Shrewsbury Town transformed by Paul Hurst

… but it’s not clear how much of the achievement is sustainable.

From relegation favourites to top 3 club for a whole season and a play-off final.
To have anything critical to say seems ungrateful.
My football credibility on such matters draws from my season in the eighties with Real Madrid – sorry, Rail Madrid, the works football team – but his success appears to have been based on high player motivation, the high press, and good player selection, most especially in defence.
The results were excellent, but perhaps lacking in scoring goals and perhaps glory – Charlton Athletic away excepted; and if the Wembley matches were anything to go by, an inability to change tactics when it was going wrong.
No doubt that we lost out to the three clubs who were relegated last year, with their higher budgets adds further perspective to the achievement.
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Complaints about Ipswich Town recruiting him have to be mindful of Grimsby Town’s feelings when we did something similar to them.
As for the future, finding the next Paul Hurst is the challenge that underlines his achievement.

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The end of a one-off season

As it became obvious that Salop could not get to grips at Wembley, again, I realised that this is what it would have been like in the second tier.  Often unable to get into the game and create moves, perhaps scoring goals from special moves, and with only some games breaking the mould.  

Met some Americans before the game in the queue for tickets, who enjoyed the Villa v Fulham match and decided to witness a Wembley play-off themselves. Moments of joy and optimism talking to new converts.
Bizarrely, having worked hard to get a centre-line seat, I was upgraded to Club Wembley – padded seats but a slightly distant and off-centre view.  So I had a wide and slightly detached view of Salop trying to make progress by lobbing the ball over the midfield.  Seemed out of character to me and was certainly futile.
Big surprise was finding Beckles struggling. Having been celebrated in the press and I think been nominated for a team of the league, he was overrun and conceded a penalty and might have conceded another.
By contrast, our keeper was on top form and saved the penalty. So poor was the performance, that many Salop fans booed, or maybe moaned, at half-time.
Which made the goal, when it came, such a surprise and such a delight. A free-lick, the bulk of players formed towards the corner of the box waiting for a cross, instead, a short pass across the line and a short stab into space six yards out and Rodham was there having run from behind the wall kinda Paul Maguire like) to lift the ball in.
The Salop manager has since complained about the play-offs deciding between clubs for promotion, on a hot day when they are worn out at the end of the season and may have to play extra time.
Indeed 3 Salop players at least suffered from cramp, 2 of them taken off.
However, as best as I can tell, Salop were still put through an intensive warm-up before the match.
And after all 9 months of toil and struggle, the 3 clubs promoted this year were the 3 clubs relegated last year.

Can I kindly thank those who have wished me good luck since hearing of Salop’s defeat, but point out that since then –
– the doors of our train carriage have broken and the smell of the toilet has been wafting into our carriage;
– the bogie under our carriage has developed a rattle;
– the fork provided by the shop that sold a delicious prawn salad has gone missing and I am using the film lid as a scoop.
Yeah, a bit self-centred given my Sister’s village was flooded in the morning.
(Quite possibly houses built in a flood plain against the council planning committee’s decision.)
It is just possible I am unreachable today.

Cos it was a one-off.  Favourites for relegation.  Unbeaten 13 game start.  Top 3 finish.  Two players in the team of the year.  Manager of the season.  But it all looks to be broken up.

Story of the season

A very pleasant article in the Sporting Life about Shrewsbury Town Football Club.
Echoes of when Salop were voted the third most successful club of the ’80s, after Liverpool and Wimbledon. Cos the club exceeded expectations given its small base.
But this season hasn’t had the glory of those years; e.g. reasonably frequent 4-0 wins and exciting attacks.
And the praise in the article will feel pretty thin if it goes wrong at Wembley.
The outcome of such games are so vulnerable to events – such as a centre-forward taking out our goalkeeper with an elbow, without punishment; or a goalkeeper rolling the ball towards a full-back in front of an opposing forward – and not the season.
Expensive tickets, and I paid more cos the place to watch us from is the midfield; ball-winners all.

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Salop wear new shirts, which thankfully keeps the blue and amber stripes that has become beloved of Salop fans. The amber of the loggerheads on the blue field, drawn from the town’s crest (even if the original reason for the change was different).
The grey and black 3rd shirt is ridiculous, and as ridiculous as the all orange second strip.

Finally on the play-off – at stake, £6 million (check) and trips to 6 Midlands clubs – the Villa, the Blues, the Baggies, Stoke, Derby and Forest.
Can Salop get a grip like they did against Charlton?

Intense and pressing

Salop vs Charlton c morris scores copyright getty images gdn 4781 cartoonize ab0548h
However much I resent the play-offs when Salop finished third and so far ahead of the rest, the intensity of play-offs are evident.
The high pressing was again evident in the first half, but this time not so the control.  Missed passes, slipping cos of poor stud choices and poor decisions.
Just into the second half, it all came true and the pressure was non-stop for fifteen minutes, until triangles on the right wing led to an early strike from 8 yards that was driven before the keeper could get down.
As the half progressed, Salop fell back more, but it was under control and Salop progressed.
Not so controlled were the Salop fans who invaded the pitch to provoke Addicks fans, and some of them should have been expelled.
Another excellent photo by Gettys.
So Salop are on their way to Wembley.  If we can employ the pressing again, we shold be OK.

A special sound

It was the sound.  The noise of an 18-yard half-volley smashing into the underside of the bar and rippling the net.  Made audible by the silence of a 13,500 home crowd realising something was amiss.  And made iconic by a photo from Getty Images.
Jon Nolan scores at Charlton getty images 2645 copyrighted cartoonised ab0566h
One of Salop’s greatest ever goals I’ve ever seen in one of Salop’s best team performances I’ve ever seen.
High pressing leading to a loose clearance.  Head tennis from 3 Salop players before a lay-off to Jon Nolan, our player of the season, and wallop. Goal!
All in a League One play-off.  Elation for 777 Salopians.
Charlton Athletic fans on their way home saying that they’re only 1-0 down and it’s only half-time and they won 2-0 at the New Gay Meadow only 4 weeks or so back.
But Salop had rested 7 or so players then, and the high-pressing, ball-winning Salop that exemplified the long unbeaten run at the start of the season was back, and how.
Paul Hurst recognised the good, but also pointed out how too many crosses had been too long or too short, so room for improvement.
And, yes, it’s not over.

Blackpool weekend

One of the great weekends in football in Blackpool away in August, or at a push, April.
It was a bit cold and low-key as a resort, but just walking and looking is great, although definitely enhanced by crazy golf and the Waltzers.
The match was a bit flat given the experimental look to the tram whilst resting players for the play-offs.
The inflatables and plastic grass skirts a tad bizarre.
Long time since I’ve been, but the sea front is very dramatic.

Salop are mugged


I’d been looking forward to the Mickey Mouse cup final as a day-out and had been thinking I wasn’t that bothered about the result.
But the weather dampened enthusiasm. And the violence of the Lincoln City centre-forward – a deliberate elbow-first leap into the goalkeeper – took away any sense of significance to the outcome. Officials missed it, and missed a handball from a shot on target.
The half-time entertainment was surreal. A Salop fan against a Lincoln fan playing a football video game with images of the actual players, whereby the Salop fan overturned the 1-0 deficit.
Salop didn’t cope with Lincoln’s closing down, and also made poor decisions with long balls on a wet slippery surface.
Salop’s 4th defeat in 4 visits to Wembley does not bode well. Salop look set for the play-offs – we’ll only get promoted to the second tier by winning at Wembley in May.