Martin Wild reports from Greenhous Meadow
If ever the phrase ‘a game of two halves’ were invented for, it was the only way to describe this afternoon’s game with Colchester United. The visitors were cruising 2-0 at the break through a Mark Ellis own-goal and a cheeky effort from Tom Eastman. But Micky Mellon made a double swap in the dressing rooms with Tyrone Barnett and Sullay Kaikai sent on in a bid to repair the damage. And it wasn’t just a repair – more a full restoration job, with Kaikai helping himself to a double after Barnett’s brace had brought Town level. The changes had the desired effect – and some - to finally bag the points with an incredible 4-2 win.
There were a plethora of changes for Micky Mellon’s Shrewsbury Town following on from the last minute disappointment at Fleetwood on Tuesday. Dom Smith was handed a debut at first team level and Nat Knight-Percival and Matt Tootle both returned after missing out in midweek. Abu Ogogo lined up in the middle of the park with James Collins also back to lead the line up top. Jermaine Grandison wasn’t named in the eighteen after a couple of costly errors and Mat Sadler, Liam McAlinden and Barnett all had to be content with subs jerseys. Ian Black retained his place in the side to earn a first league start in Blue and Amber.
It was Armed Forces Day at the Meadow and once the RAF Squirrel helicopter had flown in to deliver the matchball, it was Colchester who got proceedings underway wearing their change colours of White and Black and kicking towards the Salop Leisure Stand.
It looked like a 3-5-2 for Town with NKP, Ellis and Smith across the 18 yard line. It was the visitors who were first to show with Gavin Massey putting in a great ball that looked destined to bring the opening goal. But former £3 million striker Marvin Sordell could only feather his cushioned volley at the front post and it ran away from goal instead of dropping in it. That was after six minutes and almost all of it had been played in the Shrewsbury half.
But after the fairly frenetic opening from the Essex side the game endured something of a lull for a good quarter of an hour. Midway through the half though, Massey finished well from Sordell’s sweeping ball in from the right only to see his celebrations cut short by a raised flag on the far side.
Collins picked up a yellow card on 27 minutes after dumping Frankie Kent to the turf but no sooner had the referee administered the punishment, up sprung Kent with Town fans proclaiming they’d just witnessed a miracle. It made you smile – as did the sight of the Avro-Vulcan bomber passing the ground on the West side of the Stadium in the distance. It was one of her last ever flights before being retired.
With the game more lifeless than the momentarily sparked-out figure of Kent, there was a second let off for Salop with Sordell this time flagged offside after netting past Jayson Leutwiler. We’d had 32 minutes of play and neither keeper had been called upon. The first save was eventually made by Jamie Jones with Collins demonstrating his strength before prodding a shot towards the U’s stopper.
Within a minute came the opener and it was no surprise to see Tony Hume’s men get it. Not for the first time Massey had acres of space in which to pick out his man in the box, but before it could make its way there, Ellis lunged in in an attempt to intercept. But his connection saw the ball whizz past a flat-footed Leutwiler and into the net to put Shrews behind once again in a home game.
It soon got worse. A corner wasn’t dealt with properly and dropped for defender Eastman who back-heeled the ball into the goal from about 10 yards. It was a dreadful three minutes for the home side who had offered precious little so far to suggest they could mount a fightback.
The half-time whistle was greeted with one or two boos from home sections with Town fans having endured a sterile first half performance from their side. They weren’t to know what was around the corner.
Half-Time: Town 0 Colchester United 2
Mellon went with a flat back four for the second half with Junior Brown sitting in at left-back, Ellis replaced by Barnett, and Jordan Clark making way for Kaikai. The mood around the place changed considerably when the changes brought almost instantaneous reward. Larnell Cole delivered a peach of a cross from the left and Barnett rose like a salmon to bury his header in the corner with less than a minute of the second half played. It was a massive boost for everyone with the team having been subdued in an instantly forgettable first 45.
And just a minute before the hour marker Town had turned it right around. Black crossed deep and Barnett controlled it brilliantly on his chest before deftly lifting the ball beyond Jones and in off the far post. This was a complete contrast to a first half were Town had laboured. But, buoyed by the early goal, the ball was now being played to feet and players were moving into spaces looking for the ball rather than hiding from it. Colchester were on the rack with a good tempo to the home side’s play and plenty of time left to find a winner.
Leutwiler saved from U’s skipper Owen Garvan as the away team tried to impose themselves on the game, having let slip what really looked like an unassailable two goal advantage at the halfway stage. Smith then headed against the bar for Town after Collins and Barnett had made a nuisance of themselves in the box and all of a sudden, we were now watching a classic. The crowd had come alive and there sounded like a lot more than 5,000 inside the Greenhous. Kaikai had a goalbound effort blocked off from another terrific deep cross from Brown, with Town clearly intent on finding a winner with their tails really high and receiving great backing from the stands.
After 72 minutes the other sub decided to get on the goal trail. Cole played a beautifully weighted ball in behind the U’s defence and Kaikai was first to it to steer the ball to the left of the exposed keeper, Jones. He still had an awful lot to do, but from the tightest of angles Kaikai’s shot went over the line despite the best efforts of a retreating United defender. The crowd went bananas. You just hadn’t envisaged anything like this being possible after a turgid first half, but my, had the boys responded to whatever had been put in their half-time cuppas!
But Colchester weren’t out of it and it took a wonder save from Leutwiler 10 minutes from time to deny Eastman a second, with his header repelled by a stunning reactionary stop from the big Swiss. The importance of it was magnified in the next minute. Liam Lawrence came on and with his very first touch sent an angled ball into the path of Kaikai standing on the right hand side of the area. The youngster let it drop before belting it into the bottom corner to give Jones absolutely no chance and seal the victory.
Town were on fire and now there looked no way back for Colchester. This 45 minute display from Shrewsbury had been very similar to the second half performance at Rochdale where the team created so many chances but couldn’t find a route to goal. Four times they managed it today and the full-time whistle brought a standing ovation and loud cheers. From sick as a parrot, to over the moon. It’s a funny old game.
Full-Time: Town 4 Colchester United 2
Town: Jayson Leutwiler, Matt Tootle, Nat Knight-Percival (c), Ian Black (Liam Lawrence, 80), Junior Brown, Mark Ellis (Tyrone Barnett, 46), Dom Smith, Jordan Clark (Sullay Kaikai, 46), Larnell Cole, James Collins, Abu Ogogo
Subs not used: Shaun Rowley (GK), Shaun Whalley, Liam McAlinden, Mat Sadler
Colchester United: Jamie Jones, Owen Garvan (c), Joe Edwards (Alex Gilbey, 75), George Elokobi, George Moncur (Macauley Bonne, 75), Gavin Massey, Tosin Olufemi, Frankie Kent, Tom Eastman, Callum Harriott, Marvin Sordell
Subs not used: Elliott Parish (GK), Chris Porter, Dion Sembie-Ferris, Jamie Harney, Darren Ambrose
Referee: Lee Swabey
Assistants: Alan Clayton & Michael D’Aguilar
Fourth Official: Stuart Eagland
Match Attendance: 4,947 (194 from Colchester)