Town score four times in the first-half to see off Rovers
Town: Dean Henderson, Ben Godfrey, Mat Sadler, Shaun Whalley, Abu Ogogo © (Bryn Morris 87), Carlton Morris (Stefan Payne 66), Junior Brown, James Bolton, Jon Nolan (Arthur Gnahoua 81), Aristote Nsiala, Alex Rodman
Subs: Craig MacGillivray, Omar Beckles, Louis Dodds, Arthur Gnahoua, Lenell John-Lewis, Bryn Morris, Stefan Payne
Bristol Rovers: Sam Slocombe, Tom Lockyer ©, Ryan Sweeney, Liam Sercombe, Ollie Clarke, Ellis Harrison, Tom Nichols (Dom Telford 72), Chris Lines (Stuart Sinclair 46), Mark Bola, Joe Partington, Rory Gaffney (Daniel Leadbitter 57)
Subs: Adam Smith, Daniel Leadbitter, Lee Brown, Tom Broadbent, Dom Telford, Byron Moore, Stuart Sinclair
Referee: Darren Handley
Assistants: Richard Bartlett and Lee Freeman
Fourth Official: Paul Hobday
Attendance: 5652 (524)
Shrewsbury Town produced an incredible first-half display to power past Bristol Rovers and head back to the top of League One. Goals from Alex Rodman, Carlton Morris, Jon Nolan and Junior Brown gave Town a 4-0 lead at the break as they played with pace, power and purpose in a thrilling 45 minutes of football. The second half of football was a more sedate affair as Town controlled the game, with Rovers rarely testing the Town defence.
Paul Hurst makes two changes from the side which drew 1-1 with Plymouth Argyle. There’s rotation with the strikers as Carlton Morris replaces Stefan Payne. The other change sees Alex Rodman return to the side in place of Arthur Gnahoua as Paul Hurst resists the temptation to change formation, keeping with the 4-1-4-1 which has brought so much success.
It was a relatively quiet opening 10 minutes with both sides stringing together nice passages of play without testing either goalkeeper. It was the away side who probably had the most meaningful effort at goal when Liam Sercombe unleashed a dipping volley from 30 yards, but it went a few yards wide of Dean Henderson’s post.
With just 12 minutes on the clock Town took the lead. Bristol Rovers had won a corner, but Dean Henderson came and claimed the delivery and set Town away on the break. Alex Rodman fed Shaun Whalley in the centre circle. Whalley ran at the Rovers defence before slipping through Rodman, who had continued his run into the box and he coolly slotted under Sam Slocombe to give Town the lead.
Town were looking really dangerous on the break and they almost grabbed a second when Ben Godfrey rampaged through the middle of the park, travelling 30 yards with the ball before he fed Shaun Whalley who turned his man inside out, but his shot was straight at Slocombe - who pushed it away to safety.
Bristol were looking to play in quite a direct style and they enjoyed some joy at times with both Rory Gaffney and Ellis Harrison winning the first contact, but Town often shut off the second ball meaning they were forced to shoot from distance, with Harrison shooting wide from 25 yards a shot which Dean Henderson had covered.
Town certainly looked the more comfortable in possession and they made it count 24 minutes in when they added a second. A neat passing move saw the ball eventually make its way out to Junior Brown on the left-hand side. Brown put in a hanging cross and Carlton Morris rose well above his marker at the back-post to head down and past Slocombe – who perhaps could have done better.
Town were now in cruise control and they added a third just five minutes later when they once again broke forward with pace. It was Godfrey who won the ball initially in midfield and he fed Morris on the right hand side. Morris took the ball to the by-line before dropping his shoulder and delivering a cross along the floor into the six yard box, where Jon Nolan was on hand to side foot the ball home.
They could have made it four inside 31 minutes when they once again drove forward from midfield. This time it was Nolan who picked it up in the middle of the park and he fed Whalley on the right who cut inside, taking it past three players before pulling the trigger with his left foot, but his shot went inches wide of the post.
This had been one of the most dominant halves of football seen at the Montgomery Waters Meadow in many a year and Town made it four before the break through Junior Brown. Carlton Morris showed some good skill to win a free-kick 35 yards out and Shaun Whalley decided to swing one into the box. The big men came up from the back, but it was the smallest of them all who rose highest as Junior Brown powered a back-post header across goal and it went in off the far post.
It came as no surprise that Bristol Rovers boss Darrell Clarke decided to make a change at half-time as he replaced Chris Lines with Stuart Sinclair. However, it didn’t appear to have changed the complexion of the game if the opening couple of minutes were anything to go by. Toto Nsiala should have made it five for Town when he found a yard of space in the box from Whalley’s corner, but his header from 8 yards went just wide of the post.
Town really were playing some sumptuous stuff at times and they were in complete control. A fantastic move, which saw Town put together at least a dozen passes provided Junior Brown with a chance to test Slocombe, sadly his powerful shot was straight at the Rovers number one.
57 minutes in Rovers decided to go to five at the back, bringing on Daniel Leadbitter at right-wing-back, but it didn’t appear to make much of a difference as Town continued to dominate the ball, with Alex Rodman shooting just wide after he was teed up by Carlton Morris.
Town made their first substitution in the 66th minute as the Carlton Morris, who had produced a fantastic number nine display, was replaced by top scorer Stefan Payne. A minute later Bristol Rovers had their best chance of the game when Town failed to close down quickly enough and Ryan Sweeney found Ellis Harrison with a cross, but Harrison couldn’t keep his header down from 10 yards.
The second half had been a far quieter affair than the first, with Town happy to pass the ball around at the back. Perhaps the biggest cheer of the second 45 minutes came when Jon Nolan was replaced by Arthur Gnahoua with 10 minutes to go. Town fans stood and applauded Nolan for another influential midfield display. Nolan’s applause was then superseded by that for skipper Abu Ogogo who was replaced by Bryn Morris with 5 minutes to go.
The changes took much of the impetus out of the game somewhat and it was the away side who actually finished the stronger - having their first shot on target in the 88th minute of the game. Henderson was tested a couple more times in stoppage time, but he was up to the task and Town kept their clean-sheet in tact.