Third time lucky for Shrewsbury Town?
Mention play-offs to a Shrewsbury fan and watch the inevitable initial grimace emerge on their face, writes Andrew Harding. Barring beating Oxford United and Southend preventing a Wycombe home win this Saturday, Shrewsbury will once again face the play-offs in their bid to reach League 1. Of course, should that be the case, the key moment that swung things in the Chairboys’ favour was the Easter Monday 0-0 home draw to surprise fellow promotion hopefuls Accrington Stanley.
Prior to that game, fate and the prospect of automatic promotion was in Shrewsbury’s hands. That draw coupled with a Wycombe victory over Crewe Alexandra saw Wycombe back into the last automatic promotion berth which they are still in with just the one game remaining of the season.
The memories of play-off final failures remain fresh in the memory of many a Salopian. Defeat to Bristol Rovers in 2007 and Gillingham in 2009 will only be washed away from the collective thought with a promotion. Unlike in 2007 and 2009, Shrewsbury have been near the front of the pack for pretty much the whole of the season. In 2007, Shrewsbury crept into the last play-off spot ahead of Stockport County on goal difference and in 2009, it was only marginally better with another 7th placed finish albeit a point clear of 8th placed Dagenham & Redbridge.
Quite a few Shrewsbury fans are convinced that should 3rd place prove to be unobtainable, Shrewsbury will follow the pattern of their last two play-off campaigns and reach the final only for confidence to evaporate yet again in the final. There is one element of this year though that might just help Shrewsbury break the perceived hoodoo, excluding the third time lucky brigade: the distinct lack of Wembley.
Shrewsbury’s past three visits to Wembley (admittedly, the first was back in 1996 at the Old Wembley in what is now the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy) have all ended in defeat. Their one play-off campaign that did end in success saw them return to the Football League and that was achieved at the Britannia Stadium. Due to the UEFA Champions League ground regulations, the League 2 play-off final this season is to be held at Old Trafford. Every little thing that can be in any way on even the smallest of scales attributed as a positive sign will be utilised as would be the case for any team in with a chance of promotion come the end of a season. Salopians are no different.
There are plenty of genuine positives for Shrewsbury to take forward into a prospective play-off campaign. The depth in quality is much improved on previous incarnations and there is the chance to change their style of play if need be. Recently, they’ve started with the speedy duo of James Collins and Tom Bradshaw and if facing problems breaking through the opposition defence, they have turned to the battering ram approach given via the giant frame of Matt Harrold.
Astute use of the transfer market (as you’d expect from Graham Turner) in the acquisitions of Nicky Wroe and especially David Davis on loan from Wolverhampton Wanderers and the emergence of younger talents in the shape of Tom Bradshaw and winger Jon Taylor have given the Salop faithful a lot of encouragement for better times and indeed more consistent times ahead. Ian Sharps has been fantastic in his 1st season as captain with hopefully many seasons to follow.
Of course, if Southend were to prevent Wycombe from a victory and Shrewsbury were to beat Oxford United all this play-off talk would be meaningless. Of course, for many a Shrewsbury fan the sight of former Blue James Constable leading the Oxford line will not help matters. It would be just typical if Southend got a result, only for Constable to prevent Shrewsbury from the promotion-clinching victory. Oh the joys of hypotheses.