Town Visit Shrewsbury Aiming to Go on Run to Reinvigorate Play-Off Push
Friday, 12th Feb 2021 11:45
Boss Paul Lambert says the Blues, who face Shrewsbury at Montgomery Waters Meadow on Saturday, need to go on a run in the second half of the season if they’re to make the play-offs.
Town returned to 11th in the table following Tuesday’s 2-1 defeat at Peterborough but remain four points off the play-offs with Charlton sixth, although a further five behind Doncaster in fifth and one more away from Hull City in second.
Inconsistency and an inability to beat the top sides has seen them take only 14 points from their last 13 games, 17th in a form table over that period.
Lambert admits that the Blues can’t continue to remain in their current situation and present form, and need to push on towards and into the top six, starting against the 17th-placed Shrews.
“No, we have to get in them, that’s the aim,” he said. “We have to get in there, we have to go as high as we possibly can.
“We’ve got just under half the season to go so we have to make a run for it, that’s for sure.”
He added: “We’re in the mix to get in the play-offs, that’s for sure. And if we can go and do what we’ve done against Blackpool and others, then let’s see what happens.”
Lambert dismissed the suggestion that he might not be too unhappy with a draw at Shrewsbury in the wake of Tuesday’s defeat at Peterborough.
“We go and try and win, we try and win,” he insisted. “I don’t play professional sport to draw. My mindset is to win every game. I’ve never gone into any game and said ‘I want a draw there’. You want to win.
“Whether you can do that, remains to be seen but you want to win every game you play, that’s professional sport. Professional sport is about winning and trying to win titles and things like that.”
Shrewsbury go into the game in good form having won three of their last four and seven of their last 10 in the league. In the 13-match form table in which Town are 17th, Shrewsbury are fourth.
At home, in addition to a coming-from-behind 2-1 win against the Sunderland on Tuesday, the Shrews beat Peterborough United 2-0 at the end of last month, although were defeated 1-0 by Crewe in between the two victories. Overall at Montgomery Waters Meadow, their record is a less than impressive: won three, drawn five and lost four.
Manager Steve Cotterill was admitted to hospital in Bristol a month ago with Covid-19 but has continued to work on training and match preparation with his assistant Aaron Wilbraham running things for him at the training ground and on match days.
Wilbraham, known as Albie, played for Lambert at Norwich between January 2011 and July 2012, scoring twice in nine starts and 19 sub appearances. The former striker retired at the end of last season while at Rochdale having continued his career until he was 40.
“They’ve picked up some good results with Wilbraham there. I’ve always said that he’s the best pound-for-pound signing that I’ve ever made just because of the way he was,” he said.
“As a person, as a guy, he’s a credit to himself and his family, a top, top bloke and I’m glad he’s doing well but tomorrow I hope he has an absolute disaster. But whatever happens it will be good to see him.
“A proper man, a proper bloke and he was everything a manager could ask for in a guy, the way he performed for me.
“He’s a credit to himself. To play until he was 40, maybe he’s not played as many games as he would like, but a credit to him, a credit to his family, an absolute dream to work with, he was brilliant.
“Albie looks younger now than he did when he played for me. A top guy, I’ve a lot of time for him and he was absolutely fantastic for me.
“I’m happy for him, I happy if he loses tomorrow but it’ll be nice to see him. And Steve Cotterill, my best wishes to him, I hope he recovers from this incredible virus.”
Since Cotterill and Wilbraham took charge following Sam Ricketts's sacking in late November, the Shrews have win seven of their 12 League One games, losing only twice, taking 24 points from 36, a club record for an incoming management team.
Given Cotterill’s experience in the game, the turnaround perhaps shouldn’t be seen as a surprise.
“Yes,” agrees Lambert. “But Sam did a good job as well, it’s just timing really. That’s all it is, just timing.
“They won’t have any great expectation levels on them, Shrewsbury. Sam did a good job, Steve knows the game. But we have to go, the pitch is good from looking at it, we have to go and win.”
Lambert’s selection at London Road on Tuesday had much to do with the state of the pitch.
Asked whether the rather better surface at Shrewsbury will come into his thoughts when picking his XI for Saturday, he said: “Tuesday was a physical game and could have gone either way, but we have another game on Tuesday and a game the following Saturday and the next Tuesday, we have to try and use everybody here.
“I trust them all to go and play, to go and perform and we just have to go and get that win that we got against Blackpool.”
Tomas Holy will probably continue in goal, while Lambert seems likely to bring Luke Matheson and Myles Kenlock back into his side as the full-backs.
Skipper Luke Chambers may again have to take a place on the bench with Lambert having praised Luke Woolfenden and Mark McGuinness as a centre-half pairing.
Lambert appears certain to return to a midfield three with Flynn Downes in the holding role, and wearing the captain's armband if Chambers is absent, and Andre Dozzell, who is walking a suspension tightrope having picked up his ninth of the season on Tuesday, and probably Alan Judge ahead of him.
Up front, Troy Parrott will start down the middle with James Norwood taking over from him at some point. Two of Gwion Edwards, Freddie Sears and Luke Thomas will return in the wide roles.
Kayden Jackson is also likely to be among the subs having served his three-match suspension for his red card against Sunderland.
Shrews assistant boss Wilbraham says he speaks very regularly with Cotterill, who he says has has had a difficult few days in hospital.
“I am in contact with the gaffer every single day and he's had a tough week,” assistant manager Wilbraham told the Shrews official site.
“The hospital has decided to give him a three-day course of high dose steroids intravenously. They are hoping that will give him a boost so he can kick on and recover.
“He's having that done and that will hopefully send him in the right direction. He'll still be in the hospital for the rest of this week and hopefully next week he can come home. We have to wait and see how he recovers.
“It's incredible how much he's putting his body on the line for the club. Other people in his position would take time away to recover but he's not like that - he's constantly on it. He's been looking at footage of Ipswich and he's doing everything he can to help.”
Regarding the Town match, he added: “The lads have shown great character recently - especially when we went a goal down against Sunderland.
“Looking at the footage this morning, they all work for each other and show that team mentality. Everyone knows their jobs going onto the pitch and that's the main thing.
“Paul Lambert is my old manager from Norwich and he's someone I always speak highly of. I know he's a great manager and their lads will be fired up.
“He has high standards and we've looked at them in the same way we would with any team. We have to be on our guard and be ready for the game.”
Shrewsbury are hopeful on-loan Blackburn forward Harry Chapman, who has scored four in the last four, will be fit to feature against the Blues having been subbed during Tuesday’s win against the Black Cats having turned his ankle.
Midfielder Brad Walker (ankle) and centre-half Aaron Pierre (calf) won’t be involved against the Blues, along with ex-Town loanee Matthew Pennington, who has a shoulder injury.
Historically, the Blues have had much the better of matches between the two sides, winning 14 games (11 in the league), losing three (one) and drawing nine (six).
Town were last beaten by the Shrews in an old Second Division game at Gay Meadow in January 1987 when Bobby Ferguson’s side were defeated 2-1.
At Portman Road in November, sub Jack Lankester netted a winner seven minutes into injury time to see the Blues to a fortunate 2-1 comeback victory over Shrewsbury.
Oliver Norburn’s fourth-minute penalty - the first goal conceded by Town at home in the league this season - had given the Shrews a 1-0 half-time lead with the Blues very much under par.
The game appeared to going nowhere until Ethan Ebanks-Landell’s bizarre 75th minute own goal, before Lankester’s close-range header grabbed an undeserved three points for Town.
Last season’s fixture at Montgomery Waters Meadow wasn't played due to the season's suspension.
Town’s only game at Shrewsbury’s current home was a Carling Cup first round tie in August 2009 under Roy Keane’s management.
The Blues won only their second ever penalty shoot-out and their first in 18 years as they eventually defeated the Shrews 4-2 on penalties - Jon Walters, Connor Wickham, Alan Quinn and Ed Upson netting Town’s spot-kicks - the game having ended 3-3 with Wickham (2) and Quinn having been on target.
The match would prove to be shoot-out hero keeper Shane Supple’s final ever match before his retirement aged 22.
Jon Nolan and Toto Nsiala followed their former Shrews manager Paul Hurst, his assistant Chris Doig and other members of his staff to Portman Road in the summer of 2018 having been part of the side which had reached the League One play-offs the previous season.
Nolan moved to the Shrews in June 2017 and made 55 starts in his one season there, scoring 10 goals.
Nsiala signed in January 2017 and made 79 starts in his 18 months with the Shrews, scoring four times.
Former Blues loan centre-half Pennington joined Shrewsbury on loan from Everton last month and made two appearances before suffering his shoulder problem.
Pennington, 26, made 31 starts and scored one goal while with the Blues during the 2018/19 campaign.
Striker Jason Cummings was interesting Town back in 2018 when a Nottingham Forest player on loan at Rangers.
Saturday’s referee is Lee Swabey from Devon, who has shown 49 yellow cards and no red in 20 games so far this season.
Swabey’s last Town game was the 3-0 home defeat to Hull City in November in which he booked only Jackson.
His was also in charge of the 1-0 victory over Lincoln at Portman Road in February last year in which he yellow-carded Woolfenden, Downes, Emyr Huw and two Imps.
His only other Blues game was another 1-0 win, away against the MK Dons in September 2019 in which he again booked Downes and Huws and one home player.
Squad from: Holy, Cornell, Matheson, Ward, Kenlock, Chambers (c), McGuinness, Woolfenden, Dozzell, Downes, Nolan, Judge, Huws, Harrop, Bishop, Lankester, Thomas, Sears, Edwards, Parrott, Norwood, Jackson, Drinan.
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