EFL: Paul Hurst and the Taming of the Shrews

Ross Bramble explores Shrewsbury Town’s impressive start to the season 

The story of League One this season was supposed to be the revitilisation of Blackburn Rovers. If not them, then Fleetwood Town who under Uwe Rosler have been excellent for eighteen months. All of the oxygen spent singing their praises has been deservedly siphoned, however, by the incredible undefeated start of Shrewsbury Town. Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho may be the managers recieving the most acclaim for their spotless records, but don’t be fooled; the real success of the early season is Shrewsbury Town.

The Shrewsbury Town story is far more impressive than those at City or United. While Guardiola and Mourinho have spent millions in their pursuit of perfection, Shrews boss Paul Hurst has built their start on a solid foundation of commitment and opportunity.

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Benefits of playing non-league

Many of Hurst’s charges have experienced life in the non-league, where football is not enough to support players and their families. The grassroots team spirit cultivated by the manager has certainly proved fruitful so far, as he himself puts it; “If someone has not had anything before, it’s new and fresh and they want to seize the opportunity.”

The electric start is a far-cry from the miserable plod to League Two the Shrews were engaged in before Hurst’s arrival in October 2016. At the time, it seemed a risky move for Hurst, whose Grimsby Town side had made an excellent start on their return to the EFL. Why Hurst would want to leave Blundell Park for New Meadow wasn’t clear, yet a year later, those questions seem facile.

‘The fossil’ leads the charge

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At the vanguard of Shrewsbury’s surge to the summit of League One is captain Mat Sadler, playfully nicknamed “the fossil” at the tender age of 32. The Birmingham-born centre-back was named Player of the Year, Players’ Player of the Year and Player in the Community at the Shrews’ team awards at the end of the 2016 season. Having officially taken the captaincy this season, Salder has become the bedrock upon which the astounding Shrewsbury start has been built.

Adding to the team spirit is the meticulous detailing of the management staff. Standards of fitness have improved substantially since Hurst first arrived at New Meadow. Pre-match planning includes manager-lead presentations and opposition video clips and although the quality dips below that of even some of their league rivals – who have of been able to outspend them on technology – Shrewsbury Town have done the best with what they have, and the players have responded in kind.

Already this season, Shrewsbury Town have conquered Wigan, Scunthorpe, Southend and West Bromwich Albion – the latter in the EFL Trophy. The Shrews have also taken points from Blackburn, Doncaster and a host of other sides that just last season were pushing them fervently toward the trap door.

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Leicester and Huddersfield light the way

Two years ago, it was Leicester City. Last year, it was Huddersfield Town. This year, the trickle-down of seasonal surprises has reached New Meadow in League One. The question, of course, will be whether or not the Shrews can maintain this early season success and replicate the achievements of the aforementioned Foxes and Terriers. It is not without precedent in League One either – Yeovil Town only a few short seasons ago shocked the EFL by climbing into the Championship after a play-off final victory against Brentford. These are the examples Hurst and co will be taking heart from as their season develops.

Whether their unbeaten start ends in one game or ten games time, Shrewsbury Town’s incredible start is not to be overlooked. The unfancied side from Shropshire have left a few pundits red-faced early doors, and will certainly be hoping to see its start rewarded with tangible success come next May.

Follow Ross on Twitter at @rossbramble

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