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Comment: Shrewsbury show the FA Cup still has spark

By Matt Maher | Shrewsbury Town FC | Published: | Last Updated:

The magic of the FA Cup might be harder to find these days but it is still very much in existence, just ask Shrewsbury Town.

Jason Cummings of Shrewsbury Town celebrates after scoring a goal to make it 1-2 (AMA)

On a weekend when most of the fourth round ties went according to the script, pandemonium ensued in a corner of Shropshire where Sundays are typically a sedate affair, as the League One team took the European champions to a replay.

Shrewsbury became just the third team this season, after Manchester United and Villa, to deny Liverpool victory in domestic competition. Villa also had the advantage of taking on a team of kids when they beat the Reds in the Carabao Cup.

And Shrewsbury did it in remarkable fashion too, fighting back from two goals down early in the second half thanks to Jason Cummings delivering perhaps one of the greatest substitute appearances in the history of the club.

The striker, who caused a stir in the week after parading around in his underpants during a live TV interview, this time ensured he made headlines for the right reasons, scoring twice as the home team came back from the dead.

Sam Ricketts' men might even have gone on to win it, despite Klopp bringing on both Mo Salah and Roberto Firmino in the closing stages.

Full coverage of Shrews' cup shock:

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As it was the tie will head to a replay at Anfield, the first time Shrewsbury will have played at the famous ground in their 134-year history.

Admittedly, the excitement of the hoardes of fans guaranteed to travel north will be tempered somewhat by the knowledge they will be facing a Liverpool youth team, due to the Premier League leaders senior stars being on their winter break. Neither will Jurgen Klopp be in the dugout.

Those responsible for fixture scheduling this season have done the grand old cup few favours, that much is for sure. Just as well, then, there are still teams like Shrewsbury capable of producing memories like this.

The Shropshire club represented the final hope of a major upset, with Albion the only team to have knocked off higher-placed opposition after seeing off hapless West Ham on Saturday.

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Earlier on Sunday both Fulham and Tranmere had been trounced by Manchester City and United respectively. It is safe to say Shrewsbury answered the call to arms in restoring the respect of the game's underdogs and then some.

The road which leads to Montgomery Waters Meadow can rarely have seen so much traffic in the hours leading up to kick-up. An unfamiliar occasion, meanwhile, brought some unusual visitors.

"We've just had someone arrive to do Gary Lineker's make-up!" said a stadium car park attendant.

Lineker was in charge of a three-strong Match of the Day panel which featured Alan Shearer, Ian Wright and former Shrewsbury goalkeeper Joe Hart, while the stadium's cosy press box was packed to bursting with more than 60 journalists from across the world.

That included six who had travelled from Japan specially to see Takumi Minamino, with the forward (fortunately for them) named in the starting line-up as Klopp made 11 to the team which started Thursday's Premier League win at Wolves.

It was an XI which included four players with squad numbers north of 60 yet was stronger than that which had knocked out a full strength Everton team in the previous round.

There was also no shortage of star quality on the bench. Indeed, the collective intake of breath among the 30 or so souls crowded round the tunnel when Salah and Firmino walked out of the tunnel 90 minutes before kick-off could be heard half a stand away.

The pair were happy to pose for photos with starstruck youngsters, while the PA announcer warned supporters to "take a deep breath" before reading out the team sheet.

Shrewsbury's players did not seem quite so much in awe and made an encouraging start, Evertonian Callum Lang gaining early acclaim when he showed quick feet to evade Yasser Larouci.

Both Lang and Donald Love went racing through on goal in the opening minutes, the crescendo of noise from home supporters being cut short on each occasion by a raised assistant's flag. The drum beat from the contingent of standing home fans, meanwhile, beat incessantly throughout the 90 minutes.

It had been a good start from the hosts but they were given a sharp reminder of the potency their opponents possessed when Divock Origi turned and struck a low effort just wide of a scampering Max O'Leary's post.

Minamino also came close to connecting with a header from just six yards out before setting up an opening goal of frustrating simplicity for Jones, who raced on to a through ball and slid a finish under O'Leary.

It was a goal greeted with an air of disbelief by the home support but the home team responded impressively and were unfortunate not to be level by the break.

Whalley, a lifelong Liverpool supporter, could only have dreamed of the two chances which came his way.

The first came when Fabinho was caught dawdling on the ball by Ollie Norburn and in the next second Whalley was sent racing clear on goal. But with the moment of as lifetime beckoning, he sent the shot too close to the onrushing Adrian, who saved with his legs.

His second chance was tougher and arrived just a few minutes before the break. This time it was Lang lifting the ball over the visiting defence but Whalley, off balance and with the window of opportunity closing, could only send his effort squirming wide of the far post.

Town left the field at the break with the roars of home supporters ringing in their ears. Optimism was in considerable supply.

It evaporated just seconds after the restart. Neco Williams crossed from the right and Love, with no Liverpool player in the vicinity, tried to put the ball behind for a corner. Instead his shot flew the wrong side of the post, from his perspective, leaving a stunned silence in every area of the ground bar the stand behind the goal, where visiting fans delighted in the misfortune of a former Manchester United trainee.

Home fans initially saw the funny side. "Champions of Shropshire, you'll never sing that!" they serenaded the visitors.

Their players had not given up, however, and had already gone close to pulling at least one goal back before the relentless Josh Laurent raced on to Cummings' through ball and was felled by Larouci.

Cummings, who had replaced the unlucky Callum Lang just prior to the hour mark, held his nerve to send Adrian the wrong way from the penalty spot. Then, 11 minutes later, he again stayed cool to finish past the goalkeeper having robbed a snoozing Liverpool defence.

Either team could have won it from there. In the end neither did, O'Leary brilliantly denying Firmino before Adrian tipped Laurent's audacious stoppage time effort around the near post.

The final whistle brought a pitch invasion, the crowd eventually moving to congregate around the temporary TV studio situated in one corner of the ground, leaving Lineker and the watching millions in no doubt they had witnessed quite the spectacle.

The kind of which only the FA Cup, no matter the competition's troubles, can provide.

Matt Maher

By Matt Maher
@mjmarr_star

Chief sports writer for the Express & Star.

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