Two first-half goals gave Shrewsbury Town a Boxing Day win at the Kassam Stadium as the U's were well beaten by one of the promotion favourites. Goals from James Collins and Mark Ellis sent all three points back to Shropshire while United were left to lick their wounds as their home games for 2014 ended in defeat.
Both sides were comfortable in possession but Shrewsbury had much the more incisive edge to them and found the breakthrough with a well-worked goal on 13 minutes. Having seized possession in the centre of the pitch they tore at the United right flank and a slipped pass set Scott Vernon free on the left of the box. He could have shot but instead took the more measured option of rolling the ball square for Collins to apply a simple finish to make it 1-0.
Four minutes later and it was two. United had the opportunity to clear the danger after a wicked swerving corner caused chaos. However they failed to win two crucial challenges and that meant that Shrewsbury retained the ball and when Liam Lawrence crossed to the far post, centre-half Mark Ellis was still in the box and rose to thump a far post header back across Ryan Clarke to make it 2-0.
Two down to a side in second place, this was now a tall order for the Yellows but Hylton drove in a low shot to force keeper Jayson Leutwiler into a decent save and a dipping Riley free kick on 25 forced another excellent save from the Shrewsbury stopper. There was a definite improvement and still plenty of spirit but Collins should have mad it 3-0 on 40 as he charged half the length of the pitch but then poked his shot wide of the far post with just Clarke to beat.
Shrewsbury had been the best away side seen at the Kassam Stadium this season and should have had their third goal on 53 when Nathaniel Knight-Percival smacked a free header against the bar from six yards out after a corner. United stuck to their guns and scrapped away but rarely threatened to get a goal back against a side who for once enjoyed more possession than the U's. There were brave blocks from home defenders to keep it at 2-0 but Shrewsbury had done their job in the first half and put in a very fine away performance.
United now head for Plymouth in 48 hours time, a game that marks the half-way point in the season. They know the second half needs to be better...
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Report by Chris Williams, Pictures by Steve Daniels
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