Tuesday played out in predictable fashion, a baffling team selection from Russell Slade, a disjointed performance, soft goals conceded and a too-little-too-late fightback. Just seeing James Vaughan and Tom Pope on Bury’s team-sheet was enough to know that defeat was certain. We appear to be heading into League Two via a complete capitulation.
Russell Slade has this week attempted to make his case for staying at the club longer-term by completely disavowing himself from any responsibility from his results. Considering that he was given room for maneuver in the transfer market in January, both in bringing in several of the players he wanted and not having key players sold, the excuses don’t really wash – also, the fact that he had money to spend at Charlton and produced an abysmal team this season too. It is a curious approach anyway because he seems to be making his case to the owners by criticising the way they’ve run the club, perhaps suggesting that his statements are about salvaging his reputation, rather than his job here.
For someone who was supposed to instil defensive discipline, you would have thought that he would know the merits of sticking with a settled defence. Instead, he over-reacted to the Swindon result by playing four centre-backs across the back four and then had to correct his error at half-time in bringing on Ryan Haynes and Dion Kelly-Evans, having already lost the game.
Russell Slade has talked about tactics this week like someone who has googled ‘what is the best football tactic?’ It’s looking more and more like he doesn’t set the team up based on the strengths of the players at his disposal, rather that he’s trying different tactics and different players in the hope that something will eventually work. It’s why it’s hard to believe that he’s capable of laying the foundations to rebuild the club in League Two.
As for this upcoming game against Shrewsbury, I imagine that he’ll stick with pretty much the same team that ended the game at Bury, we did win the second-half 1-0 after all. The main intrigue to this game is whether a defeat would expedite Slade’s departure from the club, or whether the owners would be keener to avoid the negative headlines that come from sacking a manager and will allow Slade to muddle on for as long as possible.
Last Time We Met
It was the first home game of the season when we last played Shrewsbury, when there was not exactly hope that this would be our year, but the belief that the squad would be strengthened over August and we wouldn’t be relegation fodder. The game itself was a fairly encouraging display on our part against a Shrewsbury side packed with hatchet men such as Gary Deegan and Adam El-Abd, who probably relished the opportunity to kick the living daylights out of a young and inexperienced team. We probably had done enough to win the game, but a 0-0 draw wasn’t exactly a surprise for a team clearly still three or four players short.
How Are They Doing?
Shrewsbury’s season turned on the somewhat surprise decision of manager Micky Mellon to leave the club in October for National League side Tranmere Rovers. That potential crisis proved to be an opportunity to bring in Grimsby manager Paul Hurst to the club, and he has overseen a gradual transformation of the team from a bunch of cloggers destined for relegation to a more hard-working and dynamic unit who look to be comfortably sailing away from danger.
What’s been remarkable about Shrewsbury’s transformation under Paul Hurst has been that their transfer activity has been distinctly underwhelming but incredibly effective, demonstrating what a difference a manager with a game-plan and eye for talent can make on a modest budget. They’ve made two categories of signing under Hurst, the first has been bringing in fairly average League Two players such as defender Aristote Nsiala and winger Alex Rodman, the other has been loan signings of fairly inexperienced forwards such as Tyler Roberts, Stephen Humphrys and Freddie Ladapo – basically, the kind of signings that make you question why your club is trying to do things on the cheap.
With former Port Vale forward Louis Dodds also finding form under Paul Hurst, Shrewsbury can be devastating up front on their day. Tyler Roberts has been the most impressive loan signing, the West Brom youngster doesn’t quite fit in as either a winger or an out-and-out striker, but his pace, directness and skill on the ball has made him a real handful in attack, having previously struggled to get into the team at Oxford earlier this season. Ladapo is a big, powerful striker who still needs to hone his technique, reminiscent of Dan Agyei. Stephen Humphrys is reputedly a big prospect at Fulham and seems a good mix Ladapo’s raw power and Roberts’ skill on the ball.
Elsewhere, we can expect Shrewsbury to be hard-working and competitive all over the pitch. They did concede three against Charlton in mid-week, demonstrating that there are holes to exploit if we can put them under pressure. That defensive brittleness is perhaps a result of playing two attacking full-backs in Junior Brown and Jack Grimmer with a defensive pairing of Nsiala, who as earlier stated was fairly average in League Two before arriving in January, and Mat Sadler, who has been a full-back for most of his career.
I don’t think there’s much more to write other than Shrewsbury are heavy favourites for this game, and given that they’re not entirely away from danger yet, they may well be motivated to really attack this game to take another leap towards safety. The question is how motivated are we going to be to put up a fight? I’m guessing this will be a 3-0 defeat.