Shrewsbury Town v Oxford: The boss is back and out to extend his ‘unbeaten’ run

Steve Cotterill is back to extend his unbeaten – in person – start to life as Shrewsbury Town manager.

Steve Cotterill the head coach / manager of Shrewsbury Town talks to his players ahead of extra time. (AMA)
Steve Cotterill the head coach / manager of Shrewsbury Town talks to his players ahead of extra time. (AMA)

The spell between late November and late December under Cotterill, where Town won four and drew three of seven league games, feels like a lifetime ago, writes Lewis Cox.

Indeed, Cotterill returns to Shrewsbury’s Montgomery Waters Meadow home tomorrow for the visit of Oxford for the first time since being named League One manager of the month for December.

Town may have been dealt defeats in the trying circumstances since, with the manager calling the shots from 100 miles away in Bristol, but assistant Aaron Wilbraham knows the experienced boss returns to pick up where he left off.

First-team coach David Longwell suggested a couple of months ago that Cotterill’s super-human efforts of managing the club from his hospital bed should be marked by an end-of-season award.

When asked if he would go along with the sentiment, Wilbraham responded: “He was here for a month, he got manager of the month, he didn’t lose a game in the league. So the gaffer’s still unbeaten, I reckon he’s the only unbeaten manager in the league, so why not?

“He’ll want to keep the unbeaten run. I remember being off while isolating and coming back for Blackpool at home (December 29) and him saying ‘we better not get beat tonight now you’re back’ and I felt a bit of pressure to be honest!

“That’s tongue-in-cheek, it’s a group effort. But that is the manager’s record and every time he’s been present we’ve not been beaten, that’s something for the players to carry on, definitely.”

Oxford are seventh heading to Shropshire, just a point outside the play-offs, and know they need to win to keep their hopes alive.

The U’s are a side Town need no introduction to. They met at the Kassam Stadium on April 13, days after Shrewsbury had reached 50 points, and Karl Robinson’s men romped to a 4-1 victory – albeit one Shrews staff felt flattered the hosts.

Wilbraham, though, insists tomorrow is far from a revenge mission. He added: “I don’t think it’s a revenge mission, when you look at results in the past against teams you switch your focus.

“So we’ll be focusing on this game only. We know there’s the pressure on them, they need to win, that’s a little bit of added pressure.

“But it’s not a revenge mission, we weren’t happy to concede a couple of sloppy goals so will be looking to put things right.

“We’ve managed to upset a couple this season, but we don’t do it for that reason. We try to win every game.

“Every one of the lads has fought for us, no-one’s downed tools, opposition managers have said that, the lads can be proud they’ve got that throughout the squad.”

Town welcome striker Daniel Udoh back into the fold after missing two games with concussion.

Aaron Pierre and Josh Daniels (both calf) could return against Ipswich on Tuesday. Sean Goss and Rekeil Pyke could feature at Crewe on Sunday week.

What though, for Town’s assistant manager Wilbraham, the former striker – who only hung up his boots last summer – thrust into the spotlight, leading from the touchline in 24 matches with his mobile phone or earphones for guidance?

“It’s hard to sum up in one word,” said the 41-year-old. “It’s been an amazing experience and great journey.

“Watching how everyone has reacted to what has happened has just been overwhelming, really.

“For the group of players to keep the standards and professionalism high without the manager around – I’ve been in football teams for 24 years and I know even when managers take a day off the lads take a big deep breath and go ‘we can take our foot off the gas in training’.

“For the lads to prepare Saturday-Tuesday games pretty much every week for three or four months is unbelievable.

“It’s a massive credit to them and the staff I’ve mentioned, but especially the gaffer, doing it all from a hospital bed.

“He had 69 days in a hospital bed and I heard from him for 69 days. There wasn’t one day I didn’t speak to him and that was him making the effort.”

“I’d wake up in the morning with eight sheets of A4 paper with a ‘3:56am’ note on the message, which is what time he’d have sent it, because he’s up after a game giving me the tactics for the next game.

“Days off haven’t been days off, we’ve just been talking through things.

“Players never realise what goes on in the day-to-day background in the running of a club, it’s been an overwhelming, crazy experience.”

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