Shrewsbury Town Season Preview

shrewsburyThe Football Lab interviewed Shewsbury Town fan Pete Parker-Jones, ahead of the new season. You can follow him on Twitter @THEPeterJones, and check out his Shrewsbury Town forum, Blue And Amber. Here, he discusses a busy summer for Shrewsbury, why defensive changes were necessary, and the importance of signing players on permanent deals.
Too many loanees was seen as Shrewsbury’s undoing last season. For starters, are you relieved that the recent additions have been permanent buys?

The absurd dependence on the loan system was indicative of a club entering a new division with no real strategy or long term vision and whilst we got away with this naïveté once it was always going to fall apart eventually and so it proved, so the shift away from this policy is definitely the biggest positive regarding our summer business. There is a good mixture of two year deals where necessary and hopefully those given one year to prove themselves will have the hunger to impress and earn a longer stay. There’s a few gambles for sure but I for one am excited to see how it all comes together.

Two goalkeepers have been brought in; Mark Halstead and Jayson Leutwiler. Who do you expect to start on the opening day?

A total coin toss for me at this point. Neither man really has the experience of being an established number one and neither can really claim to have nailed down the spot so far in pre-season. Chris Weale is a tough act to follow and an interesting wildcard could be young Callum Burton, the latest off our production line of excellent young keepers who was involved in England U17s success earlier this summer. My suspicion is Leutwiler may get the nod to begin with but in my opinion it’s one position where we have taken a step backwards.

Micky Mellon was quick to sign four defenders. Given that you conceded the fewest goals in the bottom third of League One, are those you’ve brought in any better than those who left?

An interesting question in that certainly to look at the stats the defence would not seem like a weak point, but the centre backs Tamika Mkandawire and Dave Winfield were two of the most maligned players of last seasons failure. The release of the popular Joe Jacobson has proved fairly divisive and such sweeping changes certainly represent a bold gamble, but I’d say I’m largely pleased with those brought in and the retention of Connor Goldson is a huge plus as with the right guidance, he could mature into an excellent ball playing centre back. The most interesting thing will be seeing which combination is selected to start the season, with Knight-Percival, Goldson, Ellis and Grandison possibly just about shading it at present.

Liam Lawrence and James Wesolowski have been playing at a higher level with Barnsley and Oldham respectively. Are these good additions to the midfield?

I would certainly hope so. It’s encouraging that Mellon has been able to attract players to drop down and join us and it makes you wonder just why we weren’t able to do that over the two League One campaigns. Both men have been touted as potential captains for the season but pleasingly both have plenty of competition for places in what looks on paper to be our strongest area of the pitch, so hopefully this will bring out the best in them. Lawrence best days are likely behind him but if we can get two decent seasons out of him (ideally promotion and consolidation) then mission accomplished.

Promising winger Jon Taylor has left for Peterborough, while Ashley Vincent signs, having been released by Cheltenham, and James Caton is very much unproven. What do you think of the current options out wide?

Most fans are in agreement that the Taylor deal (albeit differing sums being rumoured) represented good business for a player who provided a reasonable goal return, but could be utterly infuriating at times with his end product and perhaps hadn’t quite developed as far as we had hoped he might. Whether Vincent or Caton represent an improvement is still very much to be seen, inconsistency seems the scourge of the lower league winger, but Caton in particular seems at the very least a positive, exciting player who will hopefully get the crowd out of their seats. Goals from out wide were an important factor in our last promotion campaign, here’s hoping for the same again.

All of last season’s strikers have now left the club, and James Collins, Scott Vernon and Louis Akpa-Akpro come in. What do you make of the changes in attack?

Was a necessity really, lack of goals was by far the biggest problem in League 1 and all the new additions are capable of prolific seasons. Collins was very much a fits and spurts player in his first spell but his goals in the second half of the season were decisive and we can only hope his confidence isn’t too shattered from his nightmare year at Hibs, as he is clearly a talented young player. Andy Mangan is an interesting gamble as a fourth option and has divided opinion somewhat, but frankly anything is an improvement on last seasons mix and match of loanee failures and I’m confident there are finally enough goals in the side.

With most bookmakers, Shrewsbury are at around 9/4 for promotion. Where will you finish?

I think given the new found positivity brewing around the place and the seemingly high calibre of some of the new additions anything other than a strong tilt at promotion would be a real disappointment. It’s a lot of pressure to heap on a new manager and a largely new squad but we’ve all seen the cautionary tale of the likes of Torquay, Bristol Rovers and Wycombe so we really do need to strike while the irons hot and get out of League 2 the right way as quickly as possible. My optimism hasn’t been restored enough to say champions (plus I backed Cheltenham last season after a glut of positive signings and look how that panned out) but I’ll say we will take one of the other promotion spots.

TFL Verdict

A summer of swift and effective change for Shrewsbury, puts them in a strong position to bounce back up. 3rd

(Image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shrewsbury_Town_F.C.)