Two goals from captain Liam Lawrence gave Shrewsbury a 2-0 win over Oxford United this afternoon at Greenhous Meadow. Trailing from the second minute, the U's battled hard and might have got a better reward for their effort, especially after Rhys Sharpe's red card for the home side, but a Lawrence free kick sealed the win and maintained Shrewsbury's promotion drive.
The game could not have started any worse as United conceded inside the first two minutes. There were chances to clear their lines but a couple of scuffed efforts left the Shrews in possession on the right-hand side of the box. Jake Wright got in a great tackle to clear the first danger but the tackle went to Cameron Gayle who ran into the box once more. This time Wright’s tackle caught Gayle and brought him down, allowing Lawrence to beat Clarke with an expertly placed penalty kick.
To their enormous credit, the U’s got their heads up straight away after that setback and the next 88 minutes were evenly matched. Had Danny Hylton’s cross on 13 been a yard further back then Alex MacDonald might well have equalised rather seeing the ball nicked off his toe as he raced in to apply the finish. Patrick Hoban nodded a difficult dropping ball just wide on 28 minutes and there had been no white flag from the men in white despite the early goal.
They were fortunate on 25 when James Collins somehow hooked the ball over the bar from three yards out as he twisted to try and steer the ball past Clarke but it took a good save from Shrews keeper Jayson Leutwiler to block a Kemar Roofe effort with his legs on 31 minutes as the U’s sought a way back.
The non-stop Hylton twice got in behind the home defence, the first stopped by a covering defender and the second halted by Leutwiler racing from his line to just beat him to the ball. A dipping MacDonald free kick on 37 tested the keeper once more as he tipped it away, Hylton fired over from 22 yards on 38 and United were far from out of the game at the break.
They carried on where they had left off after the interval, Hylton bending a shot narrowly the wrong side of the right-hand post on 50 and everyone fully committed against a strangely nervous looking Shrews side, whose nerves were compounded just before the hour when debutant Rhys Sharpe flew into a challenge that left Roofe in a heap on half way. Ref Tony Harrington had little option other than the second yellow card, swiftly followed by the red.
Down to ten men, Shrewsbury packed the centre of the park and dared United to unpick their defence. When they did find half an opening the ball got stuck under United's feet or was smuggled away by the excellent Shrews' back line, but they were patient and dominating possession; surely a chance would come? When it did on 77 they were desperately unlucky to see Hylton's goalbound effort spin wide off the heel of Jermaine Grandison but with the extra energy of subs James Roberts and Callum O'Dowda there was still time for one last surge to try and at least rescue the point they deserved for this battling display.
That hope ended on 82 minutes. Wright conceded a free kick on the edge of the area. Lawrence smashed it through a broken wall and Shrewsbury were 2-0 up and the game was gone.
The U's probably deserved better but hard work and commitment need to start equating to wins over the next few weeks as the season boils to a climax.
Report by Chris Williams, Pictures Darrell Fisher, Stats by OPTA
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