Of late we’ve got used to games against either teams around the top or around the bottom. This one, even though Shrewsbury won’t have given up hopes of a play-off place, looked like a contest between two midtable teams. They’d won two, drawn one, and lost two of their last five games (against our won two, drawn two, lost one), not especially high scorers, don’t concede that many either, and have been under the radar through the season. So no strong expectations for the result in advance, especially given our recent indifferent home form. So let’s just say we didn’t see it coming, neither did Shrewsbury.
Some days everything goes your way, which is not to deny the effort and ability which went into a 6-0 win. They don’t come around that often (yes, for the record I was there for the 6-0 at home to Swansea in 1972 and the 6-1 rout of Notts County which followed shortly after, the 1976 6-2 win against Southampton, and was at Oakwell for the more recent 6-0 win against Barnsley in 2013). Just after I write something including the fact that this season we hadn’t scored enough to really blow teams away and couldn’t keep clean sheets to grind out results, we deliver a clinical performance in front of goal (at one point during the game I checked we had 9 shots, 6 on target, and 5 goals) and let in none (thanks to the crossbar in a second-half scramble when the game was over and arguably the linesman just before half-time). It is a real pity that aside from pride the game meant nothing, but nothing to stop us enjoying it for a while.
The team saw just one change as Thomas returned from international duty and replaced Sessegnon, who dropped to the bench, with Kilkenny missing out on the squad (while Wollacott also returned). Otherwise it was all as you were. And to say the first 20 minutes gave no indication of what was to come would be an understatement. Scrappy and disjointed, the only point of note was Clare turning an ankle and having to limp off, Sessegnon getting an early reintroduction at right-back (he did have an edgy start but grew into the game). In fact the first real opening went Shrewsbury’s way as a ball in from their left found a guy in space in the box. For a reason known only to himself he opted not to shoot but to try to play in a colleague – and got it all wrong.
Instead the first goal went our way. Shortly after Rak-Sakyi was caught late outside the box on the right side. It was far enough out to enable Fraser to get it over and under and, although it wasn’t right in the corner, it was well enough struck to beat their flailing keeper. The proved to be the opening of the floodgates. A Campbell cross from the left was met well by Leaburn but his header was tipped over the bar. No matter, a Shrewsbury ball forward was cut out by Fraser and he played it out long in the direction of Rak-Sakyi (before being taken out late, but with the ref playing an excellent advantage). He controlled it well and advanced and Morgan spotted space inside him to run into. Rak-Sakyi played him in, his first touch took it away from defenders and when the ball sat up nicely Morgan was able to keep his composure and hit it across the keeper into the far corner.
Before the break we made it 3-0. Another on the counter as this time Morgan intercepted a ball forward within their half and picked out Rak-Sakyi. He simply bemused them, shaping to go inside then taking it outside, then when he appeared to be off-balance poking at the ball with his left and sending it past a wrongfooted keeper. It was a minor masterclass and a goal just about all his own work.
There was just enough time for the game to have another turning point. A ball forward down our right side into the box saw Dobson and a forward challenging for it. The replays seemed to make it clear that Dobson moved an arm out towards the ball and diverted it away. The Shrewsbury player appealed but to no avail. Doubtful that the ref could have been in a position to see it, but surely it would have been seen by the linesman. Apparently not as he did nothing. Now if that had been given – and if it had I don’t think we could have had complaints seeing the replays – it’s quite possible Dobson would have picked up a second yellow (he had been harshly adjusted to have blocked one of theirs earlier in the game). They score from the spot and suddenly it’s 3-1 and they have a half against 10 men. But this was an afternoon when everything went our way.
If there were any lingering concerns they were dispelled on the hour, just after Campbell had a decent case for a penalty not awarded. It was another Shrewsbury attack broken up and the ball played forward early. Leaburn still had two defenders around him but was able to take it on and opted to shoot early from distance. It went through the second defender’s legs and once again their keeper was wrongfooted, a spectator as the low shot found the net, to the considerable enjoyment of the Covered End.
That enabled Holden to start making changes, with Henry for Dobson (to avoid the red card risk) and Mitchell for Hector. And with still more than 20 minutes on the clock it was 5-0 and Shrewsbury were down to 10. A Sessegnon shot from the left side was blocked and the ref clearly saw an arm moved towards it, in not dissimilar fashion to Dobson’s earlier intervention. It was deemed handball, a penalty, and apparently a straight red for Flanagan (who had already been yellow-carded), extending his run of miserable games against us. At first it looked as though Morgan would take the spot-kick, but Leaburn took on the responsibility and calmly planted it to the keeper’s left as he moved the other way, further closing the gap on his father’s best season tally for us.
Cue more changes as Payne and Bonne came on for Thomas and Fraser, with us seeming to move to 3/5 at the back and playing two up front. Shrewsbury’s scrambled effort followed (the ball seemed to hit the bar on the way down then was somehow not put in the net by their guys), Rak-Sakyi thought he’d made it 6-0 with a header from close range but was clearly offside, then into stoppage time we did get the final one as a shot from Henry turned into a pass to Bonne around the penalty spot, isolated and not offside. He was able to take it, turn, and plant it past the keeper.
The news that Exeter had scored a late equaliser and that as a result we wouldn’t be moving up a place didn’t exactly distract from the happy mood among players, management, staff and fans after the game. If there was one regret, for me it was that it would have been good for Sandgaard to have been able to share in the celebrations. His time may have run its course and during it we’ve failed to recover, expectations have been disappointed, mistakes made etc (off and on the pitch). But he isn’t a Duchatelet and one difference was the obvious enjoyment he previously took from owning the club. He bought our club when we needed someone to get us out of the control of wasters and shelled out money when we needed it (of course we still do). I hope he was able to enjoy a glass in celebration too (I know I did).