Paul Hurst’s Time at Shrewsbury – A History in Seven Matches
Wednesday, 13th Jun 2018 15:00 by HarryFromBath
HarryFromBath takes a look at our new manager through Shrewsbury supporters’ eyes while also looking at a number of games which charted his progress at New Meadow.
“Paul Hurst came to us when we looked doomed. He turned us around and saved us from certain relegation, an unbelievable achievement. We were nailed on relegation candidates the next season, but again he worked wonders and we overachieved finishing third behind Wigan and Blackburn.”
“I had doubts about Hurst but was very happy to have been proven wrong. He had a real humility and was very good at just being sensible about our prospects”, “Unfortunately we couldn't win the biggest game in our recent history and, of course, we are gutted. So near and yet so far away.”
Hurst arrived in Shropshire in October 2016 after guiding Grimsby back into the Football League. He succeeded the departing Micky Mellon, inheriting a side which by then had not won in nine league games and which was rooted to the bottom of League One with a mere 10 points from 15 games.
Shrewsbury 1 – 1 Swindon (October 2016)
“Time to go now Micky. I stated at the start of the season I'd judge him at about 10 games in. We are 22nd in the table with one win in our last nine games, one clean sheet in our last 26 games (with five defenders and two holding midfielders!) and we are the dirtiest team in the league with 29 cards.”
“Swindon were there for the taking and we couldn’t beat them.” It’s worth starting with Mellon’s final game in charge of Shrewsbury before leaving by mutual consent. An error-strewn home draw against fellow strugglers Swindon left the hosts third from bottom with 10 points from 11 games.
“Another lifeless, dull performance really. We can have plenty of possession and play it sideways in defence and midfield but have few ideas in the final third, the team lacks pace and creativity and we look disjointed”, “The dreadful football tops it all off, why not go for it against a struggling team?”
“El Abd isn’t a League One player to me. He's a yard too slow and his distribution isn't great either. It's a priority to replace him. We lack confidence on the ball leading to all those back passes which irritates the crowd. Having Deegan, Black and El Abd in the same starting XI is asking for trouble.”
Millwall 0 – 1 Shrewsbury (December 2016)
“Bloody hell boys. Hats off. That's shown some balls”, “Two points away from getting out of bottom four”, “It was nice to listen to a proper battling display”, “For a change we started brightly and we looked a real threat on the break, our first win there in 54 years”, “Wow, is this the turning point?”
“That is the biggest result of the season. This time next week we could be out of the relegation zone. The difference between us and our rivals is that we have confidence.” Louis Dodds’s finish on 17 helped Shrewsbury to a deserved and hard-fought victory borne out of character and resilience.
Town fans felt before this game that this was “a defensive line-up”, but there was an attacking balance with Dom Smith (recalled by Hurst from a loan spell at Barrow) an effective outlet on the right flank. Good defensive organisation allowed the side to withstand a predictable late Millwall bombardment.
“I had a smile walking back to the car. A cockney geezer was whining about Millwall’s long ball game and saying it was wasted as their ‘midgets’ up front were never going to get any joy against our giant centre backs. I bet that is the first and last time that El Abd and Sadler have been called giants.”
“All players and management showed real passion when they came over to us at the end”, “We had one clean sheet in 32 games before Hurst came in, but with him in charge we have now had six in nine games. Bring on January, it will be good to see Hurst work with the players that he wants.”
The January 2017 Window
“Hurst won't panic. he will be quietly working to get better quality players in”, “I'm hoping he sticks to his guns and signs what he thinks is best with players hungry to prove something. We don’t need more league one trudgers in their late twenties and thirties who are only here for their cheque.”
“Hurst has had long enough to see that the squad simply isn't good enough.” Hurst started work on trimming the squad before the January window with Andrew Mangan (to Tranmere in November), Antoni Sarcevic (to Plymouth in December after his contract was cancelled) both departing early.
Four strikers who had arrived on loan - Moha El Ouriachi and George Waring (Stoke), Ivan Toney (Newcastle) and Sylvan Ebanks-Blake (Chesterfield) - also returned to the parent clubs. Meanwhile, holding midfielder Ian Black departed to Blackpool after having his contract cancelled.
When it came to signings he moved to balance his squad. His three permanent additions, centre-back Aristote Nsiala (from Hartlepool), holding midfielder Bryn Morris (from Middlesbrough) and winger Alex Rodman (from Notts County) would all feature heavily during the following season.
Hurst relied on loanees to strengthen his attack, bringing in strikers Tyler Roberts (from West Brom) Stephen Humphrys (from Fulham), Stefan Payne (from Barnsley) and Freddie Ladapo (from Palace). Ladapo made an instant impact, hitting four match-winning goals within six weeks of his arrival.
Scunthorpe 0 – 1 Shrewsbury (February 2017)
“Oh, my giddy aunt, we're almost mid-table!”, “Utterly brilliant, Hurst, you’re a bloody gem”, “We will continue to climb the table because of that quality of football we are playing”, “Take a bow Paul Hurst. Never in my wildest dreams could I see us stopping the rot in such incredible fashion.”
“It wasn't long ago we were all so depressed but at the moment we all feel like dancing.” The Shrews recorded a first win against Scunthorpe in 18 matches thanks to Ladapo’s 69th minute winner. It was his fourth goal in six games, while a fourth win in five games also lifted Town up to 17th in the table.
“I like how we didn't change our style of play when visiting high flying Scunthorpe. We still played with two wingers and two strikers. It has also shown the truth that attack is the best form of defence. Our defenders must love that the ball is at the other end so much, it certainly helps them.”
“Players all over the field winning their individual battles. Keep going.” Fans noted the emergence of a definite style of play, with everyone clear of their roles and partnerships evolving throughout the side. “The manager has brought togetherness, more organisation and concentration at the back.”
“All the victories have been by one goal”, “It's not just the results that we are achieving under Hurst. We now are playing some very pleasing football”, “What's impressing me most are the partnerships developing on both flanks. Full-backs and wingers both defend and attack together to great effect.”
The Summer 2017 Window
“It is very interesting to look at the dealings this summer. What a change from Mellon's over the hill plodders.” Hurst radically overhauled the squad in this window, bringing in a raft of younger lower-league prospects. Moving on older established players which also helped balance the wage bill.
Keeper Craig MacGillivray (Walsall), defenders Omar Beckles (Accrington Stanley), James Bolton (FC Halifax Town), Zak Jules (Reading), midfielder Jon Nolan (Chesterfield) and strikers Lenell John-Lewis (Newport), Stefan Payne (Barnsley) and Arthur Gnahoua (Kidderminster) joined on permanent deals.
Loanees included keeper Dean Henderson (Manchester United), midfielders Ebou Adams and Ben Godfrey (both from Norwich) and strikers Niall Ennis (Wolves) and Carlton Morris (Norwich). The arrival of 13 players gave Hurst a platform to bring his preferred shape and playing style to fruition.
Players leaving the club included keeper Jayson Leutwiler (Blackburn), defenders Adam El-Abd (Wycombe), Olly Lancashire (Swindon) and Ryan McGivern (Northampton) and midfielders Gary Deegan (Cambridge) and Jim O'Brien (Ross County).
Shrewsbury 1 – 0 Wigan (September 2017)
“Wow. Just wow. What an effort, not just today but right through all six games. I was almost in tears at the final whistle knowing we had gone top. What a performance and yet another tremendous midfield effort”, “We properly rattled Wigan, both physically and with our footballing ability.”
Shrewsbury made a blistering start to the season with four wins and a draw in their first five games, but this win over a strong Latics side in their sixth game, courtesy of Stefan Payne’s right-footed shot on 26 minutes, put fans on notice that this would be no ordinary run-of-the-mill league campaign.
“What I liked most was stood up to Wigan and put them in a battle. No meek surrender to big teams at home. We physically battled them and they hated it”, “I loved Hurst's interview too, promising the fans that the work rate and determination will not cease”, “A really hard fought but justified win.”
“The best part of today was our shape, tenacity and organisation. We didn't let a very good team play their game at all”, “Playing one up front seems like we always have an extra man on the pitch. There were always two of our lads like terriers trying to get the ball when they Wigan players had it.”
With a pre-season under his belt and his own playing squad, Hurst now had the team playing in his preferred industrious 4-1-4-1 shape. Fans noted how many of the squad were improving individually having had time to work and also to both grow in confidence and familiarity with their style of play.
“The organisation and tactics of the team are spot on at the moment, but there is no lack of skill and pace in the side either. Nolan was great to watch and Payne is developing into a top target man who chips in with vital goals. Are we sure that Rodman is the same player as last year? He looks reborn.”
Shrewsbury 4 – 0 Bristol Rovers (October 2017)
“The madness continues”, “The best 45 minutes I have seen from Town in many a year”, “We are such a hard-working team with no stars. Rovers have not had a sniff”, “I have never seen anything like it in the East Stand. Grown men dancing around and shouting at the top of their voices.”
The vast majority of Shrewsbury’s wins under Hurst have been by single-goal margins, but they did cut loose under the Tuesday floodlights at home to the Pirates in October. Rovers were blown away by four goals in a 29-minute first-half spell and they couldn’t live with the tempo of the hosts’ play.
“The first goal was simply devastating in its pace and execution. Henderson, Rodman, Whalley, Rodman, bang!”, “I don't remember a Shrewsbury side so dominating another side in a league game as we did in the first half. It was like the Alamo at times. Several of our players looked unplayable.”
“The familiar formation with Carlton getting the nod tonight. The posse of familiar strikers are ready to come on later when necessary to replace Morris or pair up with him”, “Rovers couldn’t live with the pace and power of Morris, Rodman, Nolan and Whalley. Agogo’s pressing was unbelievable.”
“The power and pace of the team, particularly when attacking, is something I don't think I have ever seen from a Town side before”, “It’s impossible to pick a MOTM but the midfield five were beyond amazing. Right now, there is no midfield I have seen in this league that comes anywhere close.”
The January 2018 Window
“I would say that it looks like a brilliant transfer window”, “Time will tell, but it appears to be a typically Hurstian stroke of genius with our signings. Not losing key players has been equally as good”, “We will only ever know with hindsight, but the vital signs are good.”
Shrewsbury were vying with the wealthier Wigan and Blackburn for the automatic promotion places and fans recognised that they could not match their spending. Hurst used the window to make a number of judicious signings in a number of positions to strengthen the squad within his budget.
“Luke Hendrie (from Burnley) is a useful right-back who can cover a range of positions. Sam Jones (an attacking midfielder from Grimsby) gives us cover for Nolan, and Abo Eisa (a left winger signed from Wealdstone) is one for the future who might pop up this season for a cameo or two.”
Their two loan additions were also well received. “Max Lowe is a natural left-back who raved about by Derby fans and Nathan Thomas looks the business on the right wing.” Two notable departures in January were left-back Ryan McGivern (to Northampton) and striker Louis Dodds (to Chesterfield).
Blackburn 3 – 1 Shrewsbury (January 2018)
“We haven't performed today, the better team on the day has won”, “Our defence struggled with Blackburn's pace. For 15 minutes in the second half we looked as if we could get something but they scored twice in eight minutes which finished this game off”, “We lost away from home. It happens.”
Most Shrewsbury fans accepted that this was a fair outcome, decided by two second-half Blackburn goals after the sides had finished the first period with the score tied at one apiece. Although this was only Town’s fourth defeat of the campaign, it allowed third-place Rovers to close the gap on them to two points.
“That's a tough game and we deservedly lost”, “We made a sluggish start and were second best for the first half-hour. Too many silly freekicks added to the pressure with unusually sloppy defending Beckles struggled with a very pacy winger and Henderson had no chance with the first Rovers goal.”
“If you analyse it closely enough that's the game Beckles got truly found out for two goals and our midfield three were just outmuscled. If we're going to continue to play this way the wide players need reinforcement. Morris was so isolated on his own up front that he didn't have a chance.”
“It was a feisty affair. We had to defend a bit but we also put them under some pressure too, getting into some good positions”, “Blackburn were a lot sharper than us and we played poorly. Ben Godfrey seemed a little off pace as did Toto Nsiala. I hope this isn't a sign of our small squad getting leggy?”
Shrewsbury 1 – 2 Rotherham (AET) (League One Play-Off Final – May 2018)
“Good luck to Rotherham next season, but why is it that we just can’t play our best football, which is a class above that shown today, when we really need to?”, “We just didn't compete in the key areas and a number of our key players went missing in what was our biggest game in decades.”
“It was a shame to end an almost perfect season like that.” Dean Henderson’s ninth-minute penalty save was insufficient as Richard Wood’s brace on 32 and 103 minutes won the Millers promotion. Alex Rodman’s equaliser on 58 from a clever freekick routine proved ultimately to be a consolation.
“Once again we didn’t turn up for long enough periods to win it. Rotherham ripped us to pieces at times and showed what pace can do. Their midfield movement was superb. We couldn’t handle it and we looked overawed. The better team won on the day but it doesn’t make it feel any better.”
HendersonBoltonNsialaSadlerBecklesGodfreyBryn MorrisWhalleyNolanRodmanCarlton Morris
The starting XI (above) had beaten Charlton twice by a 1-0 score line in the semi-finals. Midfielder and captain Abu Ogogo was absent with a knee injury.
“Considering how Hurst's side is often lauded for being so organised, we looked like we really lost our shape and were very ragged throughout.”
“That was miserable. Midfield was overrun, our defence all over the place and we had nothing going forward. The players look overawed”, “We looked knackered by half time. Even when we equalised we couldn't raise our game”, “For a team who prides itself on being fit we looked slow and ragged.”
“Rotherham were much better in all departments and deserved winners”, “It was quite strange that for large passages of the match wherever the ball dropped in the middle third of the pitch, none of our midfielders were anywhere near it”, “The Wembley curse continues. We will never win there.”
Honest, Open and Committed – Hurst’s Management Style
“There's something a bit Fergie-esque about Paul Hurst. He doesn't seem to suffer fools gladly and will expect his players to work hard as a unit and give their all. He clearly expects total commitment from his players. Our team fights for each other and anyone who underperforms will get dropped.”
Shrewsbury fans often referred to team’s spirit which was borne out of Hurst’s drive, ambition and will to win. “This overpowers teams like Wigan who have fancy players who think they can just turn up and roll teams over. I would take a team with that spirit over a team of prima donnas any day.”
“When asked if he was happy about being top if the league after 14 games, Hurst said, ‘Not really'. It was not in a negative way, more of a ‘we've achieved nothing yet’ type of way. It is good to hear that no one is a certainty on the team sheet and that he is keeping the players feet firmly on the ground.”
Width and Industry - Hurst’s Preferred Playing Style
“Hurst will have one of the fittest teams in the league. He will also engender a great team spirit. He will play a pressing, high-energy game. He likes to use the full width of the pitch. If you want free flowing tiki taka Hurst ain't your guy. He will push a competent style with the emphasis on wingers.”
“If you want a team of warriors who will run through walls for the shirt then Hurst is your guy”, “Hurst will galvanise the team into a hardworking unit with no star players. He will demand 110 per cent effort for the whole game. On this point we scored quite a few goals after 90 mins to gain points.”
“Hurst expects hard work, right attitude and togetherness. Many wins were from working hard and earning the right to win. Being a fit side, we ground teams down and outran sides too. We gained many wins and draws with late goals”, “It’s a fallacy that he plays out and out attacking football”
“Hurst will play high tempo one touch football with an emphasis on hard work. pressing all over the park with a well-organised defence that won’t concede many goals. He took a team that leaked goals like a sieve to one of best defensive records in all four divisions. He built from a defensive platform.”
“Hurst likes to play a counter-attacking style so employs two wide men who are quick with usually one striker who is very good at holding the ball up and good in the air”, “He prefers to play with one up front, which fits well with the idea of soaking up pressure and breaking quickly.”
“There was also a criticism from Grimsby fans saying that Hurst’s style of play led to the team being spent by the play-offs. Hurst only seems to have a select group of players he trusts and they get flogged. As such that seems to lead to him to be reluctant to make subs until it’s too late as well.”
The reliance on a small core of players may have been a result of a small squad, but the lack of a Plan B was a recurring theme. “We tried 4-4-2 a few times. Although it was occasionally useful in the right circumstances at the end of games when we were down, overall it was just not a winner with us.”
“The endeavour and spirit of Hurst's teams goes a long way in League One as we happily found out. Teams took a while to figure out how to play against our high intensity game but Rotherham, sadly, were one of the few that could play us at our own game and win.”
Winning by Narrow Margins
“We played some really nice football under Hurst but I wouldn't say he was attack-minded. A solid back four and a three in central midfield were the keys to our success. I can't say I ever saw us cut loose. The 4-0 first-half rout of Bristol Rovers was partly on the counter because they had a go at us.”
“He is not an out-and-out attacking manager. He will make sure defence is the number one priority, but although not a high scoring team you will score more than you let in. Expect plenty of odd goal wins, plenty of shut-outs”, “As good as our season was, we won many of our games by a single goal.”
“We finished third but only scored 60 goals, compared to promoted Wigan’s 89 and Blackburn’s 82”, “We played attractive football and could have scored more but often lacked quality in the last third”, “Hurst was good at setting up teams to soak up pressure but not great at going at inferior teams.”
“The figures matched our tactics, strong defence, superb goalkeeping and going forward was mostly wing play. The penalty area in attack could get frustrating, often crosses came in from wingers and no one there to meet it while the attacking group would seem to try pass the ball into the net.”
Hurst’s Approach to Squad Building and Transfers
“Hurst has proven that on a small budget he can do very well”, “He will use the budget well and will identify players that won’t be on most club’s radar, just like he did with us”, “Expect any passengers in the squad to be shown the door, and also expect a real ethos of teamwork and togetherness.”
Hurst used his knowledge of the lower leagues to rebuild the bulk of his squad. His first January window was used to make quick repairs, strengthening the defence and adding his preferred width. He waited until last summer’s window to build a side more suited to his preferred style of play.
“One thing I am not sure about is whether Hurst has an eye for the talent needed at the higher level. I'm not so sure. While he knows how he wants to set his teams up I will watch with interest to see if he can source the players that can play to his style with the creativity to deliver a play-off team.”
Shrewsbury fans highlighted whether his eye for lower-league talent would stretch to identifying the fewer numbers of players who could play at Championship level. Hurst was credited with improving the ability of his signings, but there was little discussion of integrating youth players into the set-up.
“The only downside with his signings was not bringing in a tried and tested striker. Another 10 goals would have got us promoted. He seemed to prefer wingers. While we finished third we definitely did not score enough goals, so we shall see if he will remain defensive minded or go on the attack.”
Expectations of Success
“Hurst's strength was creating a side that cumulatively is stronger than the sum of its constituent parts. Superb fitness, great team spirit and an eye for getting the best out of otherwise nondescript players. I think his biggest test will be how he handles the big step up to the Championship.”
“The challenge will be making this concept work at Championship level, with potentially greater egos at stake. When it all came together the team was a delight to watch. Incisive passing, tremendous closing down and harrying and a high intensity pace of football that was absolutely intoxicating.”
“I can see Hurst building a solid, workmanlike Ipswich team that secures Championship football for the next few seasons. It’s hard to see him have enough tactical and motivational ability to get them promoted with the extra money in the Championship, particularly with recently relegated sides.”
“A lot will depend on what Ipswich’s expectations are”, “I wish him well but it's a risk and I'm curious to see how it turns out. I don't know what expectations Ipswich fans have but I don’t expect them to make the leap in the Championship that we made in League One. If it works, it will take longer.”
“On what I have seen of him you will need an engine room in midfield, a top-notch defence and a strong lone striker capable of holding the ball up, but that was us. Maybe for you guys he will adopt a different approach and he'll have a gung-ho Klopp style, time will tell.”
“I do think it's a great appointment from Ipswich, and certainly a nice break from the usual roster of out-of-work managers. All I would say is Grimsby fans warned us and and we may have to warn the Tractor Boys, Hurst is ambitious and he may move on sooner than everyone thinks and wants.”
“I will echo that point about being ambitious. If he does well with Ipswich in his first season and gets them closer to the play-offs, be prepared for bigger and higher-placed clubs showing interest in him this time next season. Don't be surprised at all if he is tempted to progress on to something bigger.”
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