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The Season Review: Shrewsbury Town’s 2011-12 Season, Part 1

June 4, 2012

Now the dust has settled and the champagne bottles are dry, it’s time to look back over the season Shrewsbury Town have had. Promotion was the goal and anything less not only would have spelled a year of failure but might have initiated some questions to be asked of Graham Turner.

Following a pre-season that offered plenty of positives, the Shrews entered the season expectant of pushing towards the top of the table. They were denied an opening day victory in what was almost a carnival atmosphere at home to Plymouth due to a late Carl Fletcher equaliser after James Collins had given the hosts the lead. With disappointment the first feeling of the season, the Shrews were to begin their League Cup campaign. Admittedly not expecting it to last particularly long, they travelled to Championship side Derby County.

Derby haven’t had the best of records against lower league opposition in the Carling Cup but with status comes expectations and while the players believed, the travelling blue contingent weren’t expecting a surprise. Inspired by former Ram Lionel Ainsworth, whom Derby’s defence couldn’t cope with, the Shrews ran into a 3 goal lead with Marvin Morgan getting two and James Collins the other. The home crowd grew restless and the second half saw Derby react and get two goals back but the damage had been done. Shrewsbury were through to the second round. With such a performance came a hike in expectations that didn’t materialise in terms of league results. A 1-1 draw away to Burton was followed by a 2-0 defeat in Oxford and Shrewsbury found themselves towards the wrong end of the table, languishing near the drop zone.

Doubt began to seep into the collective consciousness of the Salopian faithful. Perhaps the team was going to take longer to gel and that the Derby game was simply the opposition being arrogant and complacent. A home victory against Crewe certainly helped lift a degree of doubt but such doubt would remain around the Shrews for a while yet.

The Carling Cup is viewed by those up the league ladder as a trinket but to clubs from the lower end of the Football League food chain, it can serve as both a welcome distraction and also a good money spinner. It would prove to be both for the Shrews as while they were welcoming new Premier League opposition in Swansea, they revelled in the underdog status once more.
Swansea fielded a weakened side but not one lacking talent. Brendan Rodgers spoke glowingly about the Shrews following the 3-1 defeat and he introduced Scott Sinclair when trailing albeit to no great effect. The home crowd took great delight in seeing a rising talent being nutmegged by step-over extraordinaire Jermaine Grandison.

The run of home games put Shrewsbury into a more accurate position and a 2-1 win hosting Paolo Di Canio’s Swindon saw the Shrews move into the top half of the table.

“I must mention the local newspapers view on us and I quote “The Shrews policy of bringing in big lumps suggests they may abandon all forms of technique in favour of physique, they will get nowhere”-
Graham Turner, programme notes ahead of Shrewsbury v Swindon Saturday 27th August 2011. Swindon’s local press only serving to increase Shrews’ motivation and also demonstrating a distinct lack of research.

A Johnstone Paint Trophy exit at Walsall didn’t greatly affect matters and the Shrews soon got their first league away victory of the season, grinding out a 1-0 win at Gillingham.

Shrewsbury have enjoyed the past few occasions against Hereford and the encounter on 10th September was no different. The game would also see Shrewsbury face a scenario that no one would particularly want to be in but one that the Shrews throughout the season would indeed flourish in. Terry Gornell’s dismissal for a needless challenge on Hereford goalkeeper David Cornell while the hosts lead 2-0 was not necessarily a great indicator as to similar future scenarios but it illustrated a resolve in the team that would flourish in much more testing times. Hereford pulled one back 10 minutes after Gornell’s red card but Marvin Morgan would be on hand to reinstall the two-goal cushion and ensure not just another home victory but that the Shrews would be in the top 3 places.

The Carling Cup third round was on the horizon but injuries first to club captain Ian Sharps and then in the 3-2 win at Port Vale, an injury to Shane Cansdell-Sheriff saw Shrewsbury’s defensive numbers stretched.

“I have heard that Shrewsbury look to play good football and have scored a few late goals so far this season, so we need to stay focused”-
Robin Van Persie, programme notes ahead of Arsenal v Shrewsbury, Tuesday 20th September 2011.

The trip to the Emirates was incredible for the Salopian faithful. Shrewsbury took just over 5,000 fans to London and it was them who would cheer first. Despite having to play youngster Connor Goldson at right back, forcing Grandison into albeit his more natural position at centre-back, the Shrews showed great determination and there were spells in the first half where they would boss their more illustrious counterparts. Granted this was not Arsenal’s best team but it was one Wenger had deemed sufficient to ensure victory and one that possessed enough talent to grace certainly the second tier of English football if not higher. Arsenal would turn it round and end the Shrews cup run, winning 3-1 but the performance only reinforced supporters’ opinions that the Shrews were destined for that much-wanted promotion.

A topsy-turvy run of results in the league would follow with Salop picking up picking up most of their points at home, while having to settle with solitary points on the road. Such form kept the Shrews in the promotion reckoning but certainly didn’t help the nerves in automatic placing aspirations.

November would be a perfect month for the Shrews and it saw them cement themselves in fourth place. It also saw the ESPN cameras cover the trip to Newport County in the FA Cup First Round which would end in victory for the travelling side much to the chagrin of the television cameras desperate to see an upset to boost interest in the minnows. Another cup run was sparked and with victory over Rotherham in the second round saw the Shrews dream of getting another chance to pit their wits against Premier League opposition in the third round. Would they finally be able to play Tottenham Hotspur, the only team in the Football League they’d never faced? Or perhaps a trip to another leading light, maybe Chelsea, Manchester United or how about a trip to Arsenal once again?

It didn’t quite turn out that way as the draw saw them face Middlesbrough away: a fixture that saw some optimism but one that didn’t inspire as many glory hunters as the trip to the Emirates earlier in the season had. League matters were at hand before that date and the Shrews readopted their pattern of draws and narrow defeats away while remaining impervious at home.

January came and an undeserved defeat at Middlesbrough saw the focus completely shift to the promotion push. (A more detailed account of the trip to Teeside can be found here)
Following a victory at home to Gillingham, Shrewsbury would find themselves in a clash with one of their direct rivals, Southend United.
With the score at 0-0, Shrewsbury were reduced to 10 men as Marvin Morgan was given what the crowd deemed an unjust red card for a lunging challenge of Southend’s Michael Essien-lookalike JP Kalala. The tackle was clumsy but was in no way malicious and a more pragmatic official would have deemed it worthy of a yellow at best. The injustice grated with the home support and a string on contentious decisions against Salop saw the crowd grow in sound. This seemed to spur the players on and from the penalty spot, James Collins fired Shrewsbury into the lead early in the second half. Southend then came back and the introduction of Bilel Mohsni gave the home crowd the pantomime villain that seemed to complete the spectacle. The referee had been fairly incompetent but Mohsni provided comic relief and would also be booked for his troubles as he gestured to the crowd following Southend’s equaliser.

9 minutes from time, fan favourite Jermaine Grandison headed home from a Matt Richards cross to put the Shrews back in the lead, a lead that they would keep much to the celebrations of the home crowd. A win in such circumstances only heightened the growing feeling that this was to be the year that the Shrews would climb out of League 2 and into League 1.

Defeats on the road to promotion-pushing rivals pushed Salop back in a charge for the automatic places. The defeat away to Swindon was tough to take as the Shrews were denied a clear penalty and what would have been a red card for the challenge made by Alan McCormack on Terry Gornell. That moment with the Shrews leading 1-0 appeared decisive as Swindon appeared lifted by it and with the Shrews mulling in the dismay of injustice, Swindon rallied back in the second half to get an arguably undeserved 2-1 win. Graham Turner was rightly irritated at the final whistle and was somewhat unfairly restrained by stewards. Turner is a consummate professional and the referee, rather than earning the respect of many and at least engaging in dialogue with Turner, stood in the centre circle and called stewards to usher Turner away. To say it was poorly dealt with was an understatement as it clearly distressed Turner that the referee would not even give the Shrews boss’ the courtesy of discussing the incident. Clearly enraged, the image brought the horrible spectre of injustice back into the collective mind of the Salopian faithful.

The Shrews bounced back with a home win over Crawley in front of satellite television cameras. It was a hardly a performance to remember for the Shrews but they showed superb resilience and ensured that the unbeaten home record was maintained. More importantly, Steve Evans was not going to be the man to break it. He would get another opportunity to do so a couple of months later.

The home record looked gone against Oxford. The U’s were leading 2-1 going into the final minutes of the game but Matt Richards had other ideas. A free-kick from 35 yards out, everyone was awaiting one last punt towards the box and hopefully something would come of it. Richards opted to let rip with a fine strike. The curl on it caught the keeper completely unaware and the Meadow would erupt in joy at grabbing a point from nothing.

A victory over Burton would put the Shrews into second place but defeat in Plymouth gave any title aspirations a hefty blow. That would be the last time the Shrews would taste defeat with their promotion uncertain. Away wins at Morecambe and Macclesfield solidified the expectations of automatic promotion and with the run-in looking easier than those of their rivals, it would appear a done deal. A 1-0 win hosting Bradford was followed by beating a Rotherham side debuting a new coach in the shape of Steve Evans. The third date penned in for the game at home to Port Vale would finally see the completion of 90 minutes and another 1-0 win. (The previous attempts at fulfilling this fixture saw a frozen pitch and an electrical fire).

This meant that the Shrews could seal promotion with victory at Accrington Stanley. A draw only delayed the inevitable and just avoiding defeat at home to Dagenham & Redbridge would seal that much-wanted promotion. A tense 1-0 victory saw the standard pitch invasion and the beginning of celebrations. There was an end-of-season fixture to fulfil which seemed to get in the way more than anything else. It would finish with a 3-1 defeat at Wimbledon but the goal was achieved. 2nd place, automatic promotion, League 1 football next season.

Mission accomplished.

Moment of the season

There were a few contenders but the greatest emotive moment would have to be when James Collins gave Shrewsbury the lead against Arsenal at the Emirates. The suspension of disbelief was incredible and there had been the vaguest of optimism before but the thought that we were beating Arsenal, let alone beating them in the setting of the Emirates felt unreal. In the end, reality struck but that moment is something that will stay in the minds of Shrewsbury supporters for some time.

Goal of the season

The thunderous strike by Matt Richards from 35 yards out at home to Oxford wins this. The best goal ever seen at the Greenhous Meadow and maintaining the unbeaten record where it seemed lost.

Game of the season

Shrewsbury 2-1 Southend. Easily the best atmosphere produced at the ground within the context of the crowd in attendance. It was a clear example of a crowd lifting a team and saw some thoroughly entertaining battles with plenty of end-to-end action to keep the crowd entertained. The referee’s lack of control seemed to only add to the entertainment.

Player of the season

It came down to a shoot-out between two. Matt Richards would win the clubs’ and fans’ awards and demonstrated technical qualities that the team had craved for a while. However, one player who excites the crowd more when he gets the ball is Jermaine Grandison who continues to improve as a player. His step-overs defy logic and that showmanship together with demonstrating a stronger defensive resolve indicates a player that can certainly ply his trade at a higher level.

Young player of the season

James Collins went from being an attacking option to the main striker. His goals and workrate endeared him to the supporters and with areas to improve, he is an exciting prospect. Whether he’ll be at Shrewsbury much longer is debatable.

Flop of the season

It’s a harsh aspect perhaps but one that is necessary with every team. Tom Bradshaw was tipped prior to the season starting as a likely starter but for a multitude of reasons, he didn’t play much at all. Perhaps he needs a loan move to reignite the talent he clearly possesses. There were a couple of loan players who failed to convince: James Wallace got sent off on his debut and that was pretty much it from him while much was expected of Romaine Sawyers but he seemed scarily lightweight. The choice will go to Lionel Ainsworth. He started the season in sensational form but his lack of consistency continued and he frustrated. He was dropped and didn’t show the required attitude to work his way back into the reckoning. Such a shame for a player who certainly possesses the ability to operate at a higher level but doesn’t appear to possess the personality needed for that to happen.

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