Comment: Shrewsbury Town now have no margin for error
No more slip-ups. A flawless final five games is required if Shrewsbury Town are to claim a top-two finish this season.
Time and games are running out and even five wins – which would leave Paul Hurst’s men on 97 points – may not be enough.
It is ludicrous that a third-place finish should disappoint Town fans. Rewind back to last summer and that kind of talk would have got you a funny look.
But it is the hope that kills you and Shrewsbury have, deservedly, boasted one of the top-two spots for much of this incredible season.
That Wigan and Blackburn, as their riches and expectancy have demanded, have edged beyond Paul Hurst’s men is credit to them and no slight on Shrewsbury.
Town can do nothing about the fine form their automatic promotion rivals have shown in recent weeks. They must focus on doing themselves justice in these final handful of games.
It was a pity Shrews could not take advantage of Blackburn dropping points this week. Thursday’s trip to Bradford was a real chance to narrow the gap and mean it was very much game back on.
The race is not run yet. Blackburn go to Bristol Rovers today and Wigan host Rotherham, while Town have a day off. But it will take slip-ups elsewhere – and Shrewsbury can afford no more of their own.
Town can take credit from responding from a disappointing display at Wembley last weekend. They were not at their best at Bradford but were committed and created chances. On another day, one of those would have gone in.
The red card to Omar Beckles was unfortunate and I’m sure the defender would hold up his hands and apologise. It made Town’s job far tougher.
While there have still been some impressive performances and outstanding results since Christmas, it is true to suggest that Shrewsbury have not been as ruthless and – perhaps – as fortunate as they were in the first half of the campaign.
Hurst has admitted on a couple of occasions that almost everything has come together and worked seamlessly this season.
Beginning with that magnificent 15-game unbeaten run, Town looked like they were a team ready to swot aside everything in their path.
Their record of one-goal victories this season has been credit to a – for the most part – watertight defence and someone stepping up to the plate when needed.
There has been acknowledgement that Shrewsbury don’t boast anything near the firepower of Wigan, Blackburn or most of the play-off chasing sides.
The one-goal victories were doing the job but they were also waiting to become a possible undoing. They would not last forever. The fact that Town have scored 20 and 26 goals fewer than Blackburn and Wigan may well be the factor that finally goes against them brave Shrewsbury.
But the squad will continue fighting for improbable glory as that is the only way they know to play – to keep battling against the odds.
Having four games from the remaining five at Montgomery Waters Meadow, and with many neutrals and Salopians writing their side off for a top-two finish, hopefully Salop can go out and express a freedom and creativity that will see them end the League One season in style.
There are still some huge games left in the fixture list.
Play-off chasing Charlton and Peterborough head to the Meadow before that mouth-watering final away day at Blackpool where circa 3,000 Town fans will be heading north in fancy dress.
For now the battle is – just about – still on. But only perfection will do from here on in.