Martin Wild reports from Bramall Lane
Shrewsbury Town pulled off a sensational 4-2 win at Sheffield United this evening in SKY Bet League One. They fell behind to a Conor Sammon opener, but three goals in a devastating spell for Town inside ten first half minutes laid the platform for the victory. Sullay Kaikai and Ian Black struck twice within a minute and Scott Vernon deftly volleyed a third after 35 minutes to put Shrews in dreamland. James Collins rapped a fourth in the opening throes of the second half and although Dean Hammond headed a second for the home side, Salop saw the game out to record an eye-catching victory. It was a performance that sometimes oozed class, but demonstrated sheer desire throughout.
There was just one change to the Town line-up – and an enforced one at that – with Mat Sadler having picked up a one game ban under the totting up system, after receiving a fifth yellow card of the season during the weekend defeat at Wigan. Micky Mellon decided on a 4-4-2 formation with Vernon’s recent performances earning him a start alongside Collins.
Soon after the game got underway there was a minute’s applause to celebrate the life of Gemma Hale, a lifelong Blades fan who sadly passed away last week, with all four sides of this magnificent stadium joining in the tribute.
Town had the game’s opening chance when Ian Black’s corner was flicked on by Zak Whitbread with Bob Harris having taken up a perfect position to clear by the upright. Vernon then saw a snapshot blocked before Larnell Cole made up a fair bit of ground to track the run of Che Adams – timing his tackle to perfection right on the edge of the box.
As the game swung end to end in a terrific opening, there was some heroic defending in the Town box blocking United’s route to goal on more than one occasion. And then Collins failed to control a decent switched pass from Jermaine Grandison with the ball bouncing out of play off his knee.
Sheffield went in front after 17 minutes when Jose Baxter played in on loan Derby midfielder Sammon. Baxter’s pass had sliced open the defence and Sammon applied the finish going across Jayson Leutwiler to find the far corner. The goal was all about the pass and as many teammates went to congratulate Baxter as the goalscorer himself.
Before the celebrations had fully died down, Kaikai blasted a great equaliser for Mellon’s side. The youngster found himself in a bit of space on the far left hand side of the box. But he made a smidge more room for himself before finding the top corner with a devilish strike that gave George Long no chance. It was Kaikai’s fifth goal for Town since joining on loan from Crystal Palace
You could scarcely take your eyes off this match. It was fascinating with so much action in and around both areas. And Town’s fans were soon out of their seats again when Black netted his first goal in blue and amber. His initial shot was blocked off but when the rebound fell kindly for him to have a second bite of the cherry, the midfielder smashed it back goalwards with Long appearing not to have re-set himself from the first attempt. The ball pierced the net right in front of the huge Kop and the boos that rained down from there, almost, but not quite, drowned out the cheers of the disbelieving Salopians at the other end of Bramall Lane. Two goals in as many minutes saw Shrewsbury in front on away territory in the league for the first time since September.
Astonishingly, Salop scored a third with Vernon on hand to knock the ball home from close range after a superb ball in from Junior Brown following some neat build-up play down the left. The boos were getting louder and louder with everyone who has followed Town up and down dale this campaign loving every minute of this – including those of us sat behind laptops!
With cries of “What a load of rubbish” reverberating around the ground, United had a great chance to silence the critics five minutes before the break. Hammond tried his luck from distance and after Leutwiler parried the ball into the path of Sammon, he made a mess of a follow-up header which drifted a good way wide.
The whistle blew to signal the halfway stage and the locals were far from a happy bunch. United had started the game well enough but it was the away side that had bossed proceedings for long periods and had struck with devastating effect three times to turn the game on its head, in a wonderful ten minutes for Town.
Half-Time: Sheffield United 1 Town 3
At the break the Blades made a triple change underlining what manager Nigel Adkins had made of his side’s ineptitude in the first 45. Incredibly, after a dangerous looking Harris free-kick was charged down plum on the 18 yard line by Black, Town countered with lightning precision to conjour a quite magical fourth. Black advanced and gave the ball to Vernon who carried on the run with the ball before feeding strike partner Collins away to his left. The number nine blasted his shot into the far corner with a hefty swing of his left boot to send the away support behind that goal into a frenzy. The home fans? They bellowed: “You’re not fit to wear the shirt.” 4-1 and it was almost five when Black smashed one a yard wide from 25 yards with Long nowhere near it.
Leutwiler then parried a Sammon shot as United tried to play their way back into it but the ball didn’t fall kindly for substitute Matt Done, and was somewhat typical of the Yorkshire side’s evening.
Black was shooting on sight and another distance effort landed in the midriff of Long. There were so many things to admire about this Shrewsbury display. It might have been a long time coming in terms of road trips, but we were watching a side that was demonstrating from front to back what it was capable of. The Scot blotted the copybook a little with a yellow card for a foul midway inside his own half, but the blot was to grow much larger in size. Harris curled in the free-kick and Hammond glanced a free header past a helpless Leutwiler after 65 minutes to give the Koppites a glimmer of hope.
Sheffield were seeing a bit more of the ball but they looked extremely nervy with it - with the supporters hardly appeased by that second goal. There were moans and groans at every offside, every mishit or overhit pass, and every lost tackle and they’re certainly an unforgiving lot in this part of South Yorkshire.
Mellon deployed all three of his subs (JLAA, Barnett and Lawrence) in four minutes to take some of the sting out of the game with barely 10 minutes left. A home goal now would definitely have changed the mood of those in red and white.
Kieron Freeman’s 30 yarder nearly had Leutwiler in a lather but the Swiss managed to turn a swerving ball over before Billy Sharp headed too high from the corner. Town weren’t exactly defending like their lives depended on it, but they were having to work much harder than at any other stage in the match.
Many of the near 18,000 supporters had long since found the exits before the fourth official indicated a further five minutes for Shrewsbury to complete their task. And it took a smart near-post block from Leutwiler to deny Blades’ skipper Chris Basham from close range. Freeman hooked an effort wide but that was all United had left. They were well beaten and Town had been full value for the points.
Full-Time: Sheffield United 2 Town 4
Town: Jayson Leutwiler, Anthony Gerrard, Zak Whitbread, Jermaine Grandison, Ian Black (Liam Lawrence, 79), Larnell Cole (Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro, 76), Abu Ogogo, James Collins (c) (Tyrone Barnett, 79), Scott Vernon, Junior Brown, Sullay Kaikai
Subs not used: Calum Burton (GK), Liam McAlinden, Shaun Whalley, Dom Smith
Sheffield United: George Long, Kieron Freeman, Bob Harris, Chris Basham (c), Billy Sharp, Jose Baxter (Matt Done, 46), Neill Collins (Jay McEveley, 46), Conor Sammon, Louis Reed (David Edgar, 46), Che Adams, Dean Hammond
Subs not used: Mark Howard (GK), Paul Coutts, Martyn Woolford, Jay McEveley, Jamal Campbell-Ryce
Referee: Richard Clark
Assistants: Robert Atkin & Duncan Street
Fourth Official: Paul Graham