“The Crazy Gang have beaten the culture club!”
So exclaimed John Motson at full-time in the 1988 FA Cup final. Where am I going with this? Well, we might not be Wimbledon of the 80s and 90s, but we keep on outdoing the style council with our footballing Brutalism. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and Wanderers fans are beholding our very own version of it on a regular basis these days – and then there’s the small matter of the league table. Anyway, here are some thoughts on how we ‘got the job done’ against Shrewsbury.
Winning Playing Below Our Best
It’s what good teams do. Games like this would have got away from us last season – e.g. the 1-0 loss at home to Gillingham and 2-1 defeats at home and away to AFC Wimbledon (who we never beat but still) – but we’re a different beast now. Of course, our rock solid defensive foundations help, but we rarely look out of ideas these days – whereas 6-12 months ago, we might have.
That this was probably our second worst home showing of 2019/20 (we poor rather than average for most of the 1-1 draw with Accrington) is testament to the high standards we’ve set. We played less than satisfactorily in the first half and should have gone 1-0 down, but there can be no complaints about the application in the second, even if we couldn’t really get into our rhythm and ended up having to take a more cautious approach – culminating in Shrewsbury’s Ro-Shaun Williams thinking it was a good idea to pick a fight with the Beast (spoiler alert: it’s not).
So the overall display wasn’t the prettiest, but the back five were on point again – and when they are, as is the case nine times out of ten, we have a chance. Jack Grimmer, while not hugely involved offensively and dribbled past twice – a lot by his excellent standards – remained solid, while on the left, Joe Jacobson seriously limited the threat from the right and pre-assisted* the goal for the second home game running. Between them, the two full-backs helped hold Shrewsbury to two accurate crosses – half their average per game. Meanwhile, Tools and the Mango Man (best superhero duo ever) continued their respective roles of mucker-inner and sweeper-upper – plus Darius gracefully flicked the ball on for Rolando Aarons to score. It must be a nice feeling being an attacking player in this team; you know your defensive colleagues have got your back.
*Pre-assist = the pass directly before an assist
Yeah, but Can They Do It on a Cold, Wet Night in Wycombe?
To those who sneer at our reliance on set-pieces, I have five words for you: Stoke City under Tony Pulis. And calling it a reliance shouldn’t be construed as negative; this element of the game is a great strength of ours, so why wouldn’t we play to it? Yes, we’ve scored 9/25 of our goals from set-pieces – the most in League One – but we’re too far into the season for those figures to be dismissed as lucky.
Saturday’s winner resulted from a lovely routine (I refuse to use the phrase “straight off the training ground”; even the shit ones come from there). If it were that easy, every team would be doing it – but it’s not and they’re not. Yes, sometimes – well, quite a lot of the time – we lump it into the box apparently not as part of any routine, but with the likes of Bayo and David Wheeler around, JJ need only float it into their vicinity and see what happens.
As far as scoring from non-set-piece situations goes, though, we have missed Fred Onyedinma and Paul Smyth for much of the campaign. Once they’re both back – which could be as soon as tonight – we ought to see more goals from open play. More minutes for Scott Kashket should reap the same reward, as we well know. Three of our last four games may have ended 1-0 – and the other 1-1 – but I wouldn’t worry about the goals drying up. We always look like we’ve got one goal in us, which is evidently all we need sometimes. In fact, this was our sixth one-goal victory of 2019/20 – the most in the league. That said, promotion rivals Ipswich and Coventry each have five, while two of the Championship top six and League Two leaders Forest Green all sit on six, and last season’s League One play-off winners Charlton finished the regular season with 13. Good teams grind out results.
Aarons Up and Running
We knew when he arrived that this lad is a Championship player. He’s been getting up to speed since taking a whack on his debut against Lincoln, but he looks to be there now. Anonymous in the first 45 minutes, he certainly appeared in the second period and, of course, made the difference. You might expect more spectacular goals from him than a six-yard tap-in – only it wasn’t a tap-in, not really. He anticipated Charles’ flick-on and timed his run to perfection, all of a sudden finding himself with the freedom of the Salop goal-mouth then tucking it through the legs of onrushing ‘keeper Max O’Leary on the volley.
After that, he did his best to run defenders ragged, drifting here, there and everywhere, collecting the ball, dribbling at them (albeit only 1/4 of his attempts was successful) and borderline showboating at times. He tried to do too much on occasion, but wouldn’t you try and go all the way if you were that talented? Aarons is class and that will be far from his last major contribution to our success. And does anyone else get the feeling that we might, just might keep hold of him beyond January?