For 18 months or so, Sam Ricketts’ Shrewsbury sides have been built on a solid base, writes Lewis Cox.
Last season, Aaron Pierre and Ethan Ebanks-Landell, in particular, performed very well.
Things have been different recently – Town have conceded five goals and three goals twice in the last five games alone.
What had previously been a solid base to build from has become an Achilles heel for Ricketts’ side and central to recent struggles that leave them down in 22nd ahead of the trip to high-flying Ipswich.
Paul Lambert’s Tractor Boys are third and fancied to be among the top spots this season, but their recent form has been patchy, including three defeats from their last five league games.
Ricketts refutes the idea that a change in formation from the previous back five is the cause – the boss had previously said the switch will leave Shrewsbury more open.
The Welshman, whose Salop side are winless in six league games and with just one win to show from their opening 11 League One contests, has said individual errors have proved costly.
They did so particularly in a 2-1 home reverse to Rochdale last month as well as last week’s sacrificing of a first Montgomery Waters Meadow league victory of the season late on against Swindon.
Ricketts admits that his side have to improve defensively to bring on much-
needed wins that will see them clear of the drop zone.
“Yes (we need to improve), you can’t be conceding three goals and wanting to win games,” Ricketts said.
“We won one by scoring four and drew the other.
“You want to be a little bit harder to beat than that, certainly. I’ve always said if you can keep goals against at zeroes and ones then you’ve got far more chance of winning games.
“We have to get back to that a little bit. It’s one of those where we’ve been pretty tight and then the week we score a lot we ended up conceding six too many.”
Ricketts has a point. For the first eight league games of the season – in which Town took just six points – Shrews only conceded two goals twice and did not lose by a larger margin than one goal.
But the floodgates opened in a disastrous finale at Peterborough and they have yet to be welded shut. Town have started leaking goals at an alarming rate.
Pierre was imperious as player of the season last term. Ebanks-Landell was not too far behind. They have not been Town’s only players not performing well this season, but they have fallen well below the standards they set.
They are not the only guilty parties. It is perhaps only Scott Golbourne, Scott High and Brad Walker who have played regularly this season and taken any credit.
And no team defends with only its defenders. Sides defend from the front. Ironically, it was at the other end of the pitch Shrews had been suffering. Ricketts will have accepted his side will be more open this season – championed it almost, as Salop went for a more expressive style – but he and his team need a much better balance.
Perhaps the prospect of a trip to Portman Road, where all the emphasis and expectancy to attack is on former Wolves boss Lambert’s hosts, could work in Shrewsbury’s favour. Ipswich rank seventh for goals scored with 17 from 11 games this term.
Ricketts feels the defensive struggles can be traced to fatigue.
He added: “I think the accumulation of games certainly doesn’t help, the freshness going into them, having no training time.”