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The Season Review: Shrewsbury Town’s 2010-2011 Season

May 23, 2011

No matter what the eventual outcome, this would be a special season for many reasons for Shrewsbury Town. To start with, it was to be a celebration of the club’s milestone age: 125 years old, officially on the 20th May 2011. The start of the season saw the return of a club legend, Graham Turner with the season mission statement being “gaining promotion while playing a passing, expansive style of play that is high in entertainment value”. No pressure then?

A new manager and a largely new squad enjoyed an interesting and varied pre-season. A tour of Devon was successful and but for an accumulation of injuries cited by Turner in the club’s decision to withdraw, they might’ve played in the South Challenge Cup Final against newly promoted Premier League opposition in the shape of Blackpool. There were positive signs in terms of their play particularly in the 0-0 home draw to Coventry City as the team showed the commitment to keeping the ball on the ground that Turner had spoken of and were unlucky not to win the game. Of course, pre-season is quickly forgotten as the season gets under way but the positivity in pre-season translated well as Shrewsbury started off the season coming from a goal down and beating the League’s pre-season title favourites Bradford City 3-1. Three days later and the first round of the League Cup presented a difficult challenge in former Premiership club Charlton who were tipped for promotion from League 1. The lowest home attendance at the Greenhous Meadow saw a fantastic game as Shrewsbury who were trailing 0-3 after 30 minutes, came back to win 4-3. Shrewsbury were rewarded with a 2nd round tie away to Premier League opposition, Stoke City which would end in a credible 2-1 scoreline in favour of the home side.

“A long way to go, but there’s enough promise to give us plenty of scope for optimism for what lies ahead”- Graham Turner, programme notes for Shrewsbury v Charlton Athletic, Tuesday 10th August 2010.

Shrewsbury would continue to impress and went unbeaten in the opening 5 games of the league season and sat in 1st place prior to the end of their run away to fellow promotion-contenders Gillingham. Town would reclaim the top spot a game later after a home victory over a Northampton team who may well have been a little distracted by their upcoming clash at Anfield in the League Cup. That was the last occasion that Shrewsbury stood at the top of the pile in League 2. Saturday 2nd October saw the first in what turned out to be a four-part series of clashes throughout the season with Torquay, ending in a 1-1 draw with Jake Robinson scoring a goal for the Shrews (We’ll return to this theme later).

The FA Cup would present a challenge in a trip down the country to Southampton. Shrewsbury have enjoyed some relative success in the past in the FA Cup but recent years have seen a downturn in their fortunes (defeat to Blyth Spartans a particularly low point) and sure enough the Shrews would depart the competition in the first round but this time in more credible circumstances with two very late goals preventing a replay at the Greenhous Meadow.

Tuesday 23rd November saw Graham Turner’s former club Hereford visit the Greenhous Meadow and fireworks were expected and to no one’s surprise, expectations were met. The negativity felt by the Hereford fans towards Turner due to his departure and joining Shrewsbury added further spice to a derby that had become a little nastier even prior to Turner’s change of allegiance. The game itself was brilliant from a Shrewsbury perspective as the Shrews tore apart a hapless Hereford 4-0 with Mark Wright scoring the pick of the goals with an exquisite goal. Nonetheless press was quick to draw on the negatives caused by the minority as evident in the article that would emerge published in the pages of esteemed football magazine Four Four Two. The match itself was seen as a mere sidenote as the writer in question had decided to attend under the false pretence of being an away supporter and proceeded to sensationalise with gay abandon, surely priming himself for an elusive job with a red-top newspaper no doubt.

It was hoped that the morale boost given from such a victory would translate to the team pressing on onwards and upwards but their next game, which turned out to be a 1-1 draw at home to Cheltenham on 11th December turned out to be their last game of 2010 as the weather and consequential postponements played havoc with their schedule and they’d end up having to wait until their trip to Burton on New Year’s Day for their next contest. The first month of the new year saw Turner instigate something of a squad overhaul ( see this in regards to their movement in the transfer market ) amidst a poor run of form which would see Shrewsbury gain 6 points (a solitary victory and 3 draws) from a possible 24 and in doing so they fell out of the play-off places for the first time (and would turn out to be the only time). Home defeats to Crewe and Morecambe, in particular the performances on display gave fans an uneasy feeling as to promotion aspirations. The 1-1 away draw that followed to Barnet that saw Shrewsbury fall out of the top 7 also turned out to be the last game of the season for Chris Neal as he was replaced between the posts by Ben Smith for the following game away to Accrington Stanley. Shrewsbury grabbed all 3 points in a 3-1 victory and Ben Smith would not relinquish the first team goalkeeping duties for the rest of the season. Shrewsbury have been perceived as a team with one of the bigger budgets in the division, something Turner wouldn’t disagree with but he drew the line at comments made by a man who’d once been in the job.

“We have not “thrown the kitchen sink” at getting promotion as suggested by my predecessor on Sky TV, nor will we. Although funding is available we are here for the long haul so therefore the policy will not be to “throw the kitchen sink at it” but a careful programme of recruitment, particularly of young players will be implemented”- Graham Turner, programme notes for Shrewsbury v Burton Albion, Tuesday 1st February 2011.

The notes quoted from above were obviously written prior to the transfer window‘s closure where Shrewsbury were one of the most active teams on Deadline Day. Reinvigorate by the new arrivals into the squad, February resembled a much-needed improvement in fortunes and a run of 4 consecutive victories saw the Shrews climb back up the table and into second place. The last of this run came at home to Stevenage. Their physicality and debatable ethics have been a sidestory to the season and this game would illustrate just why such an unfortunate reputation has been bestowed upon the club. Following the game, the linesman told of the constant barrage of abuse he got throughout the game. The image of abusing officials in front of the family stand is not at all pleasant and the source of this abuse was claimed to be Graham Westley and the Stevenage bench. The consequences of this were that for future home games at the Greenhous Meadow, Graham Turner and his staff would occupy the bench nearest the official on the nearest side.

Shrewsbury’s form that immediately followed was indifferent but confidence took a severe battering on the 12th March as Shrewsbury returned home from Plainmoor with their tails firmly between their legs following a 5-0 hiding. Approaching half-time 1-0 was not too bad and the feeling was that Town could still get something out of the game. Unfortunately, events took a significant downturn as three minutes before the halftime whistle, Jermaine Grandison was sent off for a reckless challenge on a player who really shouldn’t have been playing. As Shrewsbury went about their business on transfer deadline day, time was running out and paperwork was signed off perhaps quicker than usual. An oversight had occurred from a Shrewsbury perspective in regards their dealings with Torquay United. While Shrewsbury had agreed to acquire Nicky Wroe from the Gulls, Jake Robinson who had by now become a bit-part player for the Shrews went in the opposite direction in a loan deal. The loan deal had not included what is a regular clause in which a player cannot play against their parent club. This oversight meant that Jake Robinson would be eligible to play for Torquay come the visit of Shrewsbury. This turned out to be an oversight they would greatly regret. Robinson was firstly the victim of the Grandison challenge that earned the right back his marching orders and secondly, would go on to net twice in the second half as Torquay ran rampant.

The next game would be at home to the side that would turn out to be the Shrews’ greatest adversaries in the quest for the all-important final automatic promotion place, Wycombe Wanderers. It was safe to say that Shrewsbury had adequately recovered from the battering they had taken from Torquay and were deservedly leading 1-0 at half-time. Controversy would come within 5 minutes of the restart as Gareth Ainsworth hit a shot towards Shrewsbury goalkeeper Ben Smith. Smith would pull off a great save only for the referee to turn to his linesman and signal for a goal. The crowd was astounded. Wycombe supporters couldn’t believe their luck. Of course there are incidents where the ball is close to crossing the line or just creeps over but this did not fall into such a category. Shocked and appalled at the officials’ incompetence, Shrewsbury took the game to Wycombe and come the final moments of the game, controversy would strike again. The referee blew the final whistle to the rage of the home support. Why? The linesman had flagged for a penalty in favour of Shrewsbury as the referee put his whistle to his lips. While it could be argue Mr. Linington wasn’t at absolute fault for the Wycombe “goal” (that falls more on his assistants shoulders), this was definitely his error in its entirety. Shrewsbury fans left the Meadow aggrieved not at a poor performance from the players but instead an abysmal showing courtesy of the officials. Little did the Salop faithful know that they now had an arguably legitimate scapegoat moment in which to use for the season.

The injustice may have helped spur the players on as the Shrews would win their next three games, two of those being tricky away ties to a Bradford side who’d undergone a mini-resurgence following the arrival of interim manager Peter Jackson and to Rotherham United. Going into the final phase of the season, Shrewsbury and Wycombe would trade places in the hunt for automatic promotion. Bury were involved in the tussle early on too but they would soon break free and earn second place in the league, leaving the Shrews and the Chairboys to battle it out for third. With three games remaining, Shrewsbury would find themselves in control and sat in third thanks to an away victory over Hereford, a result completing a nice double for Graham Turner over his former club. Three games left, all Shrewsbury had to do was better Wycombe’s results over this period and League 1 football would be theres. Unfortunately, such an idea wouldn’t even make it to two games as Shrewsbury drew at home to in-form and surprise package Accrington Stanley, a team who’d gone on a remarkable run of form to find themselves occupying fifth position. While Town failed to break through a dogged Accrington defence, Wycombe beat Crewe Alexandra 2-0 and leapfrogged the Shrews and into third position. The Shrews would win their remaining two games but so did Wycombe and Shrewsbury would face the play-offs, an entity that doesn’t bear happy memories for Shrewsbury teams past. (for more on Shrewsbury’s relationship with the play-offs, click here )

Shrewsbury went into the play-offs as favourites, not just through league position but also due to their status as the in-form team. Indeed going into the play-offs the two in-form teams were those in the higher places, Shrewsbury and Accrington who would share the same fate. Usually the in-form teams are those in the lower places and their form serves them well come the play-off campaign. The idea about the lower places would prove to be of more significance than form in this year’s edition of the League 2 Play-Offs. It’s safe to say that Shrewsbury didn’t turn up at Plainmoor in the first leg (much like their previous game at Torquay’s ground) and were lucky to come away with only a two goal deficit. Optimism was quelled but not killed as Shrews fans tried to motivate each other into positive thinking, citing examples of Shrewsbury comebacks in the past (in the case of my reference to the Charlton League Cup game, the very recent past).

The season’s curtain call was upon us and the exact date of Shrewsbury Town’s birthday would prove to be the end of the campaign as the pessimists were proven correct. Failure to overturn Torquay’s 1st leg advantage would spell the end and that is what came to be as Shrewsbury fought against a tremendous defensive display from the visitors. Jake Robinson did not score in this the 4th and final part of their series of duels but he illustrated a great resilience and reacted brilliantly to the insults thrown at him from some of the Salopian faithful, putting in an excellent defensive performance in often helping out Torquay’s left back. Their doubling up on Jon Taylor worked to great effect and nullified the threat posed by the diminutive Liverpudlian winger, meaning Shrewsbury’s creative duties fell solely onto the shoulders of Mark Wright. The game at the Greenhous Meadow finished 0-0 and with that, the end of Shrewsbury’s season. Graham Turner and his charges had failed in their bid for promotion but when looking at the mission statement at the start of the season, you could argue he did achieve two parts of it. Unfortunately, the two parts that had been successfully achieved didn’t include the all important P-word.

The manager and his captain have stated since that the season was a failure. In a black and white way, that is absolutely correct. But the world isn’t black and white. Football isn’t black and white (you often get multi-coloured ones now). The decisions made by Mr. Linington and his team will surely play on the minds of the Salopian faithful and the point is all too often made that were the officials to have got decisions correct then Shrewsbury would’ve finished in 2nd place thereby achieving automatic promotion and forgoing the dreaded play-offs. Of course despite that, fate was in Shrewsbury’s hands but for the draw against Accrington Stanley that saw Wycombe reclaim the initiative that they would not relinquish again. They had the chance and they didn’t take it. The hope for next season is that they can move forward and claim a place in League 1 for 2012-13 outright without such scapegoat moments to look back upon with anger. Whether fate will be so kind we’ll just have to wait and see.

So to conclude, next season will see the familiar situation of Shrewsbury Town continuing their participation in League 2. There they will be joined by some new exciting faces including Plymouth, Swindon and AFC Wimbledon and attached to that is the possibility of first-hand experience of the likes of Peter Reid, Paolo Di Canio and the Crazy Gang. Not going up does have its perks you know.

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