It’s not been a great start to 2012 for the Shrews, but 2011 has certainly exceeded all expectations from the fans, media & the club itself. After narrowly missing out on automatic promotion followed by failure in the play-offs last season, it seemed the Shrews may have suffered from a post-promotion failure hangover. But after recovering from a sluggish start to once again find themselves lurking just behind the automatic promotion spots in this 2011/12 season, can the Shrews finally convert the ultimate goal of League One football at the New Meadow? Over halfway through the season, we look at the reasons why fans can be extremely optimistic of their club’s chances.
Let’s wind the clock back a year, Shrewsbury Town had just come off the back of two successive defeats in the league to Morecambe & Bury and were seventh in the table, just inside the play-off zone on goal difference. However, they went on to finish as strong as any other team in the division, losing only five of their last twenty-four matches. But as we all know it wasn’t quite enough to propel them into League One automatically. This season has been strangely similar to the previous, a slow start followed by an early season surge approaching the festive period. This season is no exception, topped off with their emphatic 7-2 victory at league strugglers Northampton Town. They lie eight points off league leaders Crawley Town, and only seven points off current automatic promotion spot holders Southend & Cheltenham, and with an almost identical run of form to the end of this season to that of last, it could prove more successful with the only difference last year being that winning the league is still very much a possibility.
Point taken, Crawley Town seem to be running the show in League Two, followed by two very strong contenders in The Shrimpers & The Robins. Plus with Paolo Di Canio weaving his magic around the County Ground in league and cup competition, Swindon appear to be the only outsider to take on the chase, based on current form. But is it such a bad thing to steer clear of the hype that surrounds the season run-in, and instead be allowed to clearly focus on a second half surge to outshine the efforts of last season? I believe this is Graham Turner’s best approach on a game-by-game basis to bring success to this club. This would, however, require the Shrews scoring goals.
Picking up only two points out of a possible 9 over Christmas was ultimately an untimely underachievement, especially after battling for a point at high flying Cheltenham. The bad day at the office at Bradford was immediately followed by a disappointing point at home to the team they beat 7-2 just a month beforehand. Only two goals were scored in this time despite Turner altering the system & starting line-up, but this provides the horrible unwanted new year headache for the Shrews boss; the January Transfer Window ‘stick or twist’ game.
Of course, we’re only talking free transfers and potential loanees, but does Turner take the gamble of potentially unsettling the current squad or stick with what he has at his disposal and regret this decision by March after realising that a playoff spot is their best case scenario. And with key midfielder Nicky Wroe side-lined for six weeks, it is up to the boss to fill the gap with the best option available be it a hot prospect from the training ground or on the market.
This weekend’s FA Cup 3rd Round tie with Middlesbrough would have been a welcome fixture in more ways than one for the Shrews. It was a chance to answer necessary questions for the rest of the season, in search of a new system, a new stand-out player, a new potent goalscorer, or just how to score. Cup competitions this season have proven to be somewhat of a helpful distraction as we saw against Swansea and Arsenal in the Carling Cup. Even after the loss at the Emirates, it would still be a fan’s favourite performance of the season, which gave belief to everyone involved and was no coincidence that a run of good form continued long after this defeat. Perhaps the festive season known as the ‘busy & important’ period for English football became the distraction to start the slump, and maybe the ‘beauty of the FA Cup’ albeit lasting barely into January for the Shrews, might just have been what they needed to refocus and regain form.
You couldn’t have asked any more from the team at the Riversid…apart from a goal once again. It’s saying something when at half time, Turner would have sent the players out to win a game they deserve to rather than holding on for a lucrative replay, despite being behind at the break. It was a game they dominated, but Lionel Ainsworth’s glorious opportunity was evidence of the Shrews’ current lack of confidence in front of goal. However, the positives from this game are there for Turner’s taking into the next dressing room with the ultimate goal of emulating the amazing run that started this time last year.
Let’s hope it’s a great second half of the season, a great 2012, and that my case for much optimism is proven.
Written by Michael Aldridge, We Are Going Up’s Shrewsbury Town Blogger