“We’re above halfway to our target, first and foremost…I’m that serious,” Hurst told BBC Radio Shropshire. “That’s our first target. I keep saying that.” Shrewsbury Town manager Paul Hurst knows what he wants, and our fantastic start to the season won’t see him or his towering assistant manager Chris Doig getting carried away. They have left that to the fans, the Salopians, the giddy bunch of supporters who are loving every minute of this season. Match number ten saw 290 fans make the away trip to Doncaster to see Shrews win their eighth game of the season, having drawn the other two. Quite simply ridiculous!
To explain why Shrewsbury fans are so happy, you have to know that the last two seasons in League One were dire. It was only when Paul Hurst was appointed Shrewsbury Town manager in October 2016 that the team started to move forward, going on a strong run in January and February that secured survival in League One.
In the transfer market Hurst has brought in hardworking, talented footballers with a point to prove, the majority of whom have come from the divisions below League One. They have replaced overpaid “league one ready” players who failed to perform. Toto Nsiala and Alex Rodman joined in January 2017, and have been ever present, while Stephan Payne joined on loan in the same window and then signed permanently at the end of the summer. All three played their role in survival and have pushed on this season. Hurst signed ten players over the summer who joined the squad at our new training ground. Jon Nolan from Chesterfield, Dean Henderson on loan from Manchester United and Adam Godfrey on loan from Norwich were among the highlights.
Focusing on new players fails to paint the bigger picture. Starting the first game of the season against Northampton were seven players from last season, four of which were at the club before Hurst arrived. Success on the pitch has been earned on the training ground. The team is fit, and not just League One fit, but Chris Skitt fit. Shrews physio Skitty took over complete responsibility for fitness during the summer, building a long-term plan that not only covered pre-season but the whole season. Town’s players are trimmer, stronger and fitter versions of themselves, out-running the opposition.
Hurst strongly believes the harder you work, the further you run, the better your chance of winning. Work on the training ground has seen the standard of football improve, and here Hurst has given the team the belief and confidence to play passing football. In this style, wingers Rodman and Whalley have flourished, with Nolan running the show in the middle of the park. The team can mix it up: playing direct, on the counter and dominating possession. Our most impressive performance was away at Oxford where we dominated the game; Town played attractive passing football but surprisingly failed to win. We haven’t always performed to this standard in games but have been efficient going forward, often scoring when on top. Defensively, Salop are organised and relentless. The team have achieved four clean sheets, notably at home to Wigan, only conceding 7 goals in 10 games. The training ground has seen advances in tactics. At the start of the Hurst reign he adopted a simple 4-4-2, but during the summer there clearly has been a lot of work on shape. More recently Hurst has setup his side in a 4-1-4-1, but we have seen 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-4-1-1 and 3-5-2. Gelling all this together is team spirit. When interviewed, players all comment on what a close group the management team have assembled and this is demonstrated on the pitch with players working hard for each other.
To conclude, the season so far has been fantastic. We have won against much fancied sides like Wigan, gone away and won hard fought victories against Oldham and Gillingham and broken hearts against Doncaster scoring in extra time. Winning plaudits and embarrassing the bookies. We know it won’t last but we are enjoying the ride!
Top performer: Jon Nolan – ball playing midfielder, combines hard work and skilky skills. Star man.
Biggest surprise: Ben Godfrey – the on loan Norwich midfielder is a six foot L1 version of Kante, winning the ball, and launching lightenig counter attack’s.