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Shrewsbury Town 2011-12 Pre-Season Review

July 31, 2011

After narrowly missing out on promotion last season, Shrewsbury Town are determined to go one step better and finally achieve the promotion the club has been set towards. Squad-wise the pre-season requirements were in essence refinement rather than overhaul and while there has been considerable turnover of playing staff, it pales in significance to previous seasons. Last season’s battering-ram frontman Matt Harrold has left to be replaced by the man Graham Turner wanted prior to Harrold’s arrival, Marvin Morgan. The problem that faced Turner at the end of last season was the lack of options across the back four which has been addressed with the arrivals of Reuben Hazell, Joe Jacobson and Carl Regan while Terry Gornell has arrived in the hope that increased options up front will result in a much needed improvement in goalscoring from the frontline. Last season, the strikers were on occasions criticised for not converting enough chances and it is hoped that Morgan and Gornell’s arrivals will spur on the likes of James Collins and Tom Bradshaw to stake their claim for a starting place via the format of goals scored.

For an overview, pre-season has been a mixed bag for Shrewsbury. It all started with a defeat to TNS in a Shropshire Senior Cup Semi-final. That is where the idea of seniors can be dismissed as with other more striking engagements ahead (TNS had a Europa League tie three days after while Shrewsbury didn’t feel first team preparations at the stage where they were sufficient to include the game in their pre-season programme) both teams sent out young, inexperienced sides. It could also be seen that such squads illustrate the disdain held for the local FA but that’s a story to pick up at another time.

The first team began their pre-season with the hosting of a Manchester United team. Darron Gibson was the only player on the team that was sent to the Greenhous Meadow that had experienced first team football with the Red Devils but with a very talented bunch of youngsters on display, a promising contest was in the offering. Shrewsbury prevailed, winning 2-1 and produced a decent display. The Shrews used the flanks to full effect as Man United played remarkably narrow and as Gibson admitted following the game, the United team underestimated Shrewsbury, believing that the test they would get would be purely physical as opposed to anything technical. The impressive display where come the second half Shrewsbury were not just dominating on the flanks but in the middle of the park offered a lot of positives as a higher score-line victory would not have flattered the Town.

The positives from the display against the Manchester United XI were enhanced by the next pre-season result: a 2-0 home win over a Wolverhampton Wanderers outfit. Admittedly, the game was advertised initially as plainly Wolverhampton Wanderers giving the vain hope that some first team players would make the trip but unfortunately the Wolves team on offer was a young and inexperienced team. Nonetheless the Wolves teams’ set-up posed more of a test than that of the Man United team as Wolves seemed a lot more defensive and solid and with the likes of Nathaniel Mendez-Laing on show, they offered a stronger physical test for the Shrews therefore providing a test more akin to those the Shrews will face in League 2 this coming season. It would be a test that Shrewsbury would pass with some ease as Wolves were reduced to a solitary effort on goal (a very good one which forced a superb reaction save from Ben Smith). This tie also saw the opportunity for Shrewsbury supporters to cast their eyes over some new faces on trial at the club with Carl Regan and Matt Richards on display. Both players played well with Regan putting in a hugely impressively display at right-back while Matt Richards grew in influence as the game went on. Richards seemed overly keen in the opening stages and appeared to be one in the mould of former Blue Terry Dunfield (a man who when donning the colours of Shrewsbury proceeded to pass backwards on a seemingly constant basis and often put his teammates under unnecessary pressure) but he seemed to relax and put in a good showing in the second half. Another new face who was beginning to make an impression was Joe Jacobsen who has made it something of a seamless transition at left-back for the Town faithful with consistency very much in the mould of last season’s ever-present Mat Sadler.

Next for the Shrews was a trip to Kidderminster and indeed their only official away pre-season game. A tight contest ensued where Kidderminster won by the solitary goal in three as Town seemed sluggish both with and without the ball, a contrast to their previous games. By the time of this game, Matt Richards was deemed worthy enough to be offered a contract at the club by Graham Turner while Carl Regan looked primed for a deal and come the following and last pre-season game, this would be a done deal.

“Irrespective of the opposition, if a team does not work at the right pace or hard enough, results will suffer”- Graham Turner, programme notes for Shrewsbury v Tranmere Rovers, Friday 29th July 2011.

Shrewsbury’s pre-season would end on a rather poor note as an impressive (full-strength as well) Tranmere Rovers travelled to the Greenhous Meadow and took a 2-0 victory home with them. It was a game that raised a heap of questions for the Shrewsbury faithful as Tranmere’s fluid counter-attack exploited limitations throughout the Shrewsbury side. Town’s midfield lost structure during the game and would become something of an incoherent mess while club captain and defensive lynchpin Ian Sharps, who had missed the first two matches of pre-season, appeared off the pace and unfortunately for him, this was cruelly exploited on multiple occasions. His partner in the centre of defence, Reuben Hazell, was impressive but with increased duty via Sharps’ uncharacteristic lack of reliability, it would be a hard night for the former Oldham defender. Fellow new signing Marvin Morgan continued his impressive personal pre-season form and while he cut a disconsolate figure at times leading the frontline, he performed an admirable job and looks on his way to becoming a favourite of the supporters.

While questions have been raised by the performance against Tranmere going into the opening game of the season, it is fair to say that the team’s general quality has improved and the squad’s refined streamlining approach has been vindicated with the enforced reduction of named substitutes on a matchday. This reduction from seven to five substitutes means that smaller squads are likely to be of more benefit in terms of sustaining morale throughout the whole squad. The increased quality of individuals means that competition for starting places is fiercer than last year and it is hoped that it will be of benefit as players look to prove their worth on a constant basis. On the other side, it could have an initial unsettling effect and may detract from results early in the season as players try to establish themselves while maintaining a rhythm of play that works both on an individual basis and as a collective.

Now with pre-season over, it is time for Graham Turner and his charges to better last season and achieve the sole ambition the club has now: obtaining promotion. The signs are positive but there will always be a healthy amount of scepticism as is the norm for football clubs of Shrewsbury’s stature.

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