Shropshire Star

Analysis: Weary Shrewsbury have been caught in a perfect storm

Shrewsbury Town are now winless in the last eight games. Without a clean sheet in 11. And hopes of a top 10 finish are becoming more and more unlikely.


And yet, rewind just a short while, to Valentine’s Day in fact, and they were making the long trip to Exeter City off the back of a six-game winning streak which left them eighth in the table just three points off the play-offs.

This season’s League One love affair has been something of a rocky one ever since.

Not so long after the full-time whistle in Saturday’s 3-0 defeat against Sheffield Wednesday, Town boss Steve Cotterill chatted at length and with a calm realism about how his team have been facing an ‘uphill battle’ in recent weeks.

He makes a good point.

Shrewsbury have faced more injuries, on top of other long-term absentees from earlier in the season, to leave an already lean squad taking on a more threadbare appearance.

As those who have remained fit have perhaps then started to suffer from fatigue towards the end of a long, hard season, the perfect storm has been cemented by the quality of the opposition faced in recent weeks.

“I’m not sure who it was that put the fixtures together but they certainly weren’t a Shrewsbury fan,” Cotterill suggested.

“It feels like we haven’t had one lately where we feel we have been fresh and it’s maybe someone in and around us rather than those teams at the top.

“We just seem to have had those top teams back-to-back lately – they haven’t been spread out.”

Of course, you have to play every team twice over every season but the timing has been unfortunate in that just as Shrewsbury have hit a bump in the road, and had selection difficulties, their opposition has been very unforgiving.

Their last eight fixtures have featured the top five teams in the division, as well as seventh, eighth and 10th.

And, as seen particularly with Saturday’s game against a Sheffield Wednesday side which started the day harbouring slender hopes of automatic promotion to the Championship, they have found many of those teams just too good.

Make no mistake, this was most definitely not one of those performances from Shrewsbury which falls into the ‘on the beach’ stereotype often labelled at teams with nothing to play for apart from mid-table league position.

Town were at it from the off and showed no signs of capitulation, even after Michael Smith’s clinical treble on eight, 48 and 81 minutes which, in deference to his darting namesake, found the target with unerring accuracy.

Yes, at times the defending could have been better, particularly for a couple of the goals, but overall there was plenty of effort and application in trying to bridge the inevitable gap in quality to a team now 90 minutes away from the end of the season already boasting a staggering 93 points, 36 more than Shrewsbury.

Box-to-box Town largely matched their more illustrious counterparts. The midfield industry of Killian Phillips and Carl Winchester, coupled with the guile of skipper Luke Leahy, at least gave Shrewsbury a platform in the congested engine room and there was no shortage of decent ammunition from the flanks from Elliott Bennett and Jordan Shipley.

But the difference came in the defensive solidity of the Owls in terms of a series of blocks and clearances when Town had spells of pressure, and the firepower they can call on from the likes of seasoned marksmen Lee Gregory and hat-trick hero Smith.

Those two, aided and abetted by Barry Bannan in the centre of the park, asked plenty of questions all afternoon and, even aside from Smith’s clinical hat-trick, Wednesday forced Marko Marosi into many more saves to prevent further damage to the Town goal.

Shrewsbury huffed and puffed and had those moments of their own, but with Christian Saydee still not back to full sharpness after injury, found their route to goal continually blocked and lacked the nous or creativity to find a way through.

Their best chance of the game fell to Leahy whom, at the end of a fine move, picked his spot from the edge of the area only to see the ball agonisingly bounce to safety off the angle of post and crossbar.

That touch of misfortune perhaps summed up a sobering afternoon as Town, though not occupying the same stratosphere as their visitors, didn’t deserve to lose by a three-goal margin.

Such is in the difference in size of club and playing budget that for Shrewsbury to beat Wednesday, as they did last season, it would need them to be right on top of their game – fresh and forwardly mobile – and the Owls to be off colour.

On this occasion, neither were true, and it was a Wednesday team which, even though results elsewhere brought an end to hopes of automatic promotion, were intent on building confidence and momentum heading into the play-offs.

For Shrewsbury, this was certainly another uphill battle in a series of many uphill battles in recent weeks.

Recent results have, with those mitigating factors, been a drop off from what went before and something of a reality check in a division where, to finish in the top 10, would still be regarded as punching above their weight.

Even if they have hit the wall as they neared the home straight, and have been finding life difficult against the division’s top talent, it feels like they – players, staff and supporters - deserve to enjoy a positive ending.

There are two opportunities left, Bristol Rovers tomorrow and Lincoln on Sunday, to try and provide something to cheer.