Martin Wild reports from Highbury Stadium
For the second time this season, Fleetwood Town and Shrewsbury Town couldn’t be separated after a tense goalless affair at Highbury. Shaun Whalley and Abu Ogogo were guilty of missing two great chances in the second half, but the point was enough to keep Town just above that dreaded dotted line.
Town were forced into changes for the trip to the Fylde coast. James Wallace picked up a knee injury during the midweek home defeat to Southend, and Zak Whitbread misses the game with a slight hip injury. Richie Wellens dropped to the bench with Whalley, Ogogo and Jermaine Grandison all making their way into the starting XI, and Elliot Grandin was named amongst the substitutes.
On a bitterly cold afternoon in Lancashire, it was Town who got the game underway defending the end where the away fans were housed – in the delightfully named Percy Ronson Stand. The pitch looked a touch threadbare in places but had recovered really well from the pounding it took on Thursday evening.
The first real chance came the way of the home side after 11 minutes. A purposeful run by Conor McLaughlin took him deep into Town territory. Ashley Hunter pulled off into space down the right and his powerful strike was beaten away at the near post by Jayson Leutwiler.
Town replied with a smart move of their own five minutes later. Ian Black did well midway inside his own half and sent Whalley scampering away in acres of space. The winger looked up and crossed for JLAA but a defender did just enough to put the Frenchman off.
In the next attack, Junior Brown and Andy Mangan combined well down the left and Mangan’s back-heel picked out the run of the left wing back. He crossed low and Akpa Akpro again wasn’t too far away from getting a decent connection on the ball. But Town had already shown glimpses of the form which had earned them five away league victories to date.
They were difficult positions for both sets of players with a right old breeze blowing around this tiny stadium. Players came off for their energy drinks when they’d probably have preferred soup!
Town were knocking at the door and Chris Maxwell had to be on his guard to beat Whalley’s shot out from about 12 yards, and although the rebound fell to the same player, his body shape meant his second effort wasn’t quite as threatening.
Brown thrashed another effort wide of the target and you sensed he’d have much rather the chance fell to his left peg rather than right. Fleetwood hadn’t worked Leutwiler since that early Hunter chance but six minutes before the break they won a free-kick in a really dangerous area just outside the ‘D’ and central to goal. But David Ball’s shot was a really poor one and a good chance to work the Town goalie had gone.
Maxwell had to fly across goal to hold Jean-Louis’ header minutes later from Whalley’s cross but the best chance of the game came to the hosts in the late stages of the half. Ball wriggled into the sort of space which usually results in a goal but he fired the shot wastefully over Jayson’s bar from about 10 yards.
Half Time: Fleetwood Town 0 Shrewsbury Town 0
The temperature gauge had dipped to around minus eighty during the interval and the rains were even reaching the press box.
There was an early escape for Fleetwood when JLAA crossed low from the left. The ball evaded the dive of Maxwell but ran right along the six yard box with no Salop player around to convert.
At the other end Hunter pulled the ball across for Devante Cole who clipped his effort onto the top of the netting. It had been a bright start to the second period by both sides barely three minutes in. Whalley then failed to spot the run of Mangan away to his left and overran the ball to concede a free-kick, with a fantastic opportunity to have put the striker through on goal having gone begging. The game had an almost ‘next goal wins’ feel to it all of a sudden, with play swinging from one end to the other.
Dom Smith saw a header blocked off from a Whalley corner with muted appeals from behind that goal claiming a hand had been used. But the referee – who had been on top of things all the way through the game – was unmoved.
Hunter screwed one comfortably wide for Steven Pressley’s side and still we awaited a breakthrough with just half an hour to play.
And what a glorious opportunity was passed on 62 minutes for Micky Mellon’s men. Black sent a long ball for Akpa Akpro to chase and he held it up long enough to find willing runners. His inch perfect pass picked out Whalley unopposed and just as you expected the net to ripple right in front of the away support, the shot was dragged wide from no more than 10 yards out.
Town were getting into some good positions and they ought to have been in front. But Fleetwood were still making chances of their own and had introduced two fresh players after the exertions against Barnsley in the Northern Final of the JPT.
Leutwiler saved David Henen’s effort with his legs and Mellon threw on Wellens in place of Black for the last 15 minutes. Mat Sadler became Town’s second change with Grimmer the man to make way a couple of minutes later.
The weather was awful by now with programmes, teamsheets and computer equipment all getting a bit of a soaking.
With six minutes left Shrews came mightily close to edging in front. Whalley crossed, Jean Louis saw his shot blocked by Maxwell and when the ball rolled free, there was Agogo who shot wide of a gaping goal. It was a huge let off for the home team who might have found it hard to raise the energy levels needed to recover.
Bobby Grant stepped up from the home bench on 86 minutes – spookily around the same time as he had done to devastating effect in the JPT match between the two teams back in October.
Town finished the game the stronger of the two teams but it ended nil apiece.
Full Time: Fleetwood Town 0 Shrewsbury Town 0
Shrewsbury Town: Jayson Leutwiler, Dom Smith, Nat Knight-Percival (c), Jermaine Grandison, Junior Brown, Ian Black (Richie Wellens, 75), Abu Ogogo, Jack Grimmer (Mat Sadler, 79), Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro,
Andy Mangan, Shaun Whalley
Subs not used: Mark Halstead (GK), Scott Vernon, Jordan Clark, Elliott Grandin, Kyle Vassell
Fleetwood Town: Chris Maxwell, Conor McLaughlin, Stephen Jordan, Nathan Pond (c) (Marcus Nilsson, 64), Amari’i Bell, Tyler Forbes, Victor Nirennold, Ashley Hunter (Bobby Grant, 86), David Ball, Alex Kiwomya (David Henen, 61), Devante Cole
Subs not used: Alex Gogic, Keano Deacon, Nick Haughton, Jack Sowerby
Referee: Andrew Madley
Assistants: Ricky Wooton & Christopher Akers
Fourth Official: Richard Wild
Attendance: 2, 539