14 May ~ Despite an impressive 3-0 victory over Oxford Utd on the final day, Wycombe Wanderers’ 3-1 defeat of Southend Utd meant Shrewsbury Town found themselves in the League Two play-offs for the third time in five seasons. Losing out on the automatics to Wycombe leaves a particularly sour taste for Shrewsbury fans, given the phantom goal awarded to the Chairboys when the two sides last met in March.
Ben Smith appeared to have kept out Gareth Ainsworth’s glancing header but the lineseman signalled the ball had crossed the line to hand Wycombe a precious equaliser. TV pictures later showed the ball wasn’t even close to being in. Rather than taking the third automatic promotion slot at Wycombe's expense, Shrewsbury are at Torquay today for the first leg of the play-off semi final.
Plainmoor didn’t prove the happiest of hunting grounds for Shrewsbury in the league this season. Trailing to an early Gavin Tomlin goal, Town then had Jermaine Grandison sent off just before half time for an X-rated challenge on Torquay striker Jake Robinson – who was on loan from Shrewsbury. Bafflingly it transpired that no clause had been included in the contract to prevent Robinson from playing against his parent club and he took his revenge with two second-half goals in a 5-0 rout.
Once it became clear Torquay were to be our play-off opponents, thoughts once again turned to the man known to Twitter users as JakeyTorres. It was down to Shrewsbury manager Graham Turner to breaking the dispiriting news that Robinson would again be able to line up against his parent club.
If Shrewsbury are eliminated by their on-loan striker, it will mean they had failed to reach a play-off final for the first time in their history. Since regaining League status with victory over Aldershot in the 2004 Conference play-offs, Shrewsbury have twice reached the League Two play-off final, only to be denied at Wembley on both occasions. The first was a 3-1 defeat at the hands of a Richard Walker-inspired Bristol Rovers in 2007, the second a miserable non-performance under Paul Simpson two years later, in which Simeon Jackson nicked a last-minute Gillingham winner from a disputed corner.
The new Wembley may now be promoted with the tag line “inspiring memories”, but the kind it evokes in the minds of most Town fans are of the heartbroken variety. It came as something of a relief, then, to learn that this year’s play-off final is being held at Old Trafford, as Wembley will be playing host to the Champions League final on the same day. But if we survive our two-legged showdown with the Gulls then lose in the final, the relatively short trip back down the M56 will seem every bit as interminable as those disconsolate return journeys from Wembley. Nick Statham