Goals from AJ Leitch-Smith and Shaun Whalley earned Shrewsbury Town all three points at Greenhous Meadow this afternoon. Leitch-Smith bundled the ball home in the first half and Whalley raced away for a late second as the Shrews moved off the bottom of the table with a 2-0 win, while the U's lost out despite dominating much of the second half.
After two cup games where everyone had the chance to stake their claim for a place there were changes to the league side; Ryan Ledson
formed a new midfield partnership with Joe Rothwell
and Charlie Raglan came in as right back, while Chris Maguire
wore the captain's armband. Understandably, it took a while for the new-look U's to settle and the opening ten minutes or so were scrappy before Maguire had the first effort of the afternoon with a low shot saved by Mark Halstead in the 17th minute.
Shrewsbury, bottom of the table at kick off, saw an Ivan Toney free kick go harmlessly wide but a minute later were in front from their first real effort of the game. Louis Dodds fired in a speculative effort from 25 yards that Eastwood seemed to have covered. The ball wobbled though and Eastwood parried rather than caught, with the ball going through his gloves and up on to the bar. Players converged to try and get to the loose ball first but it was Leitch-Smith who threw himself forward at the second attempt to force the ball over the line and make it 1-0, despite the best efforts of Chey Dunkley
who felt he was fouled and/or there was a handball in the melee.
Suddenly the Shrews were lifted and the U's were having to defend. Eastwood partially atoned for the opening goal with a spectacular save as Dodds again let fly from distance, then found total atonement with a magnificent save to somehow keep another Dodds effort out, this time from far closer. A stunning save at a crucial time in the game.
United had a couple of half chances before the break when Rothwell had a shot blocked and Hemmings couldn't quite get enough on the ball as a crossshot flew past him, but their passing had lacked its usual crispness and there will have been some harsh words at half time.
The same XI were given a chance to make amends after the interval and they almost did precisely that five minutes into the second half when Sercombe's inviting cross was powered goalwards from Hemmings, only for Halstead to make a great save, diving to his left to push the striker's header away. There was more energy and movement from the U's and the home side started to drop deeper and deeper. Halstead flew to his right to keep a Maguire free kick out, then got lucky on 58 as he pushed away a wicked Johnson cross on to Hemmings and was relieved to see the ball deflect wide rather than into the unguarded net. A goal at that stage and you felt United would go on to win the game.
Johnson's pace was causing Shrewsbury all kinds of problems down their right and United were building up a head of steam. Dunkley rose well and planted a header just over the top from a well-flighted set piece; his centre-back partner Nelson sent another header wide on 63 and there was far more purpose. Sercombe, switched infield when Rob Hall made his league return from the bench, curled an effort just wide on 72 then dragged an 82nd-minute effort across goal as the blue and yellow shirts pushed the blue and amber ones backwards.
Sub Wes Thomas
got a punch to the head as he tried to nod a high ball past Halstead with five minutes to go and there had been plenty of chances, but ultimately United would have swapped any of them for the scrappy goal that won the game.
Eastwood kept it 1-0 with another excellent save from an Adam El-Abd header late on, and a great touch to push a Toney shot away, keeping the four minutes of added time interesting, but the U's could find no way through and so were beaten by a side at the bottom of the table for the second time this season. To add injury to insult Sercombe left the field on a stretcher in injury time after coming off second best in a 50/50 challenge with Ogogo; both players brave and Sercombe clearly in pain as he departed.
The result was confirmed in the very last minute. United's last chance fell to Maguire with a free kick which he blasted into the wall. He fired the rebound goalwards again but it was hacked away and Whalley raced the entire length of the pitch to clip the ball past the helpless Eastwood and make it 2-0.
United had fought hard in the second half but now move on to two home games and a chance to bounce back immediately.
Report by Chris Williams, pictures by Darrell Fisher, stats with OPTA