Shrewsbury Town Season Preview: can Salop re-build?

With the 2018-19 League One season drawing nearer, The Football Lab spoke to Shrewsbury Town supporter Peter Jones (@THEPeterJones).

It felt like Shrewsbury’s class of 2017-18 should have been heralded as promotion-winning heroes in May, yet the lacklustre defeat at Wembley followed by Paul Hurst’s acrimonious exit seemed to create a very different feeling. Was it almost a case of the fairy-tale ending being snatched away?

It’s so, so hard to describe. On one hand, it was the most extraordinary, impossible season and it should be implausible that we walk away with anything other than immense pride and happiness. However in most quarters that simply isn’t the case. In purely footballing terms, I guess ultimately the cold, hard truth is that we were left with nothing. No trophy from the Checkatrade, still stuck in League One. There were some incredible moments and I think in time the emotions will be more positive but there’s no doubt that things are still pretty raw and the manner of Hurst’s departure and subsequent dismantling of the squad certainly hasn’t helped. We know just what an incredible opportunity it was and it’s very possible another won’t present itself for a long time.

The man tasked with starting the next chapter is John Askey. Are you encouraged by his remarkable title-winning success at Macclesfield, or would you have liked the club to appoint somebody with the contacts to shop slightly higher up the pyramid?

I’m full of admiration for Askey, it was a staggering achievement to get Macclesfield promoted and I don’t have worries about his stature in the game. What does concern me perhaps that on the occasions I saw him interviewed last season he came across as a little dour and frankly, dull when engaging with the media. Whilst that isn’t necessarily something to be held against him I always worry a lack of charisma is rightly or wrongly going to leave you with far less goodwill in the bank if we do hit a bad spell. He doesn’t strike me as someone who is going to be interested in seeking out a marquee signing to wow the fans – like Hurst before him it’s all about finding the right players and personalities to fit a certain ethos.

Dean Henderson has gone back to Manchester United. With the only stopper at present being Cameron Gregory (plus one triallist), it’s surely vital for the club to bring in a goalkeeper?

Oh without a doubt, it goes without saying it’s an area that needs filling but if memory serves me correctly at roughly this stage last summer we were in pretty much the same position and got it bang on with Henderson. My suspicion is that we may again see the number one spot filled by a loanee from higher up the pyramid. Joe Hart will do.

Askey will already know James Bolton from their time together at Macclesfield; and winger Shaun Whalley looked a real threat last term. Are you glad to have kept that right-sided partnership intact?

Bolton is very much a steady but unspectacular right back but Whalley is a fascinating one – so incredibly divisive. He has a habit of being infuriating – anonymous, wasteful and with a dreadful set piece delivery for the most part. However, similar to Mark Wright a few years ago…can a club of our standing afford to dismiss a wide player who chips in with quite so many goals? Given that we repeatedly fail to find a truly prolific striker a winger who can hit double figures ultimately has to be considered a real asset. If Askey can unlock some consistency, he could inspire us to dizzy heights once again.

You’ve swapped Coventry Junior Brown for Ryan Haynes. Given that Omar Beckles perhaps isn’t the quickest, are you hoping the new boy can give you a bit of width?

Assuming we keep the Nsiala/Sadler centre back pairing intact my best guess would be Beckles will remain the first choice left back and having just been named in the team of the season you’d have to say rightfully so. Haynes comes in with a lot to prove and I imagine will have to wait for his opportunity.

Converting Mat Sadler to a centre-back was one of Hurst’s master-strokes. Will his experience make him a key man this term?

Absolutely – he’s such an important figure both on and off the field. He has a real affinity with the club and the fans and in an era of players coming and going at a rapid rate that can’t be undervalued. If we are to go about forging the formidable team spirit that typified last season he will be at the forefront of it and like Ian Sharps during his time as captain he can be a really positive influence on our younger players.

As good as centre-back Aristote Nsiala and playmaker Jon Nolan were last season, the only patches of decent form in their careers have come when working with Hurst. Is that a concern for you?

I think that could be applied to a lot of last season’s squad – there is no doubt Hurst improved and them and got the best out of them. I have faith in them to kick on and maintain their standard though, assuming they stay that is. Nolan however will very much depend on how we play. There were points towards the end of the season where his form waned a little and his influence reduced – understandable perhaps given our crazy amount of games – but if Askey can build the right midfield around him I see no reason he can’t be just as important again.

You’ve lost ball-winner Abu Ogogo to Coventry while loanee Ben Godfrey has gone back to Norwich. Do you need to bring in a powerful midfielder to partner Bryn Morris?

I think so. Morris isn’t to me a consistent enough player to be the main man across a 50 odd game season and needs a bit more power and energy alongside him to do some of the leg work. Fair play to Ogogo getting a three year deal elsewhere after his injury and suspension issues and he was excellent for us in his time here but I don’t mourn his departure as much as some do – I’m not convinced he’s going to improve a great deal and I prefer not to see us gambling on longer term deals like that, the risk is too great. Good luck to him but we move on.

Lively wide man Alex Rodman has gone to Bristol Rovers. Can Arthur Gnahoua or Abo Eisa fill his shoes?

Rodman is another of the many who had by far the best season of his career under Hurst last season but at 31 he’s not somebody I see replicating it again. Eisa is hugely exciting and unpredictable and I’m really looking forward to seeing him grow and develop this season. Gnahoua on the other hand…I don’t know, we are still waiting for that big moment to convince us that he is worth perservering with. Askey has been bigging him up pre-season though so it sounds like he may be more involved than he was last season.

Versatile forwards Alex Gilliead, Aaron Amadi-Holloway and Fejiri Okenabirhie have all joined. Are you hoping they’ll give you some pace?

I’m quite optimistic about Gilliead but the others have the Gnahoua factor – real gambles and it’s up to Askey to do what Hurst did with Nsiala et al and bring them up to standard at this level. Whilst pace is clearly a valuable commodity it isn’t a particularly rare one anymore and pace alone isn’t going to cut it – there has to be an end product and looking at Amadi-Holloway I’m a little apprehensive about whether he has it. A club like us can’t afford a huge squad and therefore also can’t afford to get too many wrong – signings like this could be make or break for Askey.

Stefan Payne was your top scorer last season with 14 goals in all forms. Are you glad to have kept him so far?

Like Whalley, Payne is a rather enigmatic figure. On the face of it 14 goals is a reasonable enough return but it doesn’t really reflect his season as a whole and for too much of it I think he was a periphreal figure. He squandered some big, big chances in important games and his all round game was often lacking – he struggled to make the ball stick or bring others into play. As it stands though he is our main striker after Carlton Morris departure…I think he struggled a bit with having to often play second fiddle last year so hopefully he will be motivated to step up and make sure nobody is able to wrestle the shirt off him. My gut instinct is though that goals will again be a problem.

Salop aside, what are your thoughts ahead of the League One season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

To be completely honest I’ve not paid a huge amount of attention to what everyone else has been doing – I’ve been swept away in a World Cup bubble. Of the relegated sides I think Barnsley will be hard to stop – Bradshaw and Moore should score goals for fun and I like Cameron McGeehan and George Moncur in midfield. Sunderland should obviously walk it given the financial advantage they have but it’s a hell of a rot to stop. I think Portsmouth will be stronger than last season and if we are looking for a dark horse I have a feeling Blackpool could be up and around the top 6.

Where will you finish?

Last season was the first time I’ve been really been out with my prediction and just goes to prove that football is chaos – none of us really know anything. I believe in Askey but don’t see us replicating last season and I think it is going to be a year of re-building and putting new foundations in place. The worry is that expectations will have been raised with many and there are some who won’t see mid-table as good enough. For me, top 10 would represent a good finish but my head says an unspectacular 14th. If that was to be the case I suspect a good cup run would be needed to keep some of the natives onside.

Thanks to Peter for his answers. The Football Lab’s verdict on Shrewsbury can be found on We Love Betting from late July.