Shrewsbury Town mid-season review

shrewsburyThe Football Lab interviewed Shrewsbury Town fan Pete Parker-Jones. You can follow him on Twitter @THEPeterJones

You’ve only dropped 2 points at Greenhous Meadow this season. Has your consistent home form helped build some confidence among supporters?

Absolutely. Imperious home form was the main factor between our previous promotion under Graham Turner so obviously seeing us replicating that under Mellon can only bode well. It was especially vital as we found it tough to pick up points on the road early on so it allowed us to keep in and around the top of the table while that issue was addressed. We struggled to make it a fortress in League 1 and ultimately it was one of the factors that cost us – it simply wasn’t a tough place for opposition to visit. That isn’t the case now – teams fear coming here and so they should. There’s a real feel good factor about the place.

During previous seasons the club has used the loan window, perhaps excessively. Has it helped that they have done most of the business in the summer?

Yes, as I discussed in my pre-season piece our transfer business across our two League 1 campaigns was farcical. The fans had built a real rapport and connection with the promotion squad and when it was decimated (some of it the clubs fault, some beyond their control) we really needed to replace those lost with another group who we could rally behind and believe in over a sustained period. Instead we seemed to be fielding at least one new player every other week and the connection simply wasn’t there – young players from higher clubs who had proved nothing in the professional game yet seemed convinced they were doing us a favour by blessing us with their presence and that effort wasn’t really necessary. We waited 16 years for that shot at League 1 yet I reckon I’d struggle to recall half the players that turned out for us there. Having a settled, familiar side this season has been a massive plus.

You had a bit of a slip around September time, with 1 goal in 6 league games. What happened during that period?

Its hard to pinpoint really. There was no massive dip in performance and we continued to dominate more often than not but chances simply weren’t being taken. Putting games to bed has been a bit of a problem full stop, our chance conversion rate must be fairly poor but more often than not our strong defence means we don’t need to score too many to win games. However when those chances aren’t taken we are always going to be at risk of coming unstuck.

You’ve had 4 cup wins against higher league opposition this season, and lost narrowly to Chelsea too. Do you think good performances in the cup will serve as a future reminder to the players of what they are capable of?

The League Cup run was massive. It’s another parallel to the promotion season really where we overcame Charlton from 3-0 down to win 4-3, beat Swansea and then led at the Emirates before Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain took over and saw Arsenal home! When the players take part in games like that and compete so well it can only breed confidence and far from being a distraction it really kicked us on – I expected a slump prior to Chelsea but we actually picked up our first away win at York on the Saturday with that game looming on the Tuesday night. Henry Winter, one of the more respected football writers out there, was waxing lyrical about Ryan Woods and Jermaine Grandison after the Chelsea defeat – that can only be a wonderful thing for their confidence and a big credit to the club who have nurtured them superbly. If we can avoid doing anything stupid Woods will make us a fortune one day.

Forwards James Collins and Scott Vernon arrived from north of the border in the summer. Collins has scored 11 goals, while Vernon seems to have flopped slightly. What have these players done differently?

Well obviously Collins had the advantage of having been here before, knowing the club and the town and some of the staff and players already. That said after the utter horror show he endured at Hibs I did have concerns over how his confidence and mental state may have been affected but to his great credit he has come in and done a super job and scored some crucial goals, even if his decision making and first touch can be infuriating on occasions! As for Vernon, hard to say. Had a decent enough pre-season and truth told he hasn’t done a huge amount wrong and I liked the initial front three we started out with with Collins and Akpa-Apro either side of him. However Mangans superb displays and important goals from the bench became too compelling a case to ignore and Vernon was the fall guy, probably because he doesn’t quite possess the versatility of Akpa-Apro. Scott has found himself back in the side lately though and looked fine so he’s certainly not frozen out. That said if it was up to me Collins and Mangan would be my first choice front two but it’s sure great to have decent options after the dirge of last season – Gozie Ugwu…give me strength.

You said in the summer that Shrewsbury would get automatic promotion. Presumably you’re sticking with that?

Of course! It’s going to be a tough slog and I certainly don’t see us or anyone else streaking away with it but I do think we have the strongest squad and I think that should see us through. After a draw with Wycombe we have our two other closest rivals on the horizon with trips to Burton and Luton. If we can come away from those games unbeaten I’m not sure we have too much else to fear. It’s so hard to gauge really because generally we only get to see the other sides properly twice a season – if I had to pick a worst team I’ve seen so far Luton would be pushing Mansfield close yet they’ve been outstanding since then so it goes to show how dangerous it can be to dismiss teams based purely on your own experience. Then you look at a side like Burton who keep punching above their weight time and time again, and there’s always one team who has a late surge to crash the party – York or Cambridge seem a fair bet this year so it’s incredibly hard to call. I’ll stick with us to go up and I’ll pick Burton, Newport and Southend to join us although I’d love it to be York – one of my favourite away trips and cities!