Shrewsbury Town’s magnificent form in the opening third of the League One campaign has taken everyone outside of Montgomery Waters Meadow (or ‘New Meadow’ to fans) by surprise.
Ahead of the season, the Shrews were 25/1 to win promotion, and a 66/1 shot to lift the title. As it stands, they’re two points clear at the top of the table, with a mammoth 10-point gap over the play-off pack.
So, what’s the secret of Salop’s success? We investigate…
Late subs and determination paying dividends
If you take the last 15 minutes out of games, Shrewsbury would be trailing current second-placed side Wigan Athletic by some distance. But Paul Hurst’s men are proving themselves to be specialists in digging out vital results.
In the league, Salop have rescued a point beyond the 75-minute mark on two occasions, and grabbed three wins from games which were level. By contrast, they’ve conceded just twice in that time period – with one of those goals a mere consolation in a 2-1 victory at Gillingham.
One major factor has been Hurst knowing how to use the Shrews’ forward options against tired defences. Tricky hitman Arthur Gnahoua came on in the dying embers at Doncaster, grabbing a stellar 94th-minute strike to bag all three points for the visitors.
Meanwhile, Lenell John-Lewis powered home a 92nd-minute winner at home to Northampton, having come off the bench 10 minutes prior. With a range of attacking options, a tactically savvy boss, and a never-say-die attitude, you can never write this Shrewsbury side off.
Consistent defensive unit proving key
The Shrews boast League One’s joint-best defensive record, alongside Wigan Athletic – with both sides conceding just nine goals in 15 games.
While the Latics have big names like former Wales international Craig Morgan and Alex Bruce in their ranks, Shrewsbury’s backline is more about the overall unit.
Toto Nsiala and Mat Sadler have proved a formidable centre-back partnership, playing all but one league game together this term. Meanwhile, reliable and creative left-back Junior Brown has started every game this term.
The biggest talent in their unit is probably 20-year-old keeper Dean Henderson. The man on loan from Manchester United has proved himself a superb shot-stopper and decision-maker, conceding just seven times in 13 league games.
Hurst knows how to build promotion-winning side
Manager Paul Hurst has transformed Salop’s fortunes in spectacular fashion since taking the job exactly a year ago. He took over a side seemingly set for relegation, who had taken just 10 points from their first 15 league games. The 43-year-old eventually guaranteed the club an eighteenth-placed finish.
That hinted at his potential at New Meadow, but the biggest confidence-booster in the club’s current position is that the Sheffield native has plenty of promotion-winning experience.
Having first won titles as joint-manager of Ilkeston Town and Boston United, he went on to mastermind Grimsby Town’s return to the Football League in 2016, following a six-year absence.
This Shrews side also includes a number of the players involved in the Mariners’ success under Hurst. Among them Nsiala, Jon Nolan, John-Lewis, and Henderson. With that shared experience and pedigree, we wouldn’t back against the Shrews securing an against-the-odds promotion this term.
Next up for Shrewsbury is a trip to Peterborough United this weekend. There’s 2/1 on offer for the visitors to enjoy a third win on the trot.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing