By Gerry Prewett.
Bristol Rovers entertain Shrewsbury Town on Saturday in a game that is likely to be crucial as to both team’s League positions at the season’s end.
Rovers recent run of results improved after the impressive victory at Roots Hall last weekend. The 2-1 score-line did not reflect the threat that Rovers imposed on the Shrimpers, with ex-Shrew Abu Ogogo looking especially impressive in a dominant midfield performance.
Whilst Rovers were taking all three points away from home Shrewsbury were thumped 3-0 at home by a very impressive Luton Town outfit, who do not appear to be missing Nathan Jones in the Manager’s seat.
James Collins, who had two spells at Shrewsbury earlier in his career, took his goal tally for the campaign to 18 as he scored in either half. Defender Matty Pearson was also on target for the Hatters as they moved six points clear at the top of the table.
Shrewsbury started brightly with Greg Docherty's early 20-yard drive saved by visiting goalkeeper James Shea. Docherty then fired just over after Shea was unable to hold on to a Fejiri Okenabirhie effort. Luton took the lead on the half-hour when Collins fired in from six yards after Luke Berry headed back Alan McCormack's cross from the left.
The visitors doubled their advantage eight minutes into the second half when Pearson's cross from the right found its way into the top corner. Collins added a third in the 69th minute when he scored from close range after the hosts were unable to clear Kazenga LuaLua's cross from the left.
The Hatters were gifted their openings and took full of advantage for slack marking on the first and third goals and Shrews Boss Sam Ricketts was not happy with his team, "I don't want to sound like a broken record but in the first half there was nothing in the game. We weren't at the level I want but there was nothing in the game.
"We can't give goals away like we did. Once the second goal goes in, a comical goal, we lose all aspect of belief and togetherness which is disappointing. We spoke in the dressing room after about it, about why and what impact it has on the team and how we get out of it. Nothing is going to happen by itself, so as a group we have to stick together, the players must put in sheer effort, aggression and intensity into the games otherwise they pass you by."
That second goal by Luton defender Matty Pearson was very fortunate as his cross evaded the fingertips of Steve Arnold and dropped in at the far post shortly after half-time. Ricketts commented, "(the second) was extremely good fortune, he's crossing the ball and it goes in, that's when you know it's not your way today.
"The one way is hard work. If you work hard then the fortune will go with us rather than against like it is at the minute."
There was a good news story to come from the game however, Town named one of its stewards as their man of the match on Saturday after he helped a disabled rival supporter get to his feet to celebrate goals.
They gave the accolade to Loviu Ngozulu after he helped Luton fan George Barnard cheer on his team after they scored. George Barnard said, “After the second goal, I crawled underneath the barrier to get to where the players were, then the steward helped me back to my seat.
“Then after the third goal, he helped me out of my seat as well. It’s refreshing to see people do that kind of thing because there’s a lot of negative news at the moment. It’s nice to know there are good people out there.”
The 19-year-old student, from Luton, said he hoped to contact Ngozulu to thank him personally, “I can’t praise the guy enough.” Shrewsbury later posted a picture on social media, saying, “The votes are in! We think everyone at Shrewsbury and Luton Town will agree with us that the award should go to Loviu Ngozulu. Amazing job, you should be very proud for going above and beyond what was expected of you.”
Luton Town interim boss Mick Harford tweeted: “Our sincere thanks from all the players, staff and board at LTFC goes out to the steward at the Shrewsbury v Luton Town on Saturday, who helped George join in the goal celebrations.” He added, “Touch of class.”
Shrewsbury Town safety officer Lawrence Ellerby said: “As a club we do get positive feedback on our stewarding regularly, but when someone goes that little bit further as Loviu did on Saturday it is only right he should be recognised and congratulated for his actions.”
Historically Rovers record against the Shrews is a good one with 29 wins, 15 draws and 20 defeats. The recent record is not so good with just one win and one draw in the last six meetings. The first meeting didn’t take place until the 1951-52 season and it was the Shropshire team who came away from Eastville with a share of the points with a 3-3 draw and a 2-1 victory at Gay Meadow. Len Pickard, Vic Lambdon and Ray Warren scored for Rovers in the home game, with Harry Roberts nothing all three of the Shrews goals. In the game at Gay Meadow Vic Lambdon was again on the score sheet for Rovers and Martin Reagan and Arnie Jackson scored for the home team.
Perhaps the most memorable and certainly the one with the biggest attendance was the very first Wembley Play-Off Final at the end of an exhilarating 2006/07 season. It took an exciting sequence of ten unbeaten League games, including the late run of five successive victories, to get Rovers to their date at the new Wembley. It placed Rovers alongside Chelsea as teams who played Finals at both the Millennium and Wembley Stadiums in the same season.
Games between the clubs that season had been very tight. Before the Final, Rovers had won two of the three games and yet only two goals were scored in total. The Final of course turned out to be something of a goal feast with Richard Walker (2) and Sammy Igoe giving Rovers their 3-1 victory as Gasheads almost literally sucked the last goal over the line in stoppage time.
Rovers equal best league victory was the 7-0 thrashing of the Shrews in the 1963-64 season. Bobby Jones (2), Harold Jarman (2), Alfie Biggs (penalty) Dave Stone and Johnny Brown were Rovers scorers. Rovers were 4-0 up after just 16 minutes. It was some kind of ‘payback’ for a 7-2 dumping the previous season, Frank Clarke (3), Jim McLaughlin (3) and Arthur Rowley scored for the Shrews and Keith Williams and Harold Jarman for Rovers.
In last season’s game, Shrews substitute Alex Rodman scored a late winner. Rodman, who replaced Nathan Thomas with 16 minutes remaining, produced a brilliant solo run on the left into Rovers box and saw his 88th-minute cross-shot from a narrow angle go in at the far post.
The visitors had taken a 62nd-minute lead when left-back Omar Beckles rose above his markers in a crowded box to nod home Shaun Whalley's free-kick. But three minutes later Rovers were level as right-back Joe Partington collected a Liam Sercombe pass on the edge of the box and fired low past unsighted Shrews goalkeeper Craig MacGillivray.
News from Shropshire is that Town face an anxious wait over a possible serious knee injury to new signing Romain Vincelot. The 33-year-old Frenchman, who joined on a free transfer from Crawley last month, hobbled off during the first half of the narrow 3-2 mid-week loss to Wolves in just his second start for the club.
Boss Sam Ricketts said the midfielder's injury was a 'sad point' for his group. Vincelot started as part of Town's back three at Molineux but came off after 37 minutes, where he was replaced by impressive academy graduate Ryan Sears.
"It's disappointment with Romain's injury, we'll have to wait (and see), it's a real sad point for the group," said Ricketts, "He went to block his man and unfortunately the Wolves player has gone right into the side of Romain's knee and pushed it inside. We'll have to wait and see on that one."