Martin Wild reports from Ricoh Arena
Shrewsbury Town earned their first SKY Bet League One points of the season this afternoon after a goalless draw at Coventry City. Town created few clear openings until late on in a game where they were tested defensively, but they might have stolen the most dramatic of victories when new capture Ivan Toney rattled the woodwork with an angled shot in the 89th minute of normal time. And then, right on the whistle, Jim O’Brien came within a whisker of the perfect smash and grab by failing to apply a touch at the back post with just seconds remaining.
Shrewsbury made two changes to the team that prevailed against Huddersfield Town in midweek to earn a trip to Sunderland in the next round of the EFL Cup. Ethan Jones was rewarded for a couple of eye-catching performances up front and was handed a Senior debut, with Toney also starting for the first time since joining on loan from Newcastle United on Monday. AJ Leitch-Smith was missing through injury and Shaun Whalley dropped to the bench.
Town got the game underway attacking the end where their 600 or so supporters were gathered away to our right. The pitch resembled a bowling green for City’s first league game here and was bathed in sunlight with much of the crowd in short sleeves.
Coventry were first to show and a training ground routine might have paid off early doors, but skipper Sam Ricketts couldn’t direct a well worked corner into the net although the connection with the ball was a good one.
Joe Riley picked up a yellow 10 yards outside the box and a few yards in from the touchline for a shirt pulling offence, and although the free-kick was defended well, Coventry kept the ball alive. Ruben Lameiras saw his shot saved at the near post by Jayson Leutwiler and Jordan Willis was next to be denied by the Swiss keeper who held on well to the defender’s header. City were on top but Shrews had shown one or two nice touches and looked handy when they had possession. Trouble was, they didn’t have it for very long.
Just before the half hour mark, the hosts came within a whisker of breaking the deadlock. Lewis Page whipped over an inviting cross from the left, and Andy Rose got well up above Junior Brown only to watch his header bounce just the wrong side of the post with Leutwiler well beaten.
The earlier set piece that nearly did for Town was attempted again from the opposite quadrant, and this time Kyel Reid leathered his shot wide of the near post. City had created a handful of passable opportunities but failed to take any of them, while at the other end – save for a couple of routine catches – Charles-Cook had been a virtual spectator.
Town had their first shot on goal seven minutes before half-time and it came from Toney, who plonked a 25 yard free-kick just over Charles-Cook’s crossbar. Town were still in tact at 0-0, but it had been a backs against the wall display for most of the match from Micky’s boys. In the final minute of the half, Louis Dodds became the second Salop player into Mr. Joyce’s notebook for a foul on the halfway line on Reid.
Half-Time: Coventry City 0 Town 0
Mellon made two changes during the break having seen his side spend almost the entire first 45 on the back foot. Antoni Sarcevic was replaced by Ollie Lancashire and young Jones’ place was taken by the tenacious figure of Ian Black.
There was a good start to the second half for Town with Brown stinging the fingertips of Charles-Cook within a minute of kick-off. At the other end, Shrews skipper Adam El-Abd escaped a caution for a challenge that left Jodi Jones staring at the turf close-up and personal. Jones had demonstrated plenty of silky skills as Coventry’s playmaker but El-Abd showed no regard for that and put his marker down. It paid off too because minutes later the City number 10 was substituted with Marcus Tudgay the man to take his place.
Town meanwhile, had showed much more as an attacking force in the early exchanges of the second period and looked better for the two changes they had made at the break. Dodds made some room down the left but when he cut the cut the ball back, there was no-one close enough in a red and black jersey to profit.
Coventry still looked threatening though and Rose saw a goalbound effort deflected behind which led to a couple of quickfire corners. Ricketts and Cian Harries had equalled up the card count at two apiece but we were still awaiting the first goal with less than 25 minutes to go.
Page became the latest addition to the card count, and then former Coventry player O’Brien wasn’t a million miles away with a shot that skidded past Charles-Cook and just a yard or so wide. Soon after Toney did well to hold the ball up and played a pass out wide to Black. The midfielder had to slightly check his run and his cross into the area – where Toney had made up ground – wasn’t precise enough and a decent chance passed by the away side.
The man in the middle wasn’t endearing himself to the home supporters waving play on when there may well have been an infringement. So there were ironic cheers when a free-kick was awarded and from it, Harries made a dog’s dinner of the header.
The Sky Blues fans were clearly becoming frustrated with the game into the latter stages and still no signs of a breakthrough. There was further concern when Kwame Thomas – only on as a sub for a few minutes – failed to pick himself up off the turf, and he was stretchered away with the home side having used all of their options from the bench. Town now had the man advantage for a good ten minutes but would they look to pinch the victory or bank what they’d earned to date? On the balance of play, a point was really about as good as Shrewsbury deserved, although the second half had been a much more evenly matched contest than the first.
With just under two minutes of normal time remaining, O’Brien shifted the ball across to Toney in a great position. He lined up the shot but saw the angle of bar and post deny him a goal on his first start for the club. It was a massive let off for the hosts although conceding then would have been cruel to the nth degree.
Seven minutes of additional time was indicated by the fourth official and in the dying seconds Coventry had another huge escape when O’Brien just failed to bundle home Toney’s deflected ball in from close range. Despite the two near misses, this was an excellent result for Salop in front of just over 10,000 at the Ricoh.
Town: Leutwiler, Riley, McGivern, Toney, Dodds, O’Brien, Brown, Sarcevic (Lancashire, 46), Deegan, El-Abd (c), Jones (Black, 46)
Subs not used: Halstead, Sadler, Ogogo, Whalley, Mangan
Coventry City: Charles-Cook, Willis, Rose, Lameiras (Spence, 67), Jones (Tudgay, 56), Reid (Thomas, 75), Gadzhev, Page, Ricketts (c), Harries, Stevenson
Subs not used: Burge (GK), Haynes, Finch, Kelly-Evans
Attendance: 10,296 (530 from Shrewsbury)