Shrewsbury Town can be proud of their valiant performance despite being knocked out of the FA Cup by Premier League Southampton.
It must be said that this tie was immaterial in comparison to Steve Cotterill’s health and subsequent period in ICU. Hopefully, the Town boss is recuperating and managed to watch his side give top half Premier League opposition a scare.
Shrewsbury created opportunities and defended stoutly, but the Saints showed that extra bit of quality to seal passage to the fourth round of the FA Cup. French born forward Dan N’Lundulu put the home side ahead in the 17th minute, whilst England international James Ward-Prowse saw off a dogged Shrewsbury side in stoppage time.
The visitors handed debuts to Matthew Pennington and Harry Chapman – the duo recently arrived on loan from Everton and Blackburn respectively. Rekeil Pyke was in a matchday squad for the first time since sustaining a groin injury against Northampton back in September. However, former Bournemouth pair Marc Pugh and Charlie Daniels were absent. Former Shrewsbury youngster Harry Lewis was on the Southampton bench.
The home side predictably dominated the early possession as they patiently probed. Youngster Caleb Watts fed Jake Voskins down the left-hand side. The England U19 international lifted a shot goalward which was turned behind by Matija Sarkic.
At the other end, Scott Golbourne found Harry Chapman in space. The Blackburn loanee’s effort was swerving but former Celtic keeper Fraser Forster gathered comfortably.
The Saints took the lead in the 16th minute. James Ward-Prowse went route one and Scott Golbourne couldn’t clear. The ball fell kindly for Dan N’Lundulu whose attempt bobbled beyond Sarkic and into the bottom corner. VAR reviewed the goal for a possible hand ball in the build-up, but the decision stood.
Town responded admirably to going behind. Josh Vela robbed Chauke in possession – he had options to his left and right but decided to go alone and blazed over the crossbar. Then, Vela upended full-back Yan Valerie on the edge of the box. James Ward-Prowse is adept from dead ball situations, but his free-kick was fired over.
Shrewsbury took the game to the Saints toward the end of the first period. Dan Udoh burst forward and threaded a pass through to Shaun Whalley. The winger was looking to bamboozle Forster by angling an effort into the far corner – but the shot just went wide.
Whalley was involved in the thick of the action once more as he was picked out by Vela. Despite Forster’s requiring a strong hand to the strike – it wouldn’t have counted anyway as Whalley couldn’t get back onside after taking an earlier corner in the previous passage of play.
In the final chance of a positive first half for Shrewsbury, the visitors broke at speed. Ollie Norburn turned possession over to Harry Chapman whose low cross was almost diverted into his own goal by Jack Stephens. The resulting corner was cleared only as far as Josh Vela, but his shot was wayward.
Town continued to threatened in the opening stages of the second period. Jack Stephens’ under-hit pass was hurriedly cleared by Fraser Forster with Dan Udoh bearing down on goal.
Southampton’s next opportunity came through Josh Voskins whose cross was palmed by Matija Sarkic, although no Saints player was on hand to attack the rebound.
Shrewsbury’s best chance to locate an equaliser appeared to be on the counter. The energetic Harry Chapman bulldozed forward but lacked the required composure to trouble Forster. Town had Sarkic to thank for staying in the contest. James Ward Prowse delivered an expert corner which was guided on by Shane Long. Jack Stephens arrived onto the scene and was thwarted by the Wolves loanee from close range.
The 1976 FA Cup winners began to control proceedings. Jake Voskins pulled the ball back for Caleb Watts whose effort was parried by Sarkic. It ricocheted off of Aaron Pierre and appeared to be heading for the back of the net. However, the Grenada international recovered superbly to clear inches prior to it crossing the line.
James Ward-Prowse was pulling the strings in midfield. His corner was flicked on by ex-West Brom striker Shane Long, but it just evaded the target.
Town looked equally as threatening from set-pieces. The completely unmarked Aaron Pierre ghosted behind the Saints backline to meet Shaun Whalley’s delivery, but he skewed his header and the golden chance was gone. Then another whipped Whalley delivery was aimed for Matthew Pennington, but the former Leeds loanee was beaten to the punch by Shane Long.
Austrian Ralph Hasenhuttl was cleared worried by Town’s attacking endeavours as he sent on regular first-teamers Scott Armstrong and Che Adams. But it was Shrewsbury that kept up the momentum, Jack Stephens relinquished possession and the ball eventually found Whalley. He swept a pass in the direction of substitute Shillow Tracey, but it had slightly too much power on it and Forster was able to make the clearance.
Southampton were presented with a gilt-edged opportunity to seal the win. Voskins’ through ball was exquisite and Che Adams put Sarkic on his backside. The goal was gaping, but the former Birmingham striker delayed and allowed Aaron Pierre to block with Tracey completing the clearance.
However, Southampton did double their lead in stoppage time. Dave Edwards fouled Diallo on the edge of the box and James Ward-Prowse took centre stage. The midfielder’s free-kick had too much pace on it for Sarkic who did get a touch but not enough to avert the danger.
Shrewsbury can be immensely proud of their performance, but the priority must now be to look forward to Steve Cotterill’s return to the dugout. Saints host Arsenal in the fourth round of the FA Cup on Saturday, Shrewsbury go to Sunderland in League One.
Team Line Ups
44. Forster, 18. Valerie, 35. Bednarek, 5. Stephens, 29. Voskins, 27. Diallo (92), 8. Ward-Prowse, 72. Chauke (79), 66. Watts (85), 7. Long (79), 40. N’Lundulu
Subs: 2. Walker-Peters, 3. Bertrand, 10. Adams (79), 17. Armstrong (79), 41. Lewis, 47. Ferry, 62. Tchaptchet, 52. Finnigan (92), 64. Jankewitz (85)
Subs Not Used: 2. Walker-Peters, 3. Bertrand, 41. Lewis, 47. Ferry, 62. Tchaptchet
31. Sarkic, 5. Williams, 2. Pierre, 24, Ebanks-Landell, 29. Pennington (84), 3. Golbourne (73), 10. Vela, 8. Norburn (74), 7. Whalley, 23. Udoh (73), 32. Chapman (63)
Subs: 1. Burgoyne, 4. Edwards (74), 6. Goss, 9. Pyke (73), 11. Clarke, 12. Sears (73), 20. Tracey (63), 22. J. Daniels, 35. Cummings (84)
Subs Not Used: 1. Burgoyne, 6. Goss, 11. Clarke, 22. J. Daniels