Marcus Braddock takes his weekly look at all things Shrewsbury Town
Looking back, the week hasn't been such a bad one although it could also have gone better. Monday night's Emirates, FA Cup draw matched us with Bristol City rather than the top-flight giants than many of us wanted. City are going well in the Championship but we're a hard team to beat and they'll need to be well motivated and playing their best to shift us. It means that the scheduled game at home to Tranmere has been postponed, but we've got four games and Christmas to get through before that.
On Tuesday, Manchester City under 21's visited for our first knockout game of the Leasing.com Trophy. Before the game, we learned that Sam Ricketts had signed the ex-Oldham midfielder, Ousmane Fane, who'd been without a club since he was released by Oldham following recovery from a serious injury. Sam Ricketts says he disrupts play in the defensive midfield area and looking at coverage of him on a well-known streaming service, he's spot on. He also brings a little more height to the centre of the team, at six feet and four inches, he should have a much better than average chance of winning aerial balls.
He went straight into a strong squad for the Leasing.com game against Man City although he didn't make it as far as the pitch. Those that did make it put on a good performance against the Premier League youngsters with Scott Golbourne hitting the sweet-spot to make it 1-0 midway through the first half. City looked a danger throughout the game though and with 22 minutes to go, their threat became reality when Tommy Doyle hit another cracker from distance which took the game into penalties. In the end, the penalties were dispatched immaculately, so it went to sudden death and we lost and are out of the competition.
Saturday meant a trip to the dreaming spires of Oxford although the Kassam Stadium is architecturally, not quite as nice as the city centre. I suppose they could fill the empty lot behind the goal with some sort of mock-Gothic grandstand. I wasn't expecting too much from this one, free-scoring United have been in excellent form recently and my thinking was that 0-0 would be a well-won point. That's exactly what we got as we stymied any Oxford plans to score. As the season progresses we look a more purposeful, focussed unit and we now look like a team that can control much of what the opposition can do.
It was a game in which we seemed to press more, not giving Oxford a moment to settle on the ball. We looked well balanced with the players seeming settled in their roles with Sean Goss in particular looking sharp, with and without the ball. He wasn't the only one, I don't think there was a poor performance throughout the team with everyone looking controlled and focussed. A few people on social media wondered if we might have done more toward the end to score and they might be right. However, when you have something balanced like we were on Saturday, too strong a move or change in emphasis might throw that balance off, leaving you to regret not holding what you had.
Maybe this isn't the time for too many risks as teams jostle for position ready for the post-Christmas run into the season's end. We're currently in 12th position with some difficult teams to play over Christmas, if we can sneak a point or three like we did on Saturday, maybe we'll find ourselves in the right position to make the end of the season exciting. Maybe taking a risk at 0-0 away would make more sense then, when our balance is second nature.
This week we don't have a midweek game so the players get a bit of a break before facing Coventry at home on Saturday. They're another top ten team and sit just above Oxford in 6th position. They don't score quite as many goals as Oxford have but they've been quietly chipping in good results to keep up with the teams around them. They've only lost twice in the league; once away to Rotherham and once at home to Tranmere in their very next League game. The thing that strikes me most about their form is their away record, they've played eight away games in League One and drawn seven of them. I suspect they're going to be difficult to grind down but at the same time, they're the only team in the division who have yet to win away, so another difficult one to predict.
However, if we show the same grit as we did on Saturday, we'll have an excellent chance.