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The Season Review: Shrewsbury Town’s 2011-12 Season, Part 2

June 6, 2012

So 2011-12 proved to be a highly successful term for Shrewsbury Town. Should you not know why, then click here for part 1 of the season review.

Here in part 2, there’ll be a more detailed look at the squad, recounting how particular individuals fared, areas that can be improved for next season and so forth.

GOALKEEPERS

Following the 3-0 defeat at Southend at the end of September, Ben Smith had been replaced by Chris Neal between the posts and while it took Neal a while before looking steady, he appeared to get better as the campaign went on. He was partial to the odd dropping of a clanger but he tending to react stronger. A particular game that sticks out was away to Plymouth. What should have been a routine catch, Neal misjudged the flight of the ball and he failed to prevent it bouncing into the net. He then proceeded to make a series of fine saves throughout the rest of the game.

Both goalkeepers are out of contract in the summer and while, there is upcoming goalkeeping talent in the youth ranks, it would be a huge surprise if both were to leave. Ben Smith has departed. It all seemed a little unfair on him last season. He never really put a foot wrong and while his positioning was occasionally off, he will be a decent goalkeeper in the lower tiers of the Football League for some time yet.

At the time of writing, Chris Neal has yet to decide whether he’ll be staying or leaving the Greenhous Meadow. It would be nice to see him stay and to provide at least some continuity for next season but as time goes on, you can’t help but fell the likelihood of him staying put diminishes. Regardless of Neal’s future, a new goalkeeper will clearly be on Graham Turner’s shortlist.

DEFENDERS

The above chart illustrates Shrewsbury’s quite incredible defensive record at the Greenhous Meadow. Away from home doesn’t make for the greatest reading but the unbeaten home record of last season deserves more plaudits than it has received. Shrewsbury’s defending throughout the season was more efficient than most other teams in League 2.

Ian Sharps got the recognition of many with his steady reliability throughout the season (2nd highest amount of minutes on the pitch) and the captain certainly was vital to the team set-up. Shane Cansdell-Sheriff, the better player on a technical level of the two, proved effective and on occasions where Sharps was found wanting (there would be more than people would lead you to believe), he was often there ready to remove any danger. The centre-back partnership could’ve been very different. Reuben Hazell started the season as a first choice option but was cruelly robbed of further appearances after sustaining an injury following a needless challenge by Torquay’s bulldozer Rene Howe. With Sharps heading back to Rotherham and Cansdell-Sheriff opting to move to Preston North End, the expectation is that Hazell will be the main man in defence and would certainly be a candidate for the vacant captaincy.

As for who will partner him, defenders are clearly a priority on Turner’s shopping list for this summer but they might have a natural partner to Hazell already at the club. Jermaine Grandison started off as a centre-back and while his lung-busting runs from right-back have been a delight (and at times, a fright) to watch, he has fared well when he has had to deputise. They played together in the 3-1 loss at Arsenal and experienced a 100% record in the league (albeit for 160 minutes) so it’s not entirely untested. Youngster Connor Goldson came in and took the right-back berth, earning plaudits for a composed performance against Arsenal in particular. It’ll be interesting to see how he fares next season.

*COMPARISON STUDY*

There’s only one of these but this is to illustrate not just why I think Jermaine Grandison is vital to the Shrews going forward but also that he shouldn’t change his style. He just needs to make small improvements to what talents he has at his disposal.

Of course some of you may think that a move to centre-back means an end to rampaging runs. That is not necessarily true. It would need a simple repositioning of the backline, perhaps interchanging with an adaptable right-back i.e. Connor Goldson, or a centre midfielder staying a little further back to ensure a balance should the opposition force a turnover of possession. He could still be just as important, it would just require a small tactical shuffle.

In regards the comparison charts that are below, they are fairly self-explanatory. I picked Shane Cansdell-Sheriff as the man to compare Grandison to for a few reasons. The Australian is the man whose role Grandison is likely to take and also in attributes, probably the next best proactive defender in the squad. Ian Sharps is a reactive defender (case in point, remember the many occasions where Sharps made sliding tackles just in time rather than reading the game better and moving early). A very good reactive defender I’ll say but for a team who look to play with a progressive game plan, his departure isn’t the greatest blow.

MIDFIELDERS

Town have had for some time an issue with the balance of the midfield. When games were stretched, the midfield would lack any sense of cohesion as the wingers would often veer into central spaces to try and gain possession while the two central midfielders never seemed to understand where they were meant to be, often leaving gaping holes in front of the centre-backs. Under Graham Turner, such occasions have been limited thanks to a greater positional understanding from the central midfielders in particular.

Sean McAllister and Nicky Wroe’s partnership in 2010-11 was a great start to such a progression. McAllister’s preference to stay in a more withdrawn role looking to make short passes worked well with Wroe who would be able to move forward and when looking for a goal, would often drift into a role similar to that of a support striker. This season saw Matt Richards come to the fore. A player capable of filling in at left-back, the left and centre of midfield, Richards displayed technical abilities of a higher level and his passing was instrumental in Shrewsbury’s ability to not just move the ball forward but to keep it in attacking spaces.

Injuries forced some changes with differing outcomes. An example of the best of these was evident with the loan signing of David McAllister from Sheffield United. A combative midfielder with a decent level of a technical ability, he featured in central midfield. Richards was moved out to the left hand side but would often cut in with McAllister happy to cover if required. Other loan signings didn’t fare too well. James Wallace got sent off on his debut and was then injured for the rest of his spell while winger Romaine Sawyers disappointed.

For me, what lead Shrewsbury to promotion was the improvements in technical quality and positional intelligence in the midfield. One of the leading lights in this has been a greater consistency in performance by Mark Wright. Over the past two years, there’s been a fair amount of criticism levelled at the winger. Yes, he can be frustrating at times. The criticism can be unfair though especially in regards a perceived lack of work rate. At times it actually appears that he’s just being intelligent in his energy expenditure. I know it’s life-affirming and all that to see a player chase a ball down even though there’s a very high probability it will go out of play. It’s good to have a few mindless runner types in the squad but a player of Wright’s ilk, one who can change games, score goals and always pose a threat to the opposition, is one to support not berate. He featured in every single league fixture this season, the only player to do so.

ATTACKERS

James Collins’ development this season has been one of the many highlights. He has improved virtually every aspect of his game and it is now a case of Collins plus one up front. It’s no surprise that he is acumulating interest from teams in higher tiers. As for his partner, it’s been an interesting season for the other forwards.

Terry Gornell was poor in the first half of the season. He would impress on a few occasions but by-in-large he was a regular point of frustration for the Salop faithful. His control of the ball lead a lot to be desired and playing in a role where you often need to be able to hold the ball up for some time, it’s not the best of deficiencies to have. Turner obviously saw quality in him and he eventually started to come good towards the end of the season.

His rival for a starting forward berth, Marvin Morgan, is a very interesting player. A tireless worker but not the best in terms of positioning, Morgan certainly has the bulk of the supporters on his side. It’ll be interesting to see how he does in League 1 as there were times where he appeared fairly predictable in his runs and passes.

Tom Bradshaw remains one to watch. He didn’t play much this season and may perhaps benefit from a period on loan at a lower level.
The below chart makes interesting viewing, once again highlighting the difference between the Shrews at home and away from the Greenhous Meadow , this time in attack.

NEXT SEASON

As mentioned earlier, Ben Smith has departed with question marks at the time of writing hanging over the future of Chris Neal. What applies to Neal also applies to James Collins whose head is being turned by perceived interest in his services from the likes of Watford and Crystal Palace. To lose Collins would be a huge blow to the Shrews as his firepower would be crucial to hopes not just of survival in League 1 but perhaps aspiring to higher places.

Ian Sharps has gone back to Rotherham following two seasons at the Greenhous Meadow. Shane Cansdell-Sheriff and Nicky Wroe have both signed for Graham Westley’s Preston North End. The blow of Wroe’s departure has been softened by the signing of a very similar type of player in Asa Hall, a man who spent a loan spell at the Shrews a few years back.

The squad will need to increase in number but hopefully there will be some first team opportunities for Connor Goldson and young midfielder Ryan Woods, particularly with the reintroduction of seven substitutes permitted on the bench.

Carl Regan was also released therefore leaving defensive numbers extremely short. Clearly they’ll be plenty of transfer movement and it would appear that it’s defensive reinforcement that will be top of the agenda. Sean McAllister has departed while Aaron Wildig is now a permanent member of the squad following the end of his contract at Cardiff City. Wildig impressed at the end of last season as while he is far from a natural energetic winger, his technical quality is far superior to the other option on the right side, Jon Taylor. Taylor needs to improve on his first touch and crossing. His energy and work rate excite some but he will need to deliver with more consistency if he’s to take back a place in the starting eleven.

All-in-all, it’s going to be a busy summer for Graham Turner as the core of the squad has moved on. It’s something that all football supporters are fairly used to but it’s a shame that we’ll never know how this season’s group would fare at a higher level. Yet another “what if” moment, that’s all we need.

POSTSCRIPT

I’d like to sincerely thank Ben Mayhew for providing the graphical information for this post. You can check out his fine site here which will be a go-to-point for many over the course of next season. Have a look there now for detailed analysis of the Championship, League 1 and League 2.

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