A year ago, Shrewsbury Town and Luton Town were two divisions apart. Shrewsbury were relegated at the end of 2013-14 and Luton, after half a decade of frustration, were promoted from the Skrill Premier. When the two sides met on August 30, their performances suggested they could well be two divisions apart again in 2015-16.
Shrewsbury’s out-of-town new ground, the Greenhous Meadow, is unremarkable, but it’s neat, fit-for-purpose and has considerably more room to manoeuvre than the club’s old home, Gay Meadow.
Shrewsbury isn’t a club that has been showered in garlands down the years, but one of the high spots of the Shrews’ history is a FA Cup run in 1979 that saw them reach the last eight. “The spirit of ’79” is trumpeted in more than one banner dotted around the ground. It was a cup run that included a 2-0 win against a star-studded Manchester City side. At the end of 1978-79, under Graham Turner, Shrewsbury won the Third Division (now League One). That season was arguably the pinnacle of the club’s achievements.
But Shrewsbury’s greatest claim to fame could well be in the form of a player whose goalscoring record in English football may never be beaten. Look at any record book and the name Arthur Rowley will be found – 434 goals in 619 games for West Bromwich Albion, Fulham, Leicester City and of course, Shrewsbury.
Rowley’s first season as player-manager with the club, in 1958-59, saw them win promotion from the old Fourth Division. He scored 38 goals in 43 games in the process. He remained player-manager until 1965 and then stayed on as manager for a further three years before joining Sheffield United in 1968. Obviously, he has legendary status at the club.
It’s good to see other former players commemorated in a “walk of fame” that skirts the front entrance of the ground. It was interesting to see players like Ken Mulhearn and Alan Durban included. Both won Football League Championship medals with Manchester City (1968) and Derby Country (1972) respectively.
What Shrewsbury would give to have players like Rowley, Mulhearn and Durban in their ranks today. But when Game of the People visited the Greenhous, the club was celebrating new heroes after the Shrews beat Premier League new boys Leicester City in the Capital One (Football League) Cup. In a week when below-strength top sides were punished by lower level clubs, Shrewsbury won 1-0 at Leicester thanks to a first-half Andy Mangan goal. Shrewsbury manager Micky Mellon was keen to ensure his players “get the pat on the back they deserve” for beating Premier opposition.
That victory may have explained why 5,888 people turned up to see Shrewsbury play Luton. It was the biggest gate of the season at the Greenhous so far, no doubt boosted by a large contingent from Luton.
It may also have had something to do with a more than decent start to the new campaign by Mellon’s side. Unbeaten before facing Luton, they had won all their home games, the last one a 4-0 victory against Accrington Stanley. Mangan, who joined the club in the summer from Forest Green Rovers, had been in good form since arriving at Shrewsbury, but he missed the Luton game through injury.
Luton had also started well, winning 1-0 at Carlisle United on the opening day, but had failed to win any of their four league and cup games since. Adjusting to life back in the Football League may take time, but their manager, John Still is a wily operator and you just have to look at his record with Dagenham, one of the League’s most unlikely residents, to see what he can do.
He may have his work cut out this time, though. Judging Luton on their performance at Shrewsbury, the Hatters don’t look well equipped to sustain their current status.
Shrewsbury dominated the game from the start and went ahead after just three minutes. A long ball down the middle eluded the monolithic Luton defence, which struggled all afternoon for pace and alertness. Jordan Clark, who looked the best player on the pitch, received the ball and rolled it past Mark Tyler.
Shrewsbury could have built up a substantial first-half lead, but their finishing was a little suspect. James Collins should have converted at least one of the chances that came his way and Scott Vernon – an industrious forward who ran Luton ragged – went close to scoring.
Luton came alive for the first 10 minutes of the second half, but it didn’t take long for Shrewsbury to regain the initiative. Tyler pulled off a fine reflex save from Collins and the flame-haired Ryan Woods had a low drive that should have found the back of the net.
When Shrewsbury did score, it was down to a goalkeeping error. A free-kick by Clark looked comfortable enough for Tyler, but he flapped at the ball and it fell over the line. That was Luton finished and it was now a question of how many goals Shrewsbury could score.
Although Vernon struck the woodwork and Collins was denied again by Tyler, there were no more goals. The last drama of the game, though, was a red-card for Luton’s Matt Robinson, who cynically fouled Cameron Gayle.
With a 2-0 win, the locals were sent home happy, with cautiously optimistic talk of “going straight back up”. Luton’s fans were probably avoiding discussions around “going straight back down”. I would wager that the Luton side that runs out in, say December, will look very different to the one that capitulated so easily at Shrewsbury. As for the home side, it’s Floreat Salopia, as they say.