Shrewsbury’s youth system has not produced any genuine first-team stars in several years – but it’s been great to see two more hopefuls step off the production line in the last few days.
Charlie Caton got a first league start at Blackpool on Saturday and then 17-year-old Tom Bloxham came off the bench for his league bow against Lincoln on Tuesday. It’s great to see Steve Cotterill giving the pair a chance, and I hope we get to see more of the duo over the last three games of the season.
Go back 10 years or so and we had a golden period when the likes of Connor Goldson and Ryan Woods emerged on the scene. They served the club well and have gone on to enjoy successful careers at a higher level. In recent years, only Ryan Barnett and Ryan Sears have come close. Barnett, in particular, has caught my eye – but his lack of first team chances since the manager came in suggests he may not have a glittering future in blue and amber.
Can Caton and/or Bloxham go from promising hopeful to genuine first teamer? Only time will tell.
But the experience these two are getting in these last few games gives them a valuable learning opportunity. Here’s hoping they grab it with both hands (or both feet!) and hit the ground running next season.
As we Shrewsbury fans know only too well, talented strikers are hard to come by. If at least one of these two could step up as Luke Rodgers did 20 years ago, then it would certainly be a huge boost.
Perhaps the best thing to come out of these final few matches may be opportunities for Town’s young players.
In recent years they have been few and far between with so much riding on the closing stage of the season - and unsurprisingly it’s coincided with fewer academy lads making an impact at first-team level.
The introduction of Charlie Caton and Tom Bloxham has been the most exciting part of the recent games. While it would be great for Town to better last season’s (asterisked) 15th place, it looks increasingly unlikely.
That doesn’t mean everyone should give up but it would be good to see more youngsters before May 9, especially as several members of the current squad are likely to be leaving. The club has been clear about its desire to produce more Connor Goldsons and Ryan Woods, and David Longwell is a big part of that.
Now’s the chance to really get the ball rolling.
Oh we do like to be beside the seaside don’t we? I have to admit I was expecting a humbling defeat to promotion-chasing Blackpool last weekend. I’ve seen highlights of The Tangerines this season and they are an attractive and effective side under former Liverpool coach Neil Critchley.
It was of course Critchley who was the man in the dugout instead of Jurgen Klopp for Town’s FA Cup defeat at Anfield, so I’m sure there are a few Salop fans who would have had a wry smile across the faces as we inflicted a damaging result on Blackpool in their pursuit of the play-offs.
After a few disappointing performances and results this was all about the players proving to the fans, Aaron Wilbraham and Steve Cotterill that they hadn’t pulled their flip flops on and got the deck chairs out just yet.
It was an effective and confident display from Salop who continued an unbeaten run against Blackpool which incredibly stretches back more than 20 years.
Blackpool certainly had the best chances but Harry Burgoyne was equal to them and arguably had his finest game in a Town shirt. He has a real chance to stake a claim now with Sarkic looking unlikely to return this season.
Matthew Pennington also had a very good game. It’s taken him a bit of time to settle, but He’s now looking like a solid pick in defence, and grabbing a nicely headed winner from a Harry Chapman corner was a nice cherry on top of a good performance from him.
Let’s hope the lads can keep showing their worth and getting the results which would push us towards a nice comfortable mid-table finish, which I found unthinkable earlier this season.
Credit to the management and the players, with relegation now officially off the table they can relax and express themselves and show why they are worthy of staying at the Meadow next season.