Boro Tame The Shrews But Only Just
By Rob Nichols
Saturday 05 Sep 2020 10:43:00
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It wasn't the most convincing win to start the season but a victory it was all the same as Boro edged a 4-3 seven goal thriller against League One Shrewsbury to stay alive in the Carabao Cup. Boro did need to come back from a goal down and rely on two gifted goals but although there was dodgy defending there were plenty of goals for the watching streamers. And it was a rare home win.

By the narrowest of margins Boro recorded a first home win in 2020, a record we quickly needed to put to bed in this the quarter century season at the Riverside. Forwards were to the fore as Ashley Fletcher bagged a brace and strike partner Britt Assombalonga was full of strong running and hold up play. So, Neil Warnock has finally seen his side win by the Tees.

It was also another rarity, a winning start to the season, although the campaign starts properly next weekend and the league start was the real focus for both teams, treating this as a final warm up game. Though as the seven goals suggests it was most definitely a competitive match out there in front of an empty stadium.

Boro's tea time kick off saw us go straight at Sam Rickett's Shrews, pushing for a goal from the off. There was plenty of good attacking football in the early minutes as Marvin Johnson continued to showcase his recent confident play down the flank as well as ability to pick out an accurate final ball.

Yet it was the visitors that struck first. Shrewsbury had just played their way into the game before with their very first effort on target Scott High pulled the trigger to score a marvellous strike from 25 yards that left keeper Stojanovic clawing at thin air.

That raised doubts everywhere, would we flatter to deceive once again at our home ground? And for all the positive comments from Warnock about the thinned down squad stepping up through the gears are we going to be left too exposed. Without absentees, Saville, McNair and Coulson and more importantly without any new signings the squad looks paper thin?

Those doubts were partially allayed when Shrews keeper blighted his debut with the first of two nightmare errors when he spooned Marvin Johnson's cross shot into his own net in the 21st minute. It was a timely break for Boro and settled us immediately. Johnson was provider again ten minutes later and Ashley Fletcher showed a striker's reflexes when he diverted the no.3's cross-shot past their keeper and into the net. It was a classy finish and should have provided the platform for a comfortable second half as Boro finally started to pull together bright attacking moves at the close of the first half.

The writing seemed to be on the wall for the visitors when Fletcher doubled his goals tally ten minutes into the second period. New Shrews keeper sealed this as a debut to forget when he kicked the ball straight to Tav. The Boro midfielder quickly shifted the ball into the path of Lewis Wing whose shot came back off the post to where Fletcher had reacted like a good striker to convert the rebound. 3-1 and that should have been that.

For the second season in a row we had scored 3 goals in the opening game and for the second season in a row an opposition goalkeeper had dropped howlers on his first appearance. But just as with our game at Luton in 2019 we failed to kill off the game and allowed our opponents back into the match with sloppy defending.

We do have some excuses for our defensive failings, Dael Fry had only rejoined his teammates from quarantine the day before the game and it was very much a new unit. Yet they will have to get a great deal tighter than this before being exposed to Watford's Premier forwards next Friday. Time and again the Shrews experienced forward, Jason Cummings got behind wing back, Marvin Johnson and exposed Dael Fry. By Fry's side, new Boro signing Grant Hall looked strong in the air but was caught out a couple of times for pace on the deck. So, plenty for Neil Warnock to ponder and work on this week.

The ever-busy Cummings coolly converted from a corner after Britt had headed the ball out of our keeper's hands at a corner. Stojanovic still struggles to dominate in his own box, shot stopping rather than patrolling off his line being his strength.

Shrewsbury were now right back in the game. This was a side that hadn't played any football since March and they were clearly revelling in a long overdue return to competitive football. Suddenly we had a match on our hands once again.

Fortunately for Boro no sooner had the Shrews scored than Boro went up the other end and restored a two goal lead. Tavernier, who enjoyed a very bright second half whipped a shot through a crowded box and the ball diverted past their keeper into the net.

That should have been that. But all credit to Shrewsbury because they were not done with this game or the cup yet. Pyke it was that got behind our defence to score after the Shrews one touch football left us like statues. 4-3. Game on again and the fear of a penalties repeat of last season's tie with Crewe Alexandra.

Thankfully Boro saw out the remainder of the game largely by skipper Britt and co. burning up time attacking the Shrewsbury half. But also two Boro replacements made positive impacts. Nathan Wood came on for Fry and looked strong, composed and quick off the mark as he snuffed out the Shrews constant threat down our left. Fellow sub Marcus Browne also impressed with a cameo in which he displayed a few strong touches, dribbles and a shot that forced keeper Burgoyne into a save that at least meant he left one positive impression from his otherwise hapless debut.

So, a cup victory, a home victory and four goals for Boro. Lots of positives in terms of the goal getting and the psychological boost of winning a game at the Riverside again. But at the same time there will have been plenty to ponder for Neil Warnock. We looked vulnerable in defence and failed to impose ourselves against League One opponents that had not played a game in almost six months.

Neil Warnock will be heartened by the continued strong wing play of Marvin Johnson, although perhaps not his defending. He will have been disappointed that Djed Spence and Dijksteel did not offer any threat down the right. We need to see far more consistency from Djed in particular.

No doubt the return of Saville and McNair from international duty will much strengthen our midfield play. But we could also do with making that signing next week that the Boro boss seems hopeful of. Also, if it is not a defender that is incoming, you wonder if Nathan Wood might have pressed his claims for a start at Vicarage Road.

Still, a win is a win. It is a bit early for Christmas but.. Oh what joy it is to see Boro win at home again.

Middlesbrough 4-3 Shrewsbury – Johnson, Fletcher (2), Tavernier

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