Can Shrewsbury Town Stay in the Race for Promotion?
One of the biggest surprises in the Football League this season has been Shrewsbury Town’s thunderous start to their League One campaign.
Despite being 5/4 to be relegated at the start of the season, The New Meadow outfit were surprise table-toppers after going unbeaten in their first 15 games. But three defeats in their last four games has seen them be leapfrogged by Wigan – so can they stay in the race for promotion to the Championship or will they slide back down the table?
The Shrews, who were last in the second tier in 1989 – and even dipped into the Conference in 2003/04 – have spent the best part of two decades bouncing between the lower reaches of League One and the upper echelons of League Two.
Indeed, despite being second in the table (at the time of writing), Shrewsbury are still a generous 5/2 in promotion to the Championship betting markets – with Wigan and Blackburn both strong favourites. So why are Shrewsbury challenging at the top of the table rather than battling at the bottom, as expected?
Manager Paul Hurst has been central to the recent upturn in Shrewsbury’s fortunes. When the former Ilkeston, Boston and Grimsby Town manager took over from Micky Mellon in October 2016, Town were rooted to the bottom of the league. However, a strong run of form – and in particular a spell of eight wins from 15 matches between December and February – saw Shrewsbury pull away from danger – ending the season in 18th place.
Indeed, Hurst’s average of 1.62 points per match in League One with Shrewsbury comes in stark contrast to his predecessor, Micky Mellon, who averaged just 0.98 points per game in League One – although he did also see the side promoted from League Two in his first full season. Hurst’s record would likely mean the Shrews sneaking into the playoffs, while Mellon’s would surely see the side relegated.
Shrewsbury’s rise has been somewhat reminiscent of Tranmere in 2012/13. Unfancied Rovers stormed to an unbeaten start of 12 matches – providing fans with hopes of a return to the second tier, but their form deteriorated rapidly after January, falling to 11 defeats in their last 16 matches.
Fans of Shrewsbury will be hoping their side doesn’t follow a similar trajectory to Tranmere, though. After their half-season success, they were relegated in 2014, and again in 2015 – leaving the Birkenhead side in non-league football for the first time in over 90 years – where they still remain.
Hurst, though, does boast quite a unique record in football management. Despite now being at his fourth club, Hurst has never been sacked by any of the clubs he’s managed – also securing promotion via the playoffs at all three of his other positions.
While it may be a bit too soon for Shrewsbury to hold onto a top two position with the likes of previously established Premier League teams – Wigan, Blackburn and Charlton – all sniffing around, securing a spot in the playoffs could be a serious aim. And with playoff guru, Paul Hurst, in charge, maybe they can end their 28-year wait for second-tier football.