Shrewsbury Town and Oxford United partook in an enthralling encounter which the visitors eventually won to keep their promotion hopes alive.
It was a sense of deja vu for both teams with 3-2 a scoreline they are all too familiar with. A five-goal thriller has occurred three times in the last five fixtures – all of them arriving at the Montgomery Waters Meadow.
In the latest tussle Oxford took just three minutes to take the lead through Elliott Lee. However, Town came back fighting with a 17th minute equaliser courtesy of Matthew Pennington. Midfield maestro Josh Vela wowed once more and notched his third goal of the campaign with 25th minutes on the clock.
Oxford were the side that needed the points in the hunt for a top six finish. Karl Robinson’s men were level in the 68th minute thanks to James Henry. And with five minutes of normal time remaining Daniel Ageyi popped up with an 85th minute winner.
Steve Cotterill, who took a watching brief from the stands after a four-month absence with a severe form of coronavirus, made three changes from the side that were beaten 1-0 by Lincoln. Youngster Tom Bloxham was handed a first senior start, whilst Aaron Pierre returned from a calf problem – Harry Chapman came into the eleven as well. Donald Love, Shaun Whalley, and Curtis Main dropped to the bench. Striker Dan Udoh was back in the fold after missing the last two matches with concussion.
Prior to kick-off, a minute’s silence was held in memory of Steve Perks. The former Shrewsbury keeper, who made close to 300 appearances between 1982 and 1992, sadly died this week at the age of just 58.
Shrewsbury recently conceded four goals against a rampant Oxford side, and there may have been fears that the floodgates would open in this one as the visitors took just three minutes to register a goal. Matthew Pennington was woeful in possession as Sykes robbed the Everton loanee – he slipped Matty Taylor through on goal. The forward selflessly slid a pass across the danger area which left Harry Burgoyne stranded and Elliott Lee tapped home from close range.
Instead of buckling, Town seized the initiative. Aaron Pierre outmuscled his opponent and tried to drill a cross into the box, but Oxford managed to smuggle behind – the resulting corner was easily gathered by Jack Stevens.
The combination of James Henry and Rob Atkinson is one that Town are wary of after it worked to perfection last month. Again, Henry was the provider and Atkinson the attacker – the latter powered narrowly over the bar.
Youngster Tom Bloxham was eager to make an impression and he was bright early on. A raking Aaron Pierre pass found the striker who went for goal but saw his strike blocked behind. Then, Ethan Ebanks-Landell saw his effort find the side-netting as Shrewsbury cranked up the pressure. From the resulting corner Jack Stevens took one for the team as he dived bravely at the feat of Ebanks-Landell to save a certain goal.
But there was nothing that the keeper could do moments later. Harry Chapman’s pinpoint corner was met by Matthew Pennington who guided a header into the bottom left corner.
Oxford attempted to respond through Elliott Lee. The former West Ham midfielder bulldozed forward and his shot from distance appeared to be heading for the target, however, it drifted inches wide.
With both sides trading punches, it was Town’s turn to land the killer blow as they took the lead. The ball broke free for Josh Vela in the final third and the midfielder kept his composure to calmly slot beyond Jack Stevens. In a buyout mood, Shrewsbury went in search for a third – Vela threaded a pass through to Harry Chapman. The Blackburn loanee turned Elliott Moore inside out but could only fire into the side netting.
Josh Vela continued to threaten. This time he moved through the gears and placed an effort just wide of the target. In the final actions of a frenetic first half, Brandon Barker’s low attempt was easily gathered by Harry Burgoyne and Cameron Brannagan cleared the crossbar.
The onus was on Oxford to find a solution but the opening 15 minutes of the second period was a sluggish affair. Nathanael Ogbeta found row z and Elliott Lee was denied by a superb Aaron Pierre block. When the visitors stepped it up a gear, they found the leveller. Neat build-up play around the edge of the area culminated in Elliott Lee laying the ball off for James Henry – the ex-Wolves winger’s side foot shot beat his former teammate in the Town goal.
The pendulum soon swung in Oxford’s favour – James Henry’s cross drifted out to Brandon Barker who put the ball on a plate for Elliot Lee. However, the midfielder conspired to loft over from a central position. Minutes later, Daniel Agyei’s lofted cross was turned goalward by Josh Ruffles – Matthew Pennington was alert to produce a vital block.
The pressure tolled on Shrewsbury with five minutes of normal time remaining. Town struggled to clear their lines and the ball dropped invitingly for Daniel Ageyi. The ex-Burnley striker swivelled and dug out a shot that went beyond Burgoyne.
It would be understandable if Shrewsbury sat back and allowed the game to pass them by. But with six minutes of added time, they went all out for an equaliser. Firstly, Pierre’s cross took a deflection and Ebanks-Landell produced a bullet header which was denied by the sprawling Stevens. The defender also dragged a shot wide from a corner after Oxford blocked an initial strike.
In the last action of a contest in which Shrewsbury deserved at least a point, a jinking Shaun Whalley run ended with an effort that was pushed over by Stevens.
Despite losing, a good performance and a return for Steve Cotterill are plus points. Shrewsbury’s penultimate game of the season on Tuesday is against Ipswich, whilst Oxford face Burton on the final day.
Team Line Ups
1. Burgoyne, 2. Pierre, 24. Ebanks-Landell, 29. Pennington, 28. Davis, 14. Ogbeta (92), 10. Vela, 16. Walker (69), 8. Norburn, 39. Bloxham (69), 32. Chapman (68)
Subs: 4. Edwards, 5. Williams (69), 7. Whalley (68), 17. Love, 20. Main (69), 23. Udoh (92), 41. Bevan
Subs Not Used: 4. Edwards, 17. Love, 41. Bevan
13. Stevens, 12. Long, 22. Atkinson, 5. Moore, 3. Ruffles, 8. Brannagan, 17. Henry (89), 10. Sykes, 9. Taylor (88), 27. Lee (77), 30. Barker (82)
Subs: Eastwood, 6. Gorrin (89), 11. Winnall (92), 14. Forde, 19. Agyei (77), 20. Hanson (88), 25. Shodipo
Subs Not Used: 1. Eastwood, 14. Forde, 25. Shodipo
Other League One Results
Accrington 1 – 1 Charlton
AFC Wimbledon 1 – 3 Portsmouth
Bristol Rovers 0 – 1 Crewe
Burton 1 – 1 Gillingham
Fleetwood 1 – 1 MK Dons
Hull 3 – 1 Wigan
Northampton 0 – 3 Blackpool
Peterborough 3 – 3 Lincoln
Plymouth 1 – 3 Sunderland
Rochdale 1 – 2 Doncaster
Swindon 1 – 2 Ipswich