Football Blog: Tangerine Flavoured

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Christmas cancelled - The Mighty vs Shrewsbury

Shrewsbury is one of those towns which are a million miles from anywhere.

You don't pass through Shrewsbury on the way to anywhere, unless you are going to Newport on the train which no one does because its Newport. It's not near anywhere in particular.

Q: Where is Shrewsbury?
A: It's where Shrewsbury is.

In footballing terms, Shrewsbury are a bit like Rochdale, one of those sides that have always been there but you can't remember having done anything, ever* but unlike Rochdale, they used to have a bloke in half a beer barrel (technically called a coracle) that retrieved the ball from the river behind the ground in a manner that did little to dispel any elitist metropolitan snobbery about the quirky 'Last of the Summer Wine' type antics of rural England.

*They did beat Everton once - Nigel Jemson scored and I imagine life for Shrewsbury is mostly them and Hereford fans arguing in a cattle market about whether that outranks the famous Ronnie Radford inspired giant killing. 

To me, this is, in a way, a match in which family pride is at stake. When I was about 7, I couldn't believe my mum didn't follow any football team and demanded she chose a football team. I presented her with my 'Up for the Cup' football wall chart and insisted she choose a side from it - She chose Shrewsbury on the basis that 'they have a nice badge, with a Shrew on it' -  33 years later, it's the 'me v my mum derby,' despite the fact my mum probably dismissed her declaration of support for Shrewsbury from her mind about 5 minutes after making it. That dismal outcome in the search for meaning still makes it a bigger, more important event than a game against Fleetwood

Shrewsbury's quite fetching shrew badge (1981-93) 

On the way, the sun seems to be pulled towards the earth, the leaden clouds of midday underscored by a golden glow more akin to a sunset than noon. The trees are skeletal silhouettes, the light is ghostly and pale.

Blackpool is blue skies after chilly rain in comparison, but the wind is chill and the litter dances. There's no great buzz about the pre match and we huddle under the stand for warmth after buying a fanzine and becoming an internet celebrity.

The team news is unexciting, though I can't help wondering if Tilt deserves a chance to partner Ben Heneghan on the basis of a decent showing at Sunderland + most of his other games in a Blackpool shirt, bar the 5 or 6 strange anomalies that came before he was dropped. Sullay is dropped to the bench after a knock and Jordan Thompson is in. Thompson is a very good player and also the player probably most likely to feature in a modelling shoot for a budget clothing store but it has to be said, our recent upturn has come to pass without him in the side.

Up to the stand and then we're off, at a canter. The atmosphere lifts as the ground fills in the first few minutes and I can't help thinking we're a big club, we make a decent noise that swirls around, deep and satisfying and we pass nicely, with purpose, side to side, players drifting about, finding pockets of space, one goes, the other drops deep and we're crisp and purposeful and surely it will be just a matter of time... 

This good feeling lasts about 6 minutes and what follows is tortuous.

Shrewsbury are a solid wall. We play around a bit and launch a few crosses into the box. Gnandulliet gets near a few and we make agonised noises as if it's only a matter of time before we score, but frankly, aside from one from the left that the big man makes a good contact with that forces a flying save, there's really not much to get excited about. They force a smart but routine save from Alnwick and generally look snappy in the tackle and worryingly good at shutting down the midfield. It's a scrappy affair with the runs from Fonz being cut off or shepherded into harmless areas and the pressure forcing some loose passes, especially from Spearing.

Half time arrives with them on the attack and it feels like one of those games where they'll score just before the break, despite us being marginally the better side because, whisper it. It might be one of those days.

But they don't and surely, given how little they've offered and how we're The Mighty Pool, Larry will get into them and the second half will be different. In Larry we trust.

It starts well. Matty Virtue with a couple of charges through the middle where it looks as if it's going to open up in front of him and things look generally brighter. We were right to trust Larry. This will be at least 2-0. They're rubbish...

Again, this lasts all of about 6 minutes - they get a penalty as the ball is launched in to the box and something happens involving Gnanduillet and one of them and there's a whistle, a point in the direction of the spot and I've no idea what the referee has seen.

The penalty is straight down the middle and for a second it looks like Alnwick has saved it but as he goes one way he just pushes it into the roof of the net as he goes away from the ball.

From here, the game just unravels into a mess. The best moment is starman Feeney running right across the edge of the box and hitting a good powerful low shot just wide.

Gnanduillet's football genius is even being misunderstood by me (his no1 fan) as he picks up the ball with Fonz streaking free into space to his left, and it's an obvious pass, not difficult and the entire ground are 10 seconds ahead, visualising Fonz bursting onto the ball, cutting inside and striking it on angle into the top corner and then slowly walking away wagging his finger, looking cool as fuck to heartfelt chants of 'Oh Nathan Delfouenso.' - Emboldened, Fonz goes on to run the game and we win 3-1....

.... However, big Armand hasn't picked up on the collective vision and instead, turns like an oil tanker and meanders into traffic, managing to barge a few defenders out of the way before foundering on the rocks and the ball is harmlessly smuggled away by the Shrews and we all slump back into our seats and mutter. Their centre half is excellent all game, the no 6 never lets him out of his sight and matches him pound for pound and more in every battle.

Into the last 25 minutes and Larry chucking on players in an attempt to change things and any pretence at a formation or plan goes out the window as we bypass the midfield 70% of the time hitting it to Big Joe and Big Armand who seem to want to play the same role and cunningly draw the defenders to the same place and even look like they are going to challenge each other for the ball once or twice. There's a moment in which Nuttall flicks on for Armand who in turn flicks it on to someone else who loses it and the ball runs out for a throw. This is probably the defining image of the match.

The other 30% of the time consists of Rob Edwards stepping out of defense to play a pointless pass to no one or Thompson falling over, the odd half chance and not much else. Sullay doesn't manage one run past anyone or convince me he had any idea where he was supposed to be playing and poor old (young) Callum Macdonald's main contribution is to look like his studs are a bit short for the slippy pitch. Joe Nuttall again is the same old Joe Nuttall. He is one of the best flickers on of a ball I've ever seen in the 1/5th to 1/10th (depending on the match) of occasions he wins the ball, but that isn't quite enough on a day like this against a Berlin Wall of a defense. 

The referee is awful, the linesman is awful, Shrewsbury are time wasting and clipping heels and stopping any sort of flow with little or no censure. Feeney is up in the linesman's face after being shoulder barged then penalised because the full back tripped over him when he fell over. Big Armand is clearly body checked by one of their impassively granite defenders, but no one cares because it's obviously one of those days against one of those teams.

Their keeper takes about 6 weeks over every goal kick and it's one of those days.

6 minutes injury time and a big roar.

But nothing happens of any note. Rob Edwards is leaping about up front with the two big strikers already up there but we can't get the ball wide or even into the box and the game fizzles out as it's one of those days.

In the end, when the whistle goes, it's a relief of sorts. I'm struggling to think of an analogy for the game, but I think it's a bit like defeat in WW1 - a horrible struggle against an uncompromising enemy, in which we tried the same thing again, again, again and in the end it just felt hopeless. They were just more horrible than us and dug in and couldn't be broken down. They celebrate with impressive verve, smoke bomb on the pitch, cheery chanting fans in sailor suits giving deserved homage to the efforts of their delighted dancing players before heading back to god knows where ever Shrewsbury actually is.

The way back it feels like that game told us something we knew already, but were probably trying to forget, that outside the enigma of Fonz, we don't have the magic in the side to unlock teams like this, that come to bully and spoil and we don't have anything to change the front line at all. Feeney has been outstanding, but we can't expect him to provide everything and we looked imbalanced again today. Jay Spearing looks at his weakest when he is given space to be 'imperious' and slaps the ball out of play and whilst he's an asset, he's most effective when teams come on to us and he can break up play. Today he didn't need to do that and I thought he struggled. If Ryan Hardie is officially 'not good enough' then we need something to offer pace and incision up front either as an alternative to or a foil to Gnanduillet. Last time we got out this league we had Wizard Wes and today, we definitely didn't.

It was an awful game. It was one of those days. Roll on the next one. We love you Blackpool. We do.


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