As it stands: Wycombe 15-8–6–1 (2nd, 30 pts, GD 10) | Shrewsbury 14-5–6–3 (12th, 21 pts, GD -2)
Form: Wycombe WDWDW | Shrewsbury LWDDW
Last time out: Rotherham 0-1 Wycombe | Shrewsbury 1-0 Sunderland
Head-to-head: P24 | Wycombe W9| Shrewsbury W2 | D13
Previous meeting: Shrewsbury 2-1 Wycombe (16/03/19, League One)
Setting the Scene
Wycombe and Shrewsbury might be ten places and nine points apart in the League One standings, but we have a fair bit in common. We’ve both beaten Southend 4-3 at home this season. We’ve both beaten Sunderland 1-0 at home this season. Four of the players likely to be on the pitch have played for both sides*. All quite interesting stuff.
Shrewsbury’s narrow victory over the former big club was their fifth of the campaign, all of which have been by a single goal. But while they are defensively sound – 14 goals conceded puts them joint third in that table alongside us, Doncaster and Pompey – they’re not making much noise at the other end. In fact, only handicapped Bolton (five) have found the back of the net fewer times than Saturday’s visitors (12). Salop have failed to score in four of their seven away games.
Regardless, they, like us, have lost only one of their last eight in League One – a 3-0 home reversal to high-flying Fleetwood. The fact they’ve gone into six out of seven away half-times goalless suggests that they’ll come and park the bus, something which we’re yet to really experience this term. They’ve kept clean sheets in each of their last three matches on the road, but we’re looking to score in an 11th straight home league game. We might not see a repeat of last November’s 3-2 thriller, but you know it won’t be dull – not least as it’s the first home game of the ‘Couhig era’. Let’s get this place rocking and rolling.
Oh, is now a bad time to mention that Shrewsbury have never won at Adams Park in the league?
Last season: 18th in League One
Manager: Sam Ricketts (appointed December 2018)
Top scorer: Jason Cummings (ST) – 3
Most Assists: Josh Laurent (CM), Sean Goss (CM), Shaun Whalley (RW) – 3
Style of play: Direct, play with width, take long shots
STAR PLAYER: AARON PIERRE (CB) | Back at Adams Park for the first time in two-and-a-half years, our former rock at the back remains as imposing an opponent as ever. Sitting right at the heart of Shrewsbury’s back three, it’s fair to say their defensive robustness is built around him. The 26-year-old, who joined Salop from League Two Northampton in the summer, is as we remember really: a bit of beast on the ground and in the air. He’s won 65% of his aerials this season and 80% of his tackles, as well as leading the league in clearances per 90 with 7.7. He still likes to venture forward too and opened his account for his new side by smashing in the winner at Tranmere last month. Him against Bayo – who he only played alongside for that one season – makes for a box office head-to-head, but we’ll be sure not to make that Pierre’s only concern.
Moving Up the Food Chain?
I missed another similarity: Shrewsbury started much like us a couple of seasons ago and upset the apple cart, finding themselves top on 37 points at the 15-game mark. Then they lost game 16 and had a little wobble. That’s just something to be wary of. With our ‘tough’ run over and a few cup games about to disrupt things a little, it’s easily done. As much as Gareth likes to play the underdog card, we are where we are and are going to become considered something of a scalp by those lower down the league.
The ‘one game at a time’ mentality is, of course, the one we should be in, but let’s not kid ourselves: thoughts of ‘what could be’ will have crept into the minds of players and gaffer alike. We have to stay grounded, but we also have to start adopting the mindset of bigger fish to a certain extent. We’re not quite pike, but we’re no longer minnows.
What to do When There’s a Bus in Our Space…
As already touched upon, Salop have stood very firm indeed on their travels of late, facing 37 shots (ten on target) yet shutting out Lincoln, Tranmere and Rotherham. We can’t really go around the bus, such is the width their 3-5-2 system affords; we could go over it – they’re not great in the air, although Pierre is a notable exception to that rule; so we may well have to go through it, which might take some precision passing. Nick Freeman, you’re up.
Ricketts’ men have struggled with counter-attacks as well, conceding a league-worst three goals from such situations. That may not be alarmingly high, but combined with our counter-attacking threat, it potentially opens the door. Expect Matt Bloomfield, Scott Kashket and, if fit, Fred Onyedinma to play a big part.
As for the Shrews’ shortcomings at the other end, they’re not as severe as they might seem at first glance. Their average of 11.5 shots per game puts them among the poorest sides in the division in that sense, although they do place slightly better when it comes to efforts on target (3.9 per game). Effectively, they’re scoring with every four shots (for comparison, we score with about every five). Still, they are among the worst performers in terms of xG and there’s no sign of that dramatically improving at present.
Filling the Gape-ing Hole in Midfield
We all know how little Gaz gives away on the injury front before a game, but we all know that Gapey was forced off at half-time last weekend, so it’s fair to assume he’ll sit this one out at least (although hopefully not). Alex Pattison stepped in for the remainder of that win, but with Freeman quite likely to return, Blooms will surely get the nod – which would see Curtis Thompson take up the holding role in which he so excels.
All in all, this shouldn’t be a catastrophic loss to us. And I mean no disrespect to Dom when I say that; we have an excellent crop of midfielders – personally, I’d love to see Nnamdi Ofoborh come in and get a lot more game-time – and will cope just fine. Of course, there’s still the possibility that the best midfielder in the Football League walks out of that tunnel on Saturday…
Could we go with a 3-5-2 to mirror Shrewsbury? Maybe, but trying to put that together was stressing me out, so here’s a possible 4-3-3. As mentioned, Freeman should return and accompany Blooms and Thompson. The front three is really hard to call, but a start for a refreshed Bayo seems a decent bet, while Scott Kashket may well be entering a purple patch. Rolando Aarons or Fred on the left? If the latter is fully fit, that’s probably a question Gaz will ask himself. Then there’s David Wheeler, who could be left out without having done any wrong. I’m glad these aren’t my decisions to make.
Salop opted for a 3-4-3 last time out but should revert to type. A hard-working midfield trio shields the back three/five – although the wing-backs get forward more than Ricketts’ backs-to-the-wall approach might suggest. Former Chairboy Scott Golbourne will likely continue on the left if exciting Wolves loanee Ryan Giles misses out again through injury. Ex-Hibs, Rangers and Nottingham Forest man Jason Cummings has the quality to succeed at this level and settled the game against Sunderland, while Fejiri Okenabirhie could return. Okenabirhie may have only been on the scoresheet twice so far in 2019/20, but he bagged 16 goals in all competitions last season – including one in this fixture.
In the Middle: Brett Huxtable
(sobs into coffee)
*Aaron Pierre, Scott Golbourne, Jack Grimmer and Joe Jacobson, in case you were wondering