Ahhh, what a difference a month or so makes. Shrewsbury Town have undergone an amazing transformation and it’s time to embrace our return as a big fish in the small pond of League 2 with a certain swagger after a ridiculously positive few weeks. Simply put, the board is definitely putting its money where it wasn’t last season, i.e. the team, and new manager Mickey Mellon is assembling a oddly good squad. I’m trying to keep myself grounded but it’s hard not to get excited about who we’ve signed.
Identifying the main problem of last season straight off the bat, we’ve only gone and signed some bloody strikers – permanently. Excuse me whilst I type that again. Permanently. Mmmmm, it’s like stroking a mink! Yes, there’s been no mention of any loan players so far and long may it continue for at least another three signings. For all the talk I’ve done over the last couple blogs about James Collins, it had to be him who turned up again didn’t it? Coming back from a bad season at Hibernian, I am more than confident he can pick up the 15+ goals a season he previously used to with us at League 2 level (and also Swindon in the third tier). There’s been no mention of any fee involved but I feel it’s more than likely that Hibs wanted rid as he was the only non-Celtic player to actually have a fee last season in Scotland and as such I imagine he was on reasonable to good wages. Their loss, our gain, back to a place where he’s loved and the team will be built for him.
Also, we’ve signed former Aberdeen stalwart Scott Vernon. Perhaps not as sexy sounding as Collie’s return, but as a big man for him to play off he’s not terrible. He’s like a lower league Berbatov in the sense he doesn’t seem to score regularly (his hauls of 9 goals last season included 2 hat tricks) but he’s just picked up a Scottish League Cup medal and the club were massively unlucky to miss out on second place on the final day. Similarly, Mellon’s gone after players with experience and a history of promotions. Ashley Vincent from Cheltenham Town has experience of going up automatically and through the play-offs and hopefully will outdo the disappointing Paul Parry on the wings. Defender Mark Ellis joins us from Crewe and he’s done it all – going from the Conference with Torquay to League 1 with the Railwaymen. I also can’t wait to see Nathaniel Knight-Percival. One of those Darren Ferguson signings from non-League to Peterborough, he has a year of experience in the Championship before being slightly frozen out last season. Mellon clearly sees something in him as a unpolished gem from the Conference to give him a roll, to go along with the rest of the signings who either have a healthy track record or are hungry and have a point to prove.
On top of shifting expensive dead weight like Tamika Mkandawire and other notable replacement signings like Australian James Wesolowski from Oldham (my unofficial mascot – we need an Ozzie to go up!), things seem awfully rosy. The head thinking part of me wonders “well, what’s the compromise here?” since we’ve made a damn good start. I do half wonder is our new glorious leader (Shrewsbury Town’s new CEO) Matt Williams having a say in regards to transfer policy? I’m sure Mellon has the final say and what not on signings but we’ve signed 20 year old winger James Caton who hasn’t really had a run in anyone’s first team anywhere and similarly young keeper Mark Halstead has only had games at Conference level and below. What’s the connection? Well our new youngsters both come from Blackpool’s books, where Williams was before joining us. I mean, they could be good enough for League 2 which is all I want from these signings at the end of the day but it does smack me as a bit odd and kinda “jobs for the boys”. Even Halstead admits Williams “put in a word for me” to Mellon.
Still I can’t complain too much because at worse we’ll have squad players for positions we need filling. Jayson Leutwiler, a keeper some Middlesbrough fans were sad to see go, needs competition whilst we have a couple of young keepers coming through our youth ranks again. For all the chaos apparently backstage last year, there’s been a few quotes from players keen to say how well the club is run and how much more professional it is compared to previous teams they’ve played for already which is always nice to hear. The loss of youth graduate and creative force Jon Taylor is a bit gutting but he’s been making noises about leaving on and off over the years and if the fee involved is in six figures which Peterborough seems to pay out for lower league players, it’s win-win all around. I have faith that if the money involved doesn’t go towards (or has been put to) Hibs for Collie then it’ll be reinvested into getting in at least three more quality signings for League 2.
I guess the overall question to answer then is “Can we do it?” – Can the squad and Mellon show their credentials and again prove they can do it at this level with another promotion? Well it’s hard to see them NOT doing it. There’s so many new, fresh players who are hungry and with points to prove. The squad also appears motivated and have been saying all the right things already which is nice. The only stumbling block could be the fact that these new signings have not really had the time to blend together yet, but you imagine Mellon will be getting the players in early enough to work together before any pre-season ball is kicked – learning about each other, weaknesses, strengths and so on.
Last month, it was all about the hope. This month, it’s all about the excitement. The signings are flowing in. The fixtures are out. The magic on paper is coming back to Shrewsbury Town. It’s the pessimistic side of me that’s the only thing holding me back from predicting an instant return to League 1, but it’s hard not to see it happening with Mellon’s experience and the squad put together so far.
Written by Terry Lewis, We Are Going Up’s Shrewsbury Town blogger
Terry tweets at @lewisonlife