The new league season is fast approaching, host of Express FM’s Football Hour and Pompey Live pundit Jake Smith takes a look at Shrewsbury Town as part of his club-by-club preview
Intro: Shrewsbury Town FC were formed in 1886 but were not elected into the Football League until 1950, by which point Pompey had already claimed one FA Cup and two top-flight titles.
Since then, the Shrews have competed largely in the lower three tiers of English football, with one season spent in the Conference Premier (2003/04). They also, as a result of their location and how close the town is to Wales, used to take part in the Welsh Cup – winning it on six different occasions.
Up until 2007, Shrewsbury played their home matches at Gay Meadow, situated on the banks of the River Severn. Since then, they have called New Meadow their home, which has been classed as a UEFA Category One stadium.
Shrewsbury have twice reached the Quarter-Finals of The FA Cup, once managed to get to the Semi-Finals of the League Cup and have, on two separate occasions, been runners-up of the EFL Trophy.
The club’s last league title came in 1994, when they topped the old Division 3, which is now known as League Two. Their current spell in League One began in 2015, following promotion from League Two as runners-up to Burton Albion, who won the league title.
Home Ground: New Meadow (Also known as Montgomery Waters Meadow for sponsorship purposes), Shrewsbury (Shropshire), 202 miles (by car) from Fratton Park – Capacity: 9,875
2019/20 Table Position: 15th (League One) – 41 points after 34 games with an average of 1.21 points per-game.
Overall Head-To-Head Record: Shrewsbury Town Wins: 10 – Draws: 3 – Portsmouth Wins: 14
Previous Meeting With Pompey: Portsmouth 2-0 Shrewsbury Town, 15th February 2020, League One
2020/21 Fixture Dates:
Saturday 12th September, 2020 – Fratton Park
Saturday 27th March, 2021 – New Meadow
Manager: Former Wolverhampton Wanderers defender Sam Ricketts, who captained the side under Blues boss Kenny Jackett during his time at Molineux, will once again be in the opposing dugout to his former gaffer.
The 38-year-old, who also ran out for Swansea City under Jackett’s management between 2004 and 2006, was a member of the Wolves squad that won the 2014 League One title with a record 103 points, which still stands today.
Since his appointment at Shrewsbury nearly two years ago, Ricketts has managed 23 wins from 79 competitive fixtures, guiding the Shrews to an 18th and a 15th place finish.
The style of play which is enforced at New Meadow is similar to that of Blues boss Kenny Jackett’s – the aim is to concede few and attack only when it appears safe to do so. It is by no means pretty to watch, though when used against the right teams, can be a useful tactic in securing three points.
One To Watch: Experienced Football League midfielder Oliver Norburn will be one to look out for at Shrewsbury this season.
The 27-year-old stands at 6ft and 1 inch tall and wears the No. 8 shirt for the Shrews, who he joined in 2018. He has since scored 12 goals in 57 appearances for Sam Ricketts’s side.
Throughout his career, which began at Chelsea as a youth player, Norburn has played for the likes of Bristol Rovers, Plymouth Argyle and Tranmere Rovers.
His presence in the heart of Shrewsbury’s team can often go underappreciated, though his work-rate and commitment is vital in keeping his side ticking.
Signing of the Summer (So Far): 24-year-old Irish winger Josh Daniels stands out as Shrewsbury’s most important signing so far during the summer transfer window.
The former Derry City youth player, who signed for Sam Rickett’s side just last month from Glenavon, has the backing of supporters to provide the creative play that is so desperately needed at the club to ensure more goals are scored this season.
The Shrews ended the 2018/19 campaign with Fejiri Okenabirhie as leading scorer with 16 strikes to his name, whereas last time out, Jason Cummings came out on top with just 7 goals to his name.
Daniels, who has represented both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland at youth international level, netted 15 times in 13 appearances for Glenavon last campaign and made his Shrewsbury debut against Middlesbrough in the Carabao Cup on September the 4th.
The attacking prospect can be utilised as both a left winger or a lone striker, often praised for his ability to score with either foot.
He has been handed the squad No. 22 by his new club.
Season Expectation: Having reached the heights of the League One Play-Offs as recently as 2018, fans of Shrewsbury Town could be forgiven for believing they might one day begin competing for a place in the Championship.
However, last season’s lacklustre showing in front of goal is likely to continue through into 2020/21, following a summer transfer window which has only seen Rekeil Pyke come through the doors as a recognised striker.
Last time out, the Shrews could only scupper a 15th-place finish after the introduction of the unweighted points-per-game system, only three places higher than when they ended up the season previous.
Sam Ricketts’ failure to bring in a prolific goalscorer to the club could go some way in telling where they may finish come May the 8th – I believe that League One survival is the target at New Meadow, with a solid mid-table finish likely to be considered as a successful season.
My Predicted Finish: 20th
A Podcaster’s View – What Next for Shrewsbury Town?
Shrewsbury fan and co-presenter of the SalopCast, Ollie Warner, weighs in with his thoughts ahead of the Shrews’ League One campaign.
“We had the second-worst goalscoring record in League One last season.” – Ollie began, highlighting the importance of bringing in a new creative player. “We need goals, goals, goals! We played a 3-4-3 that lacked creativity and numbers in the box. We didn’t have any prolific scorers either, so the few chances we did create were rarely converted.
“It was so boring I coined the phrase Rickettsball, the phrase was captured by the fans and even made its way on to local radio.”
Ollie, whose podcast has recently conducted interviews with Shrewsbury’s CEO and manager, proceeded to pinpoint who could make a difference for the team this season and push the side toward scoring more goals: “We signed Josh Daniels from the League of Northern Ireland. As a winger, he scored 15 goal in 13 appearances for Glenavon last season.
“When deployed as a left-sided winger or a forward, he can score goals regularly and with both feet. Daniels will need some time to get acclimatised to English and full-time football. Rumour has it, Sam Ricketts thinks he can play in central-midfield, so it will be interesting to see how he gets on.”
Speaking of the gaffer, who once captained Wolves to the League One title under the management of Kenny Jackett, Ollie revealed the type of football that is deployed by the 38-year-old at New Meadow: “He’s adopted an attacking 4-3-3 formation this season in an attempt to move away from Rickettsball. The fans are excited but are waiting to see how we perform in League One before casting judgement.
“On the whole, fans were encouraged by the performance against Middlesbrough, so it will be fascinating to see how we setup against Portsmouth this weekend and then Northampton the following week.” – Ollie elaborated.
The podcaster, who is predicting a 14th-place finish for the Shrews, speaks of the expectation of his club in 2020/21: “Cup runs hurt us last year. We had FA Cup replays against Bradford City, Bristol City and Liverpool. I wouldn’t mind early exits in the cup if we see progress in the league. We are already on target with this objective after a 4-3 defeat to Boro in the League Cup.
“It has been forgotten in nearly all pre-season predictions that we were on the coattails of the Play-Offs at Christmas. I went for 14th in our pre-season prediction pod. Our defence is solid, in Matija Sarkic we have a Championship level goalkeeper, in midfield we have Josh Vela and Ollie Norburn, who are very good League One midfielders.
“If we can get the best out of Jason Cummings, Sean Goss and Marlon Fossey”, Ollie continued, “then we could have a fun season. A few quality signings could put the Play-Offs within reach. This might sound crazy, but this is a crazy year after all. Staying free of injury, while building momentum and confidence (like Wycombe did last year) could be the difference between an average season and an exciting one. We did it under Paul Hurst so why not again?”
Something which may stand in the way of the Shrews in the future is the newly-instated salary cap, though Ollie is confident that it won’t hinder his side’s progression just yet: “I don’t think it will impact us this year.” – He told me, before going on to say: “The big impact will be next year when full wages have to be considered. I am a big fan of the cap, who knows when grounds will be full again, this protects all fans against stupid owners who may have been tempted to gamble and put the future of their club at risk.”
Ollie then spoke of the club’s long-term ambition, claiming: “The ambition of the club is to be a community asset and as successful as possible on the pitch whilst living within our means. Off the pitch, the club is simply superb – the community team do a fantastic job, while CEO Brian Caldwell has built a great rapture with the fans.
“Chairman Roland Wycherley has taken the club from losing money every week in a ground that stank of p*ss, to a modern stadium and new training ground, as well as a healthy bank balance. We spent the 1980s in the Championship, our aim is to get back to that level.”
You can follow Ollie’s Shrewsbury Town podcast on Twitter – @salopcast