Shrewsbury Town analysis: Three points simply don't get any bigger
It wasn’t perfect – far from it – but three points simply don’t come any bigger.
Shrewsbury boss John Askey went to AFC Wimbledon suggesting that nothing but a win would save his job in charge of Town.
The emotion from anyone of a Shrewsbury persuasion when Luke Waterfall’s 89th-minute winner dropped in off the post was palpable.
Did that late goal save Askey’s job? We’ll never truly know, but it seems very likely. The second-half comeback job was needed after a lacklustre first-half display had the manager on very thin ice.
It was fitting that Waterfall, the fall guy in Askey’s time who has come in for some – at times justified – stick, stepped up to the plate with two goals in a captain-like display.
Ironically he didn’t have the armband this time at Kingsmeadow, that honour went to the returning Mat Sadler, but his second-half double will play a monumental part in anything Askey achieves in Shropshire from here on in.
Because he and Salop were on the brink. Startlingly, Town were as bad in the first 45 minutes against a very limited Wimbledon side as they were at Oxford the Saturday previous. If that was even possible.
The visitors were 1-0 down at half-time and it flattered them. You would not think Neal Ardley’s Dons had lost six on the spin and not scored in more than five hours.
Town looked slow, disheartened and lacking in ideas and direction. Alex Gilliead and Fejiri Okenabirhie were lost on the wings with limited service to Aaron Amadi-Holloway and little midfield presence.
They did not look like they were fighting for Askey in that first half.
Wimbledon finally took advantage as Shrewsbury again failed to defend a set-piece. Askey had boldly handed a league debut to back-up keeper Steve Arnold and for the most he fared well, but was nowhere as a corner reached the back post and was easily headed in by big James Hanson.
But, after words were exchanged at the break, Town again donned their Jekyll and Hyde masks and came out a different side.
The move to cull the totally ineffective Gilliead and put on Josh Laurent, switching from a 4-3-3 to 4-4-2 diamond, helped Town and they looked immediately better.
Still, it took Askey’s men 10 or 15 minutes to really start troubling the hosts, who will be disappointed they let Salop in from a corner. Amadi-Holloway’s towering knockdown was gobbled up on the volley by Waterfall with all the prowess of a natural goalscorer.
If it were to be judged by the manager’s predictions then a point was simply not enough.
The script must have been written because there was no way the fixture was ending 1-1.
Both teams went at it hammer and tongs after the hour in a great game for the neutral. It could easily have been 3-3.
There felt like one final hurrah, but nobody could tell at which end.
Arnold and Sadler’s heroics, pushing on to the post and clearing off the line, before some wayward Wombles finishing, kept Shrewsbury in with a sniff.
Town were pushing, too, but strikes were flicking just across goal or being blocked. It had transformed from an edgy, cagey and tentative tactical showdown into a gung-ho winner-takes-all grudge match.
But the 350 travelling Salopians, housed just behind Askey in the tiny setting of the Cherry Red Records Stadium, had something to shout about late on.
Greg Docherty swung in a deep free-kick and up rose Waterfall who hung in the air and managed to nod it with the utmost accuracy in off the far post. It was almost in slow motion.
A first away win, at the ninth attempt of trying, was just the ticket for Askey.
It had been a long old wait for three points in the league on the road, way back to March 17. Fans travel thousands of miles and deserved the reward.
So where does the win leave Askey?
It certainly buys him more time to attempt a turnaround, that much is obvious. He will have been delighted with his side’s second-half spirit and determination to battle right to the death.
Still, this was against very limited opposition, there is no point Town getting ahead of themselves.
There have been so many false dawns this season and this simply cannot be another. Inconsistency must be addressed.
However, Town have won four and lost just three of their last nine games. They are 18th in League One. It is not a bad run of form.
Askey has surely bought himself the next league game against Rochdale for another crack at back-to-back league wins for the first time.
It has to be said that, were Town to have been playing most other sides in League One, they would not have got away with that poor first half.
Wimbledon scored the one but it could and should have been more.
There seems to be a deep-rooted problem that Askey’s side cannot produce a consistent display near 90 minutes. It has only happened once this season, against Barnsley – though you could put a case for a couple more occasions where Town have been a little better.
Again, it is a start for the boss. He remains in the hotseat and has a platform to build from. That second half was by no means perfect, Shrews still shipped chances, but they fought for their boss.
That simply has to be a prerequisite against Salford, Rochdale and beyond.
Askey has come in for a lot of stick but his side battled for his future in the second half at Wimbledon – and battled right to the death.
It was an interesting move for the boss not to come out and do his post-match press duties, instead sending No.2 John Filan, but he no doubt was full of pride at full-time. However, this is just a first step on the lengthy road to recovery.