of set pieces but the defence stood firm – how many times has that been said this season?
Harrad bent a free-kick just wide in the home side’s best effort for a while, seconds before Mellon brought on Mangan and Barnett for his starting pair.
This wasn’t pretty by any means but sometimes you just have to dig in and grind out results. This was more Mansfield away than Bury at home but the end result was all-important.
With Gary Johnson’s side still in it, Zack Kotwika struck an absolute beaut with 15 minutes left but Mark Ellis put his head in the way to protect Leutwiler, who had already started to fly across his goal.
Harrad brought an outstanding save out of Leutwiler with a header from another Richards cross and was there again to deny sub Joe Hanks on the follow-up. It was a brilliant save and Cheltenham threatened again as they gave it all they’d got in a bid to preserve their league status, but once again Town’s luck held. Their defending had been heroic and it needed to have been.
Town almost grabbed a second when Barnett’s stunning shot was kept out of the top corner by Carson’s full stretch tip-over, just as the away end looked set to erupt for a second time with six minutes to play.
Cheltenham threw everything at it but it wasn’t enough. The champagne corks were popping in the away dressing room, not the home.
Nick, Lloyd and Colin – this was for you.
Full-Time: Cheltenham Town 0 Shrewsbury Town 1