Shrewsbury Town Season Preview: another dogfight?

Since winning promotion from League Two in 14/15, Shrewsbury Town have been clinging on to their third-tier status by the skin of their teeth. Is survival alone an achievement, or are supporters disappointed not to have found a more stable position? The Football Lab asked this and more to supporter Peter Jones

On a personal level I see lower end of League One as just about our natural level, so as long as we are maintaining that I’m fairly satisfied. That said, I can completely understand the frustration of those amongst the fanbase that feel we should be kicking on and achieving more – if Burton can compete in the Championship and clubs like Fleetwood and Scunthorpe make a decent fist of a promotion push then is there any reason we couldn’t be doing the same? It’s vital for clubs like us to try and energize the local community and draw as many people through the gates as possible and I’m not sure that will ever be realistic if we are happy to settle for annual relegation battles.

You averaged 1.3 points per game under Paul Hurst last season, better form than mid-table Walsall. What did he do differently to Micky Mellon?

Last summers recruitment under Mellon was an unmitigated disaster – he promised League 1 ready players yet assembled a squad that would have struggled to make a decent fist of League 2. Hurst recognized quickly that there was a lot of deadwood to be shifted and whilst his signings couldn’t be described as glamorous they were effective. He also re-invigorated a few players who had looked finished under Mellon – Mat Sadler especially. It was rarely pretty or exciting watching us play but there was a bit of grit and determination that had been sorely lacking previously.

One man Hurst has faith in is goalkeeper Jayson Leutwiler. Will he keep the number one spot this year?

Just how much faith in Leutwiler looks like it’s going to be tested as we have recently recruited Dean Henderson on loan from Man Utd and it doesn’t sound like he is coming in to play second fiddle. Having already recruited Craig MacGillivray too it seems Jayson may well be on the move. Jayson is a divisive figure amongst the fan base and there are certainly some who have felt we need an upgrade – personally I have mostly been happy with him myself. Whether he would stick around as a back up I’m not so sure – it wouldn’t do many favours for his international ambitions with Canada. As for Burton and Rowley I think it’s going to be a huge struggle – Rowley I could see spending a season out on loan but I fear we are beyond that point with Burton now and if his chances with us are going to be limited again this season I think it’s time for him to move on.

An effective centre-back pairing for you last season was Aristote Nsiala, who faced criticism in League Two and Mat Sadler, a left-back by trade. Does that say something about the management team’s coaching ability?

Absolutely. Nsiala was an incredibly underwhelming signing but clearly had the full trust and confidence of Hurst and rewarded that with a string of fine displays. Sadler as I mentioned had been completely frozen out under Mellon but was a revelation in the second half of the season – he has become one of the first names on the teamsheet for me.

Sadler could be replaced by Zak Jules. Are you encouraged by his reviews at Motherwell?

I think there is some definite promise there but I’d be hesitant to remove Sadler from the side – we have a very young and in-experienced squad and he could provide the cool head they need to guide them through some of the ups and downs they will have to endure. Jules has had some glowing recommendations from some Motherwell fans and pretty terrible ones from others who suggest he has some pretty dreadful mistakes in him – I’m not sure he is going to be an automatic first choice. That said, he started and scored in our friendly win over Villa so we shall have to see.

Paul Hurst had worked with Nsiala before. Do you think he will get the best out of another ex-Grimsby colleague, Jon Nolan?

He’s given him the luxury of a three year deal which is pretty rare for us so I certainly hope so! I can’t say he has ever stood out on the few occasions I’ve seen him play but he comes fairly well recommended by Grimsby fans so there is cause for optimism. Seems like he’s had a few injuries and picks up a fair few cards – I’m also a little concerned by his lack of experience at this level – but as I said with Nsiala, Hurst clearly has faith in these guys to step up and he deserves our backing to try and do so.

Abu Ogogo was well-liked at Dagenham for his work rate. How do you assess his performances last year?

Excellent, and the decision to retain him strikes me as some of our best business of the summer so far. He covers an incredible amount of ground and is a strong communicator – we looked infinitely more ragged and dis-organized during his time spent on the sidelines with injury. He would definitely be amongst my first picks on the team sheet.

Winger Shaun Whalley has signed a new two-year deal. Are consistency and fitness his two main challenges this season?

A two year deal was a bit of a surprise to me as he can be incredibly erratic and by no means a guaranteed starter. He is capable of flashes of quality and has grabbed a few important goals during his time with the club but he is one of those who has yet to truly convince me that he is of the right calibre for our level of football. A player that is somewhat indicative of our apparent desire to try and do League One on the cheap.

Arthur Gnahoua jumps three divisions while Lenell John-Lewis hardly tore apart League Two. Given that your best strikers last year were on loan, do you worry about whether the quality will come from?

It’s a definite area of concern. We have struggled to find a consistent goal-scorer across the entirety of our time in this division and neither of the two you mention strike me as a likely solution to the problem. We have taken Carlton Morris on loan from Norwich who comes pretty well recommended but again it’s a leap of faith to assume he is going to grab enough goals to keep us out of trouble. I appreciate prolific strikers are a rare and valuable commodity but our repeated failure in that department could eventually prove our un-doing.

The club has applied for safe standing. Your thoughts?

Delighted. So often the club seems to be at loggerheads (if you’ll excuse the Salopian pun) with the desires of the fan base so to see us at the forefront of something that means so much to so many not just at our club but up and down the country is a massive and unexpected boost. There is plenty of work to be done before it ever becomes a reality but after years of negativity it’s fantastic to have something to potentially look forward to and get excited about.

What are your thoughts ahead of the League One season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

I don’t think it looks the strongest League 1 this year with nobody leaping out at me as promotion certainties. History indicates that generally the biggest sides don’t hang around down here for long so with that in mind Blackburn have to be considered the big contenders but there is always that concern that an off-field disaster looms ominously around the corner. Bury seem to have recruited well in the attacking areas to replace James Vaughan but again they are a club often haunted by the spectre of financial meltdown so we shall have to see. I fancy Pompey to go well – Brett Pitman strikes me as a cracking bit of business.

Where will you finish? You’ve been pretty accurate with the last three predictions…

I think we are still a few signings away from having a clear idea of where we are at but as it stands at present it’s hard to envisage anything other than another dogfight down at the bottom of the table. Hurst should make sure we are hard working, well organized and tough to beat but as of yet I’m not at all convinced we possess the quality at the other end of the pitch to kick on to a position of any comfort. I’ll go with 19th but without the right additions between now and the transfer window it would be no surprise to me if we find ourselves amongst the relegation spots.

The Football Lab’s Verdict

As well as Hurst has done so far at Shrewsbury, the nature of performances perhaps illustrate regression since promotion in 2015. They scrap for their lives with Ogogo and Nsiala the key battlers, but are no longer capable of outplaying the opposition. Without the final third quality they had last year, Salop’s rigid principles may have a shelf life. 22nd




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