Date: 3rd December 2017 at 12:43am
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Shrewsbury Town, statistically, have been the most successful team in any league in England this season. Ex-Grimsby Manager Paul Hurst has totally transformed their fortunes since taking over in Shropshire during October 2016. At that time, Town were bottom of the table. At the start of this campaign, they were favourites to be relegated. Instead, they went on a fifteen game unbeaten run and before today`s Second Round FA Cup tie against Morecambe, were sitting pretty at the very pinnacle of League One.

The Shrimps` had some hopes, however, that their journey to the south wouldn`t result in the same sort of humiliation which awaited non-League Aldershot in the last round. Then, the Shots were hammered five-nil. But since then, the Shrews have lost three times, including their last two League One games, most surprisingly at bottom of the table Bury just over a week ago.

Aaron Wildig lined-up today against his previous employers. But with Sam Lavelle retrospectively banned for diving at Carlisle last Saturday in order to win a penalty which Morecambe missed anyway, Jim Bentley`s choices were even more limited than usual.

The match started well for the Shrews with Barry Roche in the visitors` goal seemingly getting something on a low shot from Alex Rodman to deflect it onto his right post after barely three minutes. From that moment until the thirtieth minute or thereabouts, though, any neutrals watching would not have been sure which was the supposedly superior side. Shrewsbury at times looked ragged and there didn`t seem to be any connection between their defence and attack. The result of this was that the team in red had a lot of the ball. But two things began to become apparent right from the off. In numbers 22 and 6, Town had two big resolute, central defenders in the shapes of Toto Nsiala and particularly Omar Beckles who could not only play the game well but read it too. These two were colossal for Shrewsbury all afternoon. The other thing that became apparent was that although Morecambe were excellent at playing little triangles to each other and actually keeping possession of the ball for parts of the opening period, they ran out of ideas virtually every time they got near the opposition penalty area. In truth though, they spent too much time eventually passing the ball backwards and not enough pressing their opponents with the result that Craig Macgillivray in the home goal did not have a single save to make in the entire opening forty-five minutes.

It was a very different story at the other end. Having made a good save after three minutes, Roche had little to do until half an hour into the contest when slack defending turned an innocuous-looking attack into the first goal for the home team. Shaun Whalley slung a ball over from the Shrewsbury right flank and Rodman on this occasion was able to slip the ball past Roche into the net virtually unchallenged.

Only five minutes later, Town were in on goal again and Big Baz clearly opted to trip Jon Nolan up rather than try and dive at his feet or attempt to put him off in any other way when the Shrewsbury man was bearing down on him right in the centre of the goal. The award of a penalty by referee Craig Hicks was a formality. The only question was the colour of the card Morecambe`s big Dubliner would receive. On this occasion, it was yellow: on many – if not most – others, he would have been sent off. Whalley made no mistake sending the goalkeeper the wrong way with his excellent spot-kick and the Shrews went back to the dressing rooms two goals to the good.

The second half was merely a question of whether the Shrimps could claw something back to make a match of it or whether Town would extend their lead even further. The nearest they came to doing so was when sub Louis Dodds tested Roche again after 83 minutes although there was a feeling that Town never really tried too hard to get out of about third gear. In all fairness too, the visitors did belatedly start to put some pressure on the Shropshire lads at times and Macgillivray was forced into serious action on three occasions: three times more than during the first half. The final one of these was right at the death when substitute Mitchell Lund found himself with a straight run on goal after poor play by Beckles` and Nsiala`s team-mates and the goalkeeper made a brilliant block to keep his clean sheet intact. By this time, however, it was far too little far too late for the visitors. At times, Shrewsbury were just too good for them and there was a period of play in the middle of the second half when the Shrimps simply couldn`t get the ball off them, try as they might. Having said that, there was a feeling that the Shrews by this time were already happy to hold onto what they had and when the final whistle blew, they were very worthy winners.

It is no disgrace for a team struggling in the EFL basement to be beaten by a club with a record such as Shrewsbury have this season. At times, Morecambe at least tried to give them a run for their money. Unfortunately, these times were few and far between and the gulf in class between the two teams was there for all to see. Jim Bentley will probably be happy with the fact that his team were not humiliated and even happier that Barry Roche was not sent off as he probably should have been. He must be worried, though, with his team`s obvious lack of bite and that his strikers didn`t gel after Vadaine Oliver came on to support a very disappointing Adam McGurk for the second half. Having said that, this was a far brighter display against a much better team than they put on just a month ago against a weak Forest Green Rovers side, when they lost by the same score.

Shrewsbury Town: 15 Craig Macgillivray; 13 James Bolton; 6 Omar Beckles; 22 Toto Nsiala; 5 Mat Sadler; 16 Bryn Morris; 7 Shaun Whalley (9 Carlton Morris 80 mins); 20 Jon Nolan; 4 Ben Godfrey (10 Louis Dodds 59 mins); 23 Alex Rodman (11 Arthur Gnahoua 70 mins); 45 Stefan Payne (Y).

Subs not used: 2 Joe Riley; 14 Lenell John-Lewis; 17 Ebou Adams; 31 Cameron Gregory.

Morecambe: 1 Barry Roche (Y); 3 Patrick Brough (2 Aaron McGowan 45 mins); 22 Max Muller; 4 Alex Kenyon (C) (9 Vadaine Oliver 45 mins); 5 Steven Old; 7 Garry Thompson; 8 Andy Fleming; 10 Adam Campbell (29 Callum Lang 78 mins); 15 Aaron Wildig (Y); 17 Mitchell Lund; 28 Adam McGurk.

Subs not used: 12 Danijel Nizic; 6 Dean Winnard; 24 Michael Rose; 21 Elliot Osborne.
Ref: Craig Hicks