Comment: Shrewsbury's Checkatrade Trophy exploits have been a group effort
Shrewsbury Town’s achievement in reaching a Wembley cup final should not be understated.
To balance an eight-month cup campaign with their most memorable league season in four decades is a phenomenal effort – particularly given the largely limited resources Paul Hurst has at his disposal.
Hurst said that league success over a season is more impressive than a cup run. League tables come April and May determine the best squad over the course of an entire campaign.
You can put a cup run down to good fortune – but Town have earned their luck and beat most in front of them.
The much-maligned Checkatrade Trophy, not to everyone’s taste, is a competition that managers use to shuffle their options.
Hurst has been no different. He stated his desire to win the Trophy since day one, but still used it as a chance for those more on the periphery to enjoy some much-needed minutes.
But Shrewsbury without doubt this season are a group greater than the sum of its parts. They are not blessed with countless options off the bench and in reserve.
They are a long way from a Wigan or a Blackburn. Or even many of the other sides in the top half of League One. Clubs that, should they wish, could have made wholesale changes.
The Montgomery Waters Meadow chief used the group stages and early knockout rounds to give minutes to the likes of Craig MacGillivray in goal, right-back Joe Riley (below), midfielders Bryn Morris, Arthur Gnahoua and Louis Dodds and forward Lenell John-Lewis. These players have all, undoubtedly, played their part in this Checkatrade achievement.
The individuals might have found it tough to come in and stamp their mark on things during the early stages, to run the hard yards and provide the quality to progress. But the squad have grasped their moments and different individuals have come to the fore.
Riley’s last-gasp winner at Coventry on August 29 was a terrific personal milestone in his recovery from injury but also an early boost for a side keen on navigating a route to the knockout rounds.
Others have stepped up. Dodds, now a Chesterfield player and barely used by Town in the league, has scored goals and was key in progressing at his former club Port Vale. Morris and John-Lewis stroked home penalties in the last-16 shootout win against Blackpool.
The Checkatrade Trophy campaign has been a squad effort. Hurst has, more often than not in League One this season, stuck to a recognised 11 within his 4-1-4-1 system. The subs and back-up options have stuck with the group ethos and had their say from the bench. Then they have delivered when it matters after earning a call-up from the boss.
Cup joy can owe to luck. Town have enjoyed some favourable draws in the competition. But it takes a strong unit – no matter the size or numerical strength – to battle on more than one front. To fight and go the distance.
And they deserve every credit for doing so.