Sunderland AFC Match Preview – Shrews test bigger than it looks

Jonny Lambert takes a look at both sides ahead of the Good Friday clash

Former Sunderland coach Steve Cotterill returns to the Stadium of Light this Good Friday with his Shrewsbury Town team dangerously loitering with no intent. And he’ll probably enjoy the stadium’s technical area a lot more this time around, not having mood-hoover Howard Wilkinson looking over his shoulder.

Shrewsbury currently sit 16th in the table, not likely to be caught by the strugglers, and a distance too far for the promotion hunt. So what can we expect from the Shropshire side who love taking points off Sunderland at home, but less so when in SR5?

Well, in the last two months they’ve picked up a canny amount of points, only losing to high-flying MK Dons and play-off hopefuls Oxford United. They turned over Rotherham 3-0 away, and pumped Morecombe 5-0, which is an upturn in style given they are comfortably the league’s lowest scorers outside of the relegation zone. But that can be qualified by a defence that’s only shipped 40 goals this season, making them the joint second best defence in the division.

Shrewsbury normally set up with a 3-5-2 formation, with former Black Cat Tom Flanagan in the heart of the defensive three last time out. Captain Luke Leahy will be present in midfield and one to watch having assisted two and scored two in Shrews recent aforementioned win over strugglers Morecombe. Ryan Bowman and Daniel Udoh will partner each other up front, and will be a threat with 27 goals between them. Udoh was on the score sheet the last time these two met down at the Montgomery Waters Meadow, cancelling out Alex Pritchard’s 20-yard effort.

Alex Neil expects to have the same squad to pick from as at Oxford, but hopefully with the addition of Alex Pritchard. Despite training on grass, Aiden McGeady, although involved in the matchday routine, will not be available for selection as yet. For Neil, it will be important to break sides down that come to the SoL below them in the league, and with their defensive record, Shrewsbury will provide a strong test.

As mentioned in the Preview Show, an outfield goal for Ross Stewart would be very welcome ahead of much anticipated play-off campaign. However we are fortune, where unlike our opposition we have goals right across our side, and Stewart was calm enough to lay the ball onto Elliot Embleton last week where other strikers may have shot. That assist led to a vital three points and very much showed a team first mentality – if only he had stroked that one-on-one in when clean through, mind.

I can’t see there being many changes, though Neil may bring Danny Batth in to match up physically with Shrewsbury, and Embleton will be banging on the door for a start after impact sub appearances of late. As talented as Jack Clarke and Patrick Roberts are, one or both of them may get a rest as they have recently struggled to get that end product to come to fruition.

As inverted wingers they divert from going to the byline and crossing the ball in, and opt to go inside which becomes predictable and easier to defend. Jay Matete made a positive impact last time out, but the gaffer has to decide whether Neil or O’Nien may give the ball away a little less.

This is a bigger game than it may look on paper, as a win would mean going down to Plymouth and probably only needing to take a draw. An early goal is order of the day so lets hope the lads, backed by a bumper bank holiday crowd, get the job done early. In his press conference earlier today, when asked about any concern of Tom Flanagan sharing information about the squad, Neil straight up said “no”.

This looks to me like a man who is focused on what he controls, and is not going to let any outside patter effect his and the squad’s ambitions. A hard-fought home win incoming. Ha’way the lads!