Joel Dixon - 8
When a man saves a penalty, even if it was a bit of a weird one, his mark goes up by at least one. So Joel gets a good, solid eight from me.
His distribution, obviously mostly short ten/fifteen yard passes in line with our playing philosophy, was sound enough, apart from one abhorration when he passed it straight to the opposition. He is confident at sweeper keeping, although his header clear from a lofted through ball over the top could’ve caused issues, landing at the feet of David Davis, who luckily failed to take advantage of the fact Dixon was miles from his goal.
The ex-Barrow custodian didn’t have an awful lot to do in general play but came to claim a late set piece confidently, instantly relieving the pressure Shrews were building up after their untimely goal. Couldn’t do a lot about Luke Leahy’s perfectly struck free-kick, after the Santos/linesman/referee mix up and his penalty save showed that he and the coaching staff are putting the hard yards in behind the scenes, as it isn’t often that keepers stay in the centre of the goal for a spot-kick.
Keep it up, Joel!
Gethin Jones - 7
Was heavily involved in our build-up play as usual in the first half, hitting a true strike, not long after we went 2-0 up, just too close to Marko Marosi in the Salop net.
You could see the pain he suffered when receiving the dead leg that cut short his afternoon, yet he manfully battled on until half-time, when I imagine Matt Barrass and Ian Evatt came to the sensible conclusion to spare Geth any more potential damage. Hopefully he’ll be fine for Hillsborough, as he’s a vital cog in this enterprising side that we’ve got the pleasure of watching at the moment!
Ricardo Santos - 9
I fully agree with Marc Iles’ lofty rating for big Rico. He was absolutely colossal; repelling crosses, blocking shots and starting attacks from deep by bringing the ball out of the defence. There were a couple of heart-in-mouth moments when he perhaps tried to take on one too many Shrewsbury forward players, but this was Rico back to his brick-wall best.
His partnership with George Johnston is a perfect combination of brains and brawn, with both players illustrating both qualities when necessary, too.
George Johnston - 8
He’s becoming a real mainstay of the side now, with Evatt giving him the necessary rest at The Valley so he was firing on all cylinders here. Loves a diving clearing header and his positional sense is top notch. Was tested by the trickery of Daniel Udoh, while six foot five teenage sub Tom Bloxham was a very difficult customer to handle too, yet George came through both tests with flying colours.
The ex-Liverpool lad only wins about half of his aerial duels but has a decent leap on him and is generally quite an understated defender. He doesn’t immediately stand out, rather going about his job with a minimum of fuss and a calm authority, traits that lend themself to forming a coherent unit at the back. Long may it continue!
Declan John - 6
Dec, for me, has been a little off colour all season. His attacking contribution stepped up a gear momentarily, when he found some pockets of space in our 15/20 minute spell of domination in the first half. But for me, he gets beaten, or at least allows his man too much space to deliver the ball in the box, too often.
He has obviously only returned to the side in these last two encounters after illness, and the rustiness may be playing a part in his displays.
Not by any means a bad performance, I just don’t feel he is hitting the consistent heights we need from him at the moment.
MJ Williams - 7.5
As is often the case, MJ found himself battling against two men at times in his anchor role at the base of midfield, as both Kieran Lee and captain Antoni Sarcevic roamed further forward looking to create and take advantage of openings. He was forceful on the ball and off it, too, while managing to avoid a fifth yellow card of the season which would’ve ruled him out of the Sheffield Wednesday game on Saturday. Extremely glad that is the case, as it is undeniable the importance he has to the functionality of the side.
Kieran Lee - 8
Two ‘assists’ for ‘Sexy Kieran’, after his two goal haul at Charlton! Okay, both were simple enough passes to players who then scored stunning strikes from distance, but an assist is an assist, right!?
Was everything we know he can be in the centre of the park. Tidy, busy and always looking forward when the opportunity arose. It could be a while before arguably one of our best players of the first 9 games of the season, in Josh Sheehan, gets his place back at this rate.
Antoni Sarcevic - 7.5
The captain was back to doing what he does best on Tuesday evening; scoring goals. And I don’t think that without the confidence boost of that late strike in London, he takes that shot on. But boy, are we glad he did! The goal nearly took the roof off the UniBol, as it flew into the Shrews net, arcing past the despairing dive of Marosi.
I likened Sarce to one of our club legends, Kevin Nolan, almost immediately on his competitive debut for the club. And I stand by that comparison, in that he works extremely hard, while having that knack for being in the right place at the right time that you just can’t teach. Nolan also had the propensity to score the sublime, so let’s hope that Sarce can continue to emulate this.
The negative aspect of the comparison is in the lack of agility and pace of both men. This was perfectly illustrated towards the end of the game, when he was bypassed on a couple of occasions by Shrewsbury defenders on the ball, building a head of steam and making yards upfield. Admittedly he’d put a good shift in by this point and part of the issue could be how Evatt almost always keeps him on for the entirety of the match (he’s finished eight of our eleven ganes). The most obvious reason may be because we don’t have a similar option on the bench or perhaps, as captain, Evatt sees his influence on the group as too important to remove, especially at such a pivotal juncture of the game.
Much like Nolan, if he isn’t scoring a goal then he can look a little lost in general play. I wouldn’t say anonymous, as his hassling of players as part of the press is clearly important, but it is almost like he doesn’t somehow fit in to the whole ethos of the team in possession at times.
Equally, when he is missing, it is clear we miss his input. He is somewhat of a conundrum in my eyes. If I was in the gaffer’s shoes I’d be tempted to sign a more mobile, creative no.8/10, one he can mould into that position, bedding him in on a rotational basis with Sarce.
The club has aspirations of returning to the Championship, and I think if we’re all honest, his level is below that. He is certainly still a useful player to have around at this level, it’s just on Evatt to utilise his very specific skillset as best he can to help the team, while utilising his qualities as club captain too.
Bit of an essay, but to sum up, I love him as a guy and captain. However, for the side to progress even further he might need to be sacrificed eventually, for a younger, more creative model!
Elias Kachunga - 6.5
I’m not quite sure this is Elias’ best role. But equally, I’m not quite sure what is.
He shows some nice touches and is a tidy enough footballer. Yet he seems to go for the safest option on most occasions and lacks the busyness and athleticism Lloyd Isgrove offers down the right. I do feel that if he got into a goalscoring position, his composure under pressure would give him a good chance of scoring, that despite his run of over thirty first team games now without scoring, for us and Sheffield Wednesday.
In his defence, he has barely played ninety minutes this calendar year, Saturday being just the third time for the Whites. It could be that he’ll be a slow burner for us, perhaps coming to the fore in the second half of the campaign.
Dapo Afolayan - 8
A mesmerising goal from THE most important player in our team. Not as consistently threatening as his display versus Burton, for example, yet his ability to do the sublime will drag defenders towards him and open up space for others, a bit like for Sarcevic’s strike.
There is no one else in our squad who could even come close to delivering what he does for us.
His diligent work for the team doesn’t go unnoticed either, and the standing ovation he got from the Lofthouse Lower on halfway, where I sit, after his brilliantly manufactured and taken goal was a lovely moment of reciprocal appreciation.
Love this guy. Pray to the gods of football we can we keep hold of him, at least beyond January so we can have a tilt at those play-offs!!
Eoin Doyle - 6.5
Rinse and repeat, really.
Very few touches but I don’t really think it’s his fault, it’s just the way we play in our very highly trained movements on the ball. Most opposition we face simply do their utmost to curb us getting the ball to him in the areas he thrives.
Wouldn’t be against us giving him a breather, perhaps after the Sheffield Wednesday game, giving Bakayoko a chance up there.
Lloyd Isgrove - 7
Came on at half-time in an unfamiliar right-back role and surprised absolutely nobody that he coped admirably. Was never overly troubled and got forward well enough too.
Needs to come back in at RW at Hillsborough, and sure he will do.
Amadou Bakayoko - 6.5
Wonderful to see the big man back and he really put himself about, trying another overhead that could’ve taken someone’s head off!
Offers a completely different threat to Doyle up top and we really have missed having this option. Perhaps a bit over eager to impress on Saturday and it’ll be interesting to see how he does against Liverpool’s youth on Tuesday evening.
Josh Sheehan - 6
Only got 15 minutes, including injury time, making one stray pass that put us on the back foot. Looked to engineer some more forward movement as we began to flag. Can’t recall anything of huge note otherwise.
Josh can count himself extremely unfortunate to be out of the side at the moment, but his time will certainly come again. Didn’t miss his set piece delivery, however, as we had literally zero corners. Which is just as well, as we still look completely unthreatening from them!
Ian Evatt - 8
Got his subs spot on and the decision to retain Lee proved to be the correct one. The freedom with which we play is down to his constant reinforcement of our philosophy and his general demeanour this season in the media is calm and composed. This is reassuring to see, after an up and down first campaign with us in that sense.