Preview: Exeter City

There are some defeats that linger in the mind for days on end, there are some that are easier to move on from, last week’s loss against Cambridge was the latter. This team had been criticised for not creating enough, we certainly did that against Cambridge, the opposition just so happened to have scored more goals than we did.

While we should have taken at least a point last week, there has to be some concern that we conceded two fairly soft goals that saw us defeated. The danger now is that one unfortunate result last week could easily, and quickly, be the start of a poor run of form given our run of fixtures over the next week – the league leaders, followed by a trip to Swindon where we never win, and then a fairly strong Crewe side, who also happen to be a bit of a bogey team for us as well.

I would imagine that over the next week we’ll get a truer sense over whether our strong defensive record thus far has been down to good play on our part, or the result of having played some of the weaker teams at this level. While we’ve conceded few goals, we haven’t been put under the cosh for extended periods in games thus far. If we can continue to avoid the issue as we have been this season over the next week, we’ll stand in good stead, however, this could be where the cracks start to appear.

Possible Line-Up

On the positive side, it is encouraging that we seem to have become more fluent in attack over the past few weeks. The inclusion of Duckens Nazon into the side, and in a central position, has added something to the team – not least the sense that he draws some of the attention away from Jodi Jones, who has been excellent of late. Additionally, Liam Kelly seems to have taken the handbrake off in recent weeks, adding some dynamism to the centre of the park, and Peter Vincenti has been getting in better positions too.

Not only because of the attacking improvements we’ve made in recent weeks, but also because of our injury list, Mark Robins is unlikely to change the side at all. Stuart Beavon is probably the only player in that starting XI who is underperforming, however, his work-rate could prove an asset against an Exeter side who’ll look to get on the ball against us.

Last Time We Met

Although you have to go back some time for our last league meeting with Exeter City, we did face them a few years ago in the then Johnstone’s Paint Trophy. It was during our first season back at the Ricoh Arena where we were in the midst of a run of defeats when Steven Pressley gave run-outs to some of our most promising young talents – James Maddison, George Thomas and Jack Finch – and an Aaron Phillips brace saw us run-out comfortable victors.

The game was also notable for seeing Ollie Watkins – Exeter’s star player of last season and now a regular in the Championship with Brentford – score his first goal for the club.

How Are They Doing?

Exeter’s run to the play-off final last season was seen by many (well, at least me) as something of an outlier, a case of a club on limited resources stumbling across some stand-out talents and riding the crest of that wave for all it was worth. Despite losing in disappointing fashion to Blackpool, Exeter have gone from strength-to-strength this season and are not only currently top of the division but are on an ominous run of six league wins in a row.

That is despite losing their two star attacking players from last season in Ollie Watkins and David Wheeler, and, to a lesser extent, the inconsistent winger Joel Grant and wunderkind Ethan Ampadu – who made his debut for Chelsea this week. A club of Exeter’s resources is always going to find it hard to rebuild, but Paul Tisdale deserves immense credit for having done it almost seamlessly this season.

Despite signing target-man Jayden Stockley for a club record fee, along with the talented ex-Crystal Palace defensive midfielder Hiram Boateng, on the final day of the transfer window, Paul Tisdale has kept the starting line-up fairly similar to last season. Crucially, League Two goal machine Reuben Reid has been kept fit despite his reputation for being injury-prone – he now leads the league with seven goals already this season. In addition, wide men Jake Taylor and Lee Holmes provide Exeter with two direct wingers on either side of the pitch who are capable of chipping in with the odd goal.

Possible Line-Up

In defence, Exeter have the excellent Jordan Moore-Taylor who is one of the most adept defenders at this level in passing out from the back. Behind him, there is Christy Pym in goal who has won caps at youth-level for England and is developing into one of the best goalkeepers at this level of football. Exeter also have the sturdiness and experience of the likes of Troy Brown and Craig Woodman, as well as the experienced Dean Moxey – who is yet to feature this season.

While Exeter are in incredible form at the moment, they have been fairly open in their style of play. It’s one of those games where if we can grab the early goal, there will be chances to hit our opponents repeatedly on the break. If Exeter score first though, you’d wonder whether we’d have the ability to get back into the game.

Prediction

Exeter are ominous opposition for us, they’re riding the crest of the wave and a victory at the Ricoh Arena for them would be a coup de grace to crystallise the good feeling around the club. However, I wonder whether Robins’ pragmatism, his ability to instill a good defensive shape and set a counter-attacking game-plan could prove to be an asset for us here. This is one of few games this season against an opponent at the Ricoh Arena who’ll set out to bring the game to us.

Nonetheless I am fairly tentative about our chances for this game, I have this down as a 2-1 loss.

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Preview: Cambridge United

This time last week there was a danger that the bottom could have fallen out of our season. Without a win, or even a goal, in three league games, things could easily have taken a turn for the worse had that form continued into back-to-back home games. Two wins later, and the confidence that this is a team that can win promotion has returned.

There have been two important elements in our last two wins. The first has been the return of Lee Burge in goal – or perhaps, a lack of a goalkeeping error to have handed the opposition a lead to defend. The second has been, quite simply, the taking of chances at the other end of the pitch.

Possible Line-Up

It’s still too early to say with confidence that our strong defensive record this season has been solely down to the players and manager and not, at least in part, been helped by playing some of the more toothless sides at this level thus far. However, if we can keep this up, it’s only going to take one moment of brilliance, or luck, to decide most games in our favour – which is what we saw against both Port Vale and Carlisle, where we didn’t particularly sustain an attacking threat, but took our chances when they came.

With Duckens Nazon having only suffered cramp against Carlisle on Tuesday, Mark Robins only really has to pick between Rod McDonald and Tom Davies in central defence. While Davies won man of the match on Tuesday night, his lack of mobility and composure on the ball still looked a weakness that could have led to mistakes against better opponents. There may be an argument for pairing Davies with McDonald, but that would be harsh on Jordan Willis who has been quietly solid this season, so I could see McDonald making an immediate return to the starting line-up.

Last Time We Met

It was one of the most scarring games of last season when we travelled to Cambridge United in the FA Cup. The initial bounce that had come with Mark Venus’ caretaker spell had died out, with the manager quickly entering the phase of random tactical and personnel changes that characterises a the final days of a managerial reign. Cambridge, and Luke Berry in particular, were there to punish that lack of continuity and confidence, running out comfortable 4-0 winners, despite being in the league below.

How Are They Doing?

Despite running out comfortable winners back in December, Cambridge endured a frustrating and inconsistent campaign under Shaun Derry. Although it’s early days still, this season has begun in a similar vein and if Derry continues to struggle to string together a run of results to get the U’s into the top seven, he could find himself out of a job before the end of the campaign.

Derry’s task this season has been made more difficult by the sale of, by far, the star player of last season, Luke Berry, to Luton Town. Berry scored an incredible 17 league goals from midfield last year, and leaves this Cambridge United side looking much less dynamic, even though there was a sense that Shaun Derry didn’t quite know the best position in which to use Berry.

However, the addition of ex-Carlisle United talisman Jabo Ibehre in attack means that Cambridge won’t be lacking in attacking threat. Ibehre has mainly had to content himself with a role as an impact sub, with the even bigger and stronger Uche Ikpeazu playing more of a central role as the focal point up front in the opening weeks of the season. However, since Berry’s departure in the final days of the transfer window, Shaun Derry has looked to partner the two powerful strikers together.

As for other attacking threats, winger Piero Mingoia is one of the better wide players at this level. An industrious player with good delivery and capable of chipping in with the odd goal, he could be someone to give either Jack Grimmer or Chris Stokes a bit of a headache. Attacking midfielder Jevani Brown has stepped up from non-league comfortably since signing this summer. Additionally, the rapid Harrison Dunk will be a threat from left-back.

Primarily though, Cambridge are a side that looks to keep clean sheets before nicking something at the other end – similar to us. Both as a player and now as a manager, Shaun Derry has a reputation for cynical play – time-wasting, niggly fouls, all the dark arts in the book – which can make his side incredibly tough to break down once they take the lead, however, it has led to frustrations from Cambridge fans that Derry is overly negative in the way he sets his teams up.

The battle of the midfield bastards – Gary Deegan and Michael Doyle – is going to be an interesting feature of the game. While in defence, Cambridge have one of the best right-backs in the division in Brad Halliday, along with two experienced centre-backs in Greg Taylor and Leon Legge, with the even more experienced David Forde in goal.

Prediction

This is another game for us that is unlikely to be a spectacle of high-quality football. Both teams are fairly similar in their defensive focus and both are coming into this game off the back of wins in midweek. Unlike Port Vale and Carlisle, Cambridge will look to stifle the likes of Jodi Jones and Duckens Nazon, which is likely to make it even more difficult for us to create chances.

Unless there is a glaring error in either defence, this game has 0-0 written all over it.

Preview: Carlisle United

Getting the win against Port Vale was all-important after our recent run. Despite making hard work of it – both in not taking the several opportunities we had to put the result beyond doubt, and the nervy final 10 minutes after Rod McDonald’s red card – it should be viewed as a solid performance from which we can build on.

Things still aren’t quite clicking in attack, and we were lucky on Saturday that Port Vale were the first team in a while not to double-up on Jodi Jones, but there were some encouraging signs from that game that maybe we will find that fluency soon. The goal itself, despite being a moment of individual brilliance in the finish, came from a good period of possession for us. Furthermore, we created some good chances in the second-half which could easily have made the result more comfortable.

Just how important that result against Port Vale is depends on how much confidence that gives us going into a fairly tough run of games coming up over the next few weeks. In particular, this home game against Carlisle is a chance to further assert the home advantage that we’ll need to ensure that we’re in the promotion race at the end of the season.

The loss of Rod McDonald to suspension is a big blow, not only is he a more composed presence in defence than either Tom Davies or Dominic Hyam, but his ability to bring the ball out from the back is an under-rated part of his game. Given that the nature of many games this season will be opponents sitting off us, having defenders who are comfortable in possession is all-important. With the decidedly less-composed in possession Tom Davies likeliest to come into the side, we could find it tougher than we already do to build attacks from the back.

Elsewhere, Robins’ selection is likely to be influenced by just how bad the injuries that Marc McNulty and Tony Andreu sustained against Port Vale are. As mentioned earlier, Stuart Beavon coming in for McNulty might actually enhance the side as Beavon is more suited to hassling defenders and chasing balls down the channels that Robins asks of his lone striker. Andreu’s injury could open the door for Duckens Nazon to play through the middle, where he’s much more effective. Potentially, those two injuries could make us a better side, although it would leave us with little on the bench.

Last Time We Met

Our last meeting with Carlisle United came at Sixfields when we were in the midst of the post-Leon Clarke collapse that nearly saw us relegated from League One. Despite Franck Moussa giving us the lead against the Cumbrians, two second-half goals saw the away side take three points to enhance their own survival prospects – although they were eventually relegated from League One that season anyway.

How Are They Doing?

Current Carlisle United manager Keith Curle was appointed a few months into their first season back in League Two and oversaw gradual improvements that put Carlisle into the play-offs last year, where they were defeated in the semi-finals by Exeter City. Nonetheless, Carlisle’s form since around January when they sold star striker Charlie Wyke to Bradford has been abysmal at times and they have endured a mixed start to this season, winning two and drawing one of their opening six games.

In addition to losing Wyke in January, Carlisle lost a good keeper at this level in Mark Gillespie on a free transfer to Walsall and one of the division’s best strikers in Jabo Ibehre to Cambridge United over the summer. With a fairly underwhelming set of incoming transfers over the summer, there was an additional sense around the club heading into the campaign that this could be a really tough season.

However, that perhaps ignored some of the talent still on the books – particularly winger Nicky Adams, who is one of the best wide players at this level. Carlisle have a strong set of options in midfield for League Two, with the rapid winger Reggie Lambe, the box-to-box Jason Kennedy, the energetic Mike Jones, the ball-playing Luke Joyce, and playmaker Jamie Devitt.

Possible Line-Up

Up front, Carlisle have a few useful options in ex-Sky Blues striker Shaun Miller, the pacey Hallam Hope and target man Richie Bennett. While, in particular, Miller and Hope have shown at times in their careers that they can be dangerous strikers at this level, they’ve lacked the consistency to be convincing options.

Defence has consistently been an issue for Carlisle under Keith Curle, with high-scoring games at both ends having been a feature of his tenure at the club. A back four of Tom Miller, Tom Parkes, Mark Ellis, and Danny Grainger should be reasonably solid at this level, but the manager seems to lack the organisational capability to make that as effective a unit as it should be. Furthermore, the loan signing of Brentford’s Jack Bonham has led to several glaring goalkeeping errors in the opening weeks of the season.

Prediction

While Carlisle haven’t started the season in particularly blistering form, the quality they have in midfield makes this no less of a difficult game for us. Nonetheless, this game should be viewed as an opportunity to build on Saturday’s win, but we’ll need to sustain more of an attacking threat for longer in the game to ensure that we’re not relying on another moment of Jodi Jones magic to nick the game.

Being slightly pessimistic, I’m going to have this down as a 0-0 draw.

*Due to work commitments this preview was written on 10/09/2017 and thus any up-to-date team news has not been included.

Preview: Port Vale

We continue to splutter. Both struggling to create chances and take the few that come our way. At least there wasn’t a major goalkeeping rick against Chesterfield, and at least we didn’t lose another game.

It’s very early in the season to be too concerned about anything at the moment, a couple of victories or defeats can easily change the way we view performances. Against Chesterfield for example, had McNulty taken one of the several chances he had, we would be talking about a solid away win rather than a concerning draw against bottom of the division (who, as if to highlight the futility of league positions this earlier in the season, then moved out of the bottom two as a result of that draw). I seem to remember Mark Robins making a similarly slow start to his first spell in charge of the club before things all of a sudden fell into place.

The issue for Mark Robins at the moment is clearly how to form a fluent attacking unit out of the options available. Individually, we have some useful attacking players, but they are yet to demonstrate that they can function as a team-unit. The hope is that our defensive solidity will continue to hold out and eventually things will click into gear up front and we’ll become a ruthlessly efficient winning unit – a la that team Robins put together in his first spell.

Possible Line-Up

As for the team selection for this meeting with Port Vale, the back five looks pretty much settled, although if Rod McDonald is back from injury, he’ll replace Tom Davies in central defence. Robins also appears set on having Michael Doyle and Liam Kelly as the central midfield partnership, so that will stay in place. Jodi Jones is the only direct runner in our attack, so he’ll stay in place. McNulty is the only out-and-out ‘goalscorer’ in the side, so he’ll stay in place.

Essentially Robins has left himself with a selection between either Tony Andreu or Stuart Beavon to play in just behind McNulty, and either Duckens Nazon or Peter Vincenti out wide. Personally, I think we’d look better with Nazon playing in behind McNulty, although there is an issue of who is there to hold the ball up, and with Andreu playing in a deeper central position instead of one of Kelly or Doyle. However, Robins is a pragmatic manager, so I don’t think the starting XI for this game is going to be as risky as the one I’d like to see.

Last Time We Met

Confidence was at an all-time low heading into our last clash with Port Vale, back in March of this year. Mark Robins’ return to the club had failed to deliver an impact and relegation looked set to be confirmed within weeks. Somehow though, we produced a really composed performance, buoyed by two fantastic goals – first, a speculative 30-yard lob from Kyel Reid, second, an impudent backheel from Kwame Thomas – we cruised to victory, despite a subdued Port Vale mustering a late goal.

How Are They Doing?

Port Vale were relegated alongside us at the end of last season, admirably taking things until the final day of the campaign and drawing 0-0 with promotion-challengers Fleetwood Town. Their relegation was largely the result of a failed gamble on a largely foreign squad and manager with little experience of English football and manager Michael Brown – who took over as caretaker back in December – has had to spend the summer building an almost entirely new squad.

While Brown has been put in a difficult position, his squad-building over the summer has been more than a little chaotic, leaving a fairly unbalanced squad. There are currently six wingers on the books, but just three central midfielders, additionally, they lined up with a back four comprised entirely of centre-backs in their most recent game.

The, quite literally, biggest player to look out for in the Port Vale side will be club stalwart Tom Pope in attack. A classic lower-league target man, Pope’s physicality and ability to hold the ball up has been a key part of Port Vale’s play this season, complementing the pace they have due to the sheer number of wingers in their squad.

Of those wingers, Cristian Montano could prove the biggest thorn in our side due to the combination of pace and end product he demonstrated at this level with Bristol Rovers two seasons ago. In addition, Ben Whitfield, on loan from Bournemouth, has really caught the eye this season with his technical skill, while Marcus Harness, a Coventry-born Burton loanee, has looked both quick and industrious thus far.

Possible Line-Up

Elsewhere, Nathan Smith in defence is someone who clearly shouldn’t be playing in League Two. Not the tallest or even the quickest of defenders, but Smith is an incredibly composed customer with excellent positioning who often carries the impression of being able to deal with opponents without breaking a sweat. He’ll be alongside the experienced Antony Kay as a central defensive partnership.

Another key player for Michael Brown’s Port Vale side is Brown’s former midfield colleague at Sheffield United and Leeds, Michael Tonge. The vastly experienced playmaker impressed in the early weeks of the season with his set-piece deliveries proving to be a key element in their opening day win over Crawley Town and as part of an ill-fated comeback against Wycombe the week later.

Prediction

This game should really be seen as an opportunity to kick-start our season after our recent poor run. Port Vale’s are a side similarly struggling to create chances as we are, and you would hope that would allow Robins and the players to be more proactive in taking the game to the opposition. However, there is pressure from the stands for us to go out and win this game, and in a fairly convincing manner – Port Vale don’t have the same pressure, despite their own poor start.

I’ll think we’ll come away with a win, but it won’t be a pretty game of football. 1-0 to the Sky Blues.

Preview: Chesterfield

It was an odd game against Shrewsbury on Tuesday night. The first-half performance was bad, but not bad enough to deserve being two goals down. The second-half performance was better, but not better enough to deserve scoring two goals. Then the game was won by Shrewsbury with a brilliant free-kick.

What was apparent against Shrewsbury, as has been apparent in our past few games, has been a lack of intensity in our attacking play. While Doyle and Kelly protect the defence well, they slow the play down too much, allowing opposing defences to re-set and mark our forwards out of the game. The improvement against Shrewsbury came when the composed Callum Maycock and the forward-thinking Tony Andreu were paired together. It seems unlikely Robins will allow that partnership to develop heading into this upcoming league game against Chesterfield.

If Robins isn’t going to pick a dynamic midfield, finding the right combination in the front four positions becomes vital. A creative wide player was probably the main missing ingredient from our transfer business, but Robins now has to find a way in which our best attacking players – Jodi Jones, Tony Andreu, Marc McNulty and Duckens Nazon – can function as an effective unit.

Possible Line-Up

In defence, Rod McDonald’s return would be welcome, after two defensive performances from the side lacking in authority. While McDonald is hardly a Ben Turner-style dominant centre-back, he is the closest to that type of player we have at the moment – without having seen what new signing Tom Davies can offer. Although, the addition of Davies may well suggest McDonald is out for longer than expected.

The big decision for this game though is whether Lee Burge continues in goal. Despite conceding three against Shrewsbury, Burge came out of the game pretty much unscathed and currently seems less of a risk than Liam O’Brien, given the latter’s recent high-profile errors. It would be a surprise should Robins restore O’Brien to the side.

Last Time We Met

There was hope heading into our previous meeting with Chesterfield that Russell Slade was the right man to keep us in League One. After being unlucky to take three points against Bolton in the previous game, with Stuart Beavon catching the eye, a managerless and struggling Chesterfield side seemed the perfect opportunity to jump out of the relegation zone and really get our survival bid going.

In the event, we saw a depressing sign of what was to come under Slade with the team making little attempt to pass the ball, instead hoofing it up to an ineffectual Marcus Tudgay and a fatigued Stuart Beavon. A late goal decided the game and, less than a month after arriving at the club, signalled the beginning of the end for Russell Slade.

How Are They Doing?

Despite earning a confidence-boosting win in that relegation six-pointer back in January, Chesterfield somehow managed to not only be relegated, but finish below us in the table. Credit for that achievement has to go to manager Gary Caldwell, who was appointed in the week after that game and won just two of the remaining 18 games of the season.

In spite of some poor moves in the transfer market and even more questionable tactical decisions, Chesterfield’s board stuck by Caldwell and entrusted him to build the team that would get them out of League Two at the first attempt. Thus far though, that faith looks to have been somewhat misplaced, with the Spireites winning just one of their opening four league games to leave the club bottom of the division and leaving many fans completely disillusioned with the running of the club (there are also bigger issues relating to current owner Dave Allen that don’t fit into the scope of this preview).

However, there are signs that Chesterfield are in a slightly false position despite this poor start to the campaign and questions over the acumen of their manager. In sticking to Caldwell’s ethos of passing football, Chesterfield have created a lot of chances over their opening few games and have been unlucky to an extent not to have scored more goals and taken more points.

Experienced target-man Chris O’Grady in attack looks a high-calibre signing at this level of football, given that he’s spent much of the past four or five years in the Championship. His role is as the focal point of an attack to allow younger, more dynamic players space to hurt the opposition.

In that regard, box-to-box midfielder Jordan Sinnott has really caught the eye thus far this season. After spending last year at then-National League North side Halifax Town, Sinnott has stepped effortlessly up to Football League standard, with his drive from the centre of the park already a key part of Chesterfield’s play.

Possible Line-Up

Two young creative players with links to Sheffield United also will need to be kept quiet. Both Louis Reed and Diego de Girolamo were tipped for big things at Bramall Lane before struggling to establish themselves as regulars. Reed is a jaw-droppingly gifted central midfield schemer who was being linked with the likes of Tottenham before picking up a few injuries. De Girolamo is more of a forward with an end product than Reed and has impressed in loan spells at this level in previous years before being snaffled up by Bristol City’s development squad.

Chesterfield’s style of play will mean that they’ll take risks and leave gaps at the back, which is a sea change from previous opponents. However, in Ian Evatt and Tommy Lee, they do have a defender and a goalkeeper of proven quality at this level and higher who could prove stubborn customers should Chesterfield take the lead.

Prediction

Like Newport and Yeovil in recent weeks, Chesterfield are a side that hasn’t had too much problem scoring goals, but have struggled to keep them out. What we’ve seen is that despite our defensive solidity, our more free-flowing opponents have had the edge as a result of their belief that they can score goals.

Unlike Yeovil and Newport though, Chesterfield are likely to be much more open. Hopefully too, the goals we scored against Shrewsbury on Tuesday night will give us that belief in our attacking play that we’ve needed – especially after falling behind.

However, I think Chesterfield may well end up getting that win they’re in desperate need of, by 2-1.

Preview: Shrewsbury Town

After slipping to back-to-back defeats in League Two, we return to a competition that delivered the club one of its greatest days in recent history. However, given the farcical nature of the Checkatrade Trophy, this game feels more important for the opportunities it gives Mark Robins to change things up than it does the beginning of a defence of silverware.

Following another high-profile gaffe from Liam O’Brien in goal at the weekend, this game comes at a good time to drop the keeper without the same level of significance that it would have for a league game. If Lee Burge can came through this game without having made any major errors of his own, he’s quietly back in the side. If Burge doesn’t pass the test, it doesn’t cost us league points and O’Brien stays in the side.

Possible Line-Up (Click to Enlarge)

Arguably the more pressing concern for Mark Robins than the goalkeeping situation though is our attacking play. While goalkeeping mistakes turned the past two games against us, our inability to create and take chances was the reason why those mistakes cost us points.

Despite the calls from some fans for Robins to sign Carl Baker and another striker before the window closes, we really do have plenty of options in attack. By my reckoning, we have nine first-team players to fill the four attacking slots in the side. The likes of Tony Andreu, Jodi Jones, Duckens Nazon and Marc McNulty have demonstrated both for us and at other clubs that they should be too good for League Two, it’s about Mark Robins figuring out the best combinations and right shape to play them in.

Last Time We Met

A goalless draw at Shrewsbury back in March was notable mainly because it was Russell Slade’s final game in charge of the club. Ironically, it was that it was a better standard of performance than we had seen throughout much of Slade’s reign that was the final nail in the coffin for him. Injuries had forced Slade to utilise Ben Stevenson and Gael Bigirimana in midfield, and the gulf in quality between those two and Slade’s preferred options of Kevin Foley, Andy Rose and Callum Reilly demonstrated just how poor our soon-to-be former manager’s judgement of what was required to win games of football.

How Are They Doing?

After struggling for much of last season, Shrewsbury Town have started the new season in League One in fine form. Unlike Russell Slade, Shrewsbury boss Paul Hurst very much knows a good player when he sees one, and what it takes to get the best out of them. Despite making the majority of his signings from non-league, League Two and some very raw Championship youngsters in the loan market, Hurst can not only exploit gaps in the market, but seems to be able to figure out specific roles for his players in order to maximise their strengths and minimise their limitations.

Shrewsbury have won three out of their opening four league games – drawing 1-1 with Oxford on Saturday – with their six goals coming from five different players, demonstrating their lack of star players and the emphasis Hurst places on the overall team effort. Ahead of this Checkatrade Trophy tie, the former Grimsby manager, is likely to ring the changes and allow some of his fringe players an opportunity to stake a claim for a more regular place.

Possible Line-Up (Click to Enlarge)

That makes my task of picking out Shrewsbury players to keep an eye on difficult. Nonetheless, Jon Nolan, if selected, in midfield has really caught the eye this season since arriving from Chesterfield. Having played under Hurst at Grimsby, the Shrewsbury boss clearly knew what he was getting from Nolan, a creative, driving presence in midfield with the quality to perhaps even play in the Championship in the coming seasons.

With a surfeit of attacking options, Shrewsbury are likely to give the likes of Wolves youngster Niall Ennis, former Kidderminster winger Arthur Gnahoua, and Swansea winger Daniel James a run-out. Shrewsbury look weakest in defence, where the inconsistent Aristote Nsiala and full-back Mat Sadler have often been used as a central defensive partnership.

Prediction

The nature of this competition and the likelihood that both sides will be massively changed makes it difficult to predict. While Shrewsbury, as the higher division side, our favourites, I don’t think there’ll be too much to pick between two teams likely to be going through the motions.

I’ll put this down as a 1-1 draw.

Preview: Yeovil Town

It’s too early into the season to really be reading too much into the last week’s defeat – it was, after all, effectively decided by a goalkeeping blunder – but it wasn’t so far below the level of performance we’d seen at times this season to be able to brush it off as a one-off.

The question is whether the balance of the starting XI is quite right at the moment. Players like Peter Vincenti, Michael Doyle and Chris Stokes are undoubtedly useful players to have, but against Newport, we needed more players like Ben Stevenson, Tony Andreu and Duckens Nazon on the pitch for the 90 minutes to open the game up against determined opposition.

The plus side, is that we’ve seen that we have players available who can add the dynamism and creativity we’ve lacked at times this season, the question is whether Robins can find room for enough of them in his tactics without going too far the opposite way. In this upcoming game against a defensively porous Yeovil side, this could be an opportunity to unleash a more creative line-up.

Which players and where they are used is the selection headache for Mark Robins this week. Tony Andreu made the most compelling case to start this game after he injected from the bench some much needed thrust to a lifeless performance against Newport. While his inclusion will probably necessitate the dropping of a striker, Andreu’s mobility, drive, and, most importantly, creativity adds a missing element to the side in place of a strike partnership of Beavon and McNulty that simply hasn’t worked thus far.

Possible Line-Up (Click to Enlarge)

Of the two strikers, Beavon is probably the most likely to be dropped given that McNulty is more likely to thrive off Andreu’s creative presence. Given that this is an away game, I doubt that Stevenson and Nazon will be started ahead of the more solid Liam Kelly and Peter Vincenti, despite poor performances last week. It would possibly be a mistake to go from an overly solid starting XI to a more flair one a week later.

There is a decision to be made over whether to back Liam O’Brien in goal after last week’s rick against Newport, or to restore Lee Burge to the starting line-up. While the intention this summer was clearly for O’Brien to be Burge’s back-up, O’Brien has been solid enough since coming into the side to warrant his run in the side prior to the error. Unless Robins is certain that Burge is a massive improvement on O’Brien, it sets a dangerous precedent to drop a keeper after one high-profile error and thus O’Brien should be given at least one chance to show he’s learned from his mistake.

Last Time We Met

Our last meeting in the league against Yeovil was a dismal 0-0 draw at Huish Park in the final days of Steven Pressley’s reign as manager, featuring a penalty miss from Gary Madine, which saw us sink further into relegation danger.

More recently, we faced Yeovil in the then Johnstone’s Paint Trophy during Tony Mowbray’s first full season in charge. A heavily-changed Sky Blues side laboured to a 0-0 draw and a defeat on penalties away to Yeovil. It was a game probably most notable for being the much-loved Ivor Lawton’s one and only appearance for the club and also for a cameo from none other than Lateef Elford-Alliyu.

How Are They Doing?

Despite having been in the Championship as recently as the 2013/14 season, Yeovil Town have quickly settled down in recent seasons into a status as perennial strugglers in League Two. An 8-2 defeat to Luton Town on the opening day looms large over the club, and although they recovered a week later to beat Accrington 3-2, they blew 2-0 and 3-1 leads last week at Forest Green to lose 4-3, suggesting that their mentality is still fragile.

For manager Darren Way, it has been a struggle over the past few months to find the right balance between defence and attack. Having started last season so well with a counter-attacking game based on the skills of Otis Khan and Ryan Hedges (now at Barnsley) out wide, losing those two saw the team struggle for an attacking threat and Way subsequently made the team overly defensive in order to eke out the results required to survive. However, in an attempt to restore an attacking threat over the summer, that defensive solidity has been completely lost.

Possible Line-Up (Click to Enlarge)

On the plus side for Yeovil, their attacking play has been pretty impressive this season. The return of the aforementioned Otis Khan to full fitness has supplied the team with a pacey, industrious and direct wide player capable of getting among the goals. Khan forms a front three with lower-league journeyman maverick Francois Zoko and pacey Southampton loanee Olufela Olomola. Thus far this season, Khan has two goals, and both Zoko and Olomola have three.

Ex-Luton and Crystal Palace winger Jake Gray is another to look out for, although he has been sacrificed by Darren Way in an attempt to find balance between defence and attack. Yeovil also brought in former Sky Blues midfielder James Bailey, who impressed on loan here and has subsequently seen his career decline in ever-decreasing circles.

While Yeovil’s defence is clearly an issue, goalkeeper Artur Krysiak has been a good player at this level in the past and was an important part of when Yeovil were tighter at the back last season. Left-back/centre-back Nathan Smith is similarly another decent performer at this level who was solid as part of Yeovil’s defence last season.

Prediction

As mentioned earlier, Yeovil’s defensive shortcomings could make this a good opportunity for us to find some fluency in attack. However, Yeovil’s attacking threat leaves the danger that they could catch us cold and score enough goals to render their defensive ineptitude moot. Additionally, their manager’s seemingly increasingly desperate attempts to find the right balance could see them set-up in a way completely unanticipated by Robins. While this is clearly a winnable game for us, there are still reasons to be wary of our opponents.

Nonetheless, I still feel that there is more than enough quality within our ranks to overcome Yeovil Town and this is a game I expect us to win. As for a scoreline, 3-1.