Our guest columnist hails the work of Shrewsbury boss Paul Hurst
EVERYONE is waiting for Shrewsbury Town to run out of steam. Even the growing number of Salop supporters inside Montgomery Waters Meadow can’t quite believe what they’re seeing. Last Saturday, during the highly entertaining 1-1 draw with Blackburn, the chorus of “We are top of the league” was regularly followed by “We are staying up” – with a hint of irony, no doubt. But, after successive relegation battles, who can blame them?
Instead, this season Shrewsbury have enjoyed their best-ever start to a Football League campaign and last weekend became the last unbeaten team in the EFL.
The manner of their performance is what really impressed me, however, and suggested it will take some effort for any team to topple them.
They hounded and harassed Blackburn incessantly. The visitors were fortunate to leave with a point after a late equaliser.
The Shrews have a team brimming with energy, flashes of quality and players with a point to prove, which makes for a potent combination.
After another win at Doncaster in midweek, I’m pleased to see people finally wake up to the remarkable job Paul Hurst is doing.
I played both with and for Hursty at Rotherham and Grimsby respectively, and with Chris Doig, his assistant, during our days at Nottingham Forest.
As players they were consummate professionals and have applied the same work ethic and drive to coaching and management. Both are enrolled on the LMA’s Football Management Diploma.
They’re open to new methods and ideas. But Hurst’s blueprint – which yielded promotions at Ilkeston, Boston United and Grimsby – is simple and it is bearing fruit for him once again. His teams are always full of fit, hungry players, well organised, and he operates a strict wage structure, with no stars and no egos in sight. When he combines those ingredients, a strong team spirit is forged which he believes is key to his teams being successful.
Seven of his eight permanent signings in the summer have played Non-League football. Striker Stefan Payne, who has five goals and has impressed since his arrival from Barnsley, is familiar to Hurst from his days with Dover in the National League. Jon Nolan, one of four who played under Hurst at Grimsby, joined from Chesterfield and has undoubtedly been the pick of his signings.
The classy midfielder is Shrewsbury’s creative fulcrum, with two goals to his name and is already drawing admiring glances.
Another six players, all under the age of 21, were signed on loan from higher divisions. Ben Godfrey, 19, an athletic holding midfielder from Norwich has so far been particularly impressive.
The foundation for this marked improvement has been plain old hard work. During the off-season, when Hurst and Doig analysed last season’s League One survival, a straightforward correlation between the distance the team ran and the likelihood of three points emerged from the data.
They moved into a new training centre at Sundorne Castle in time for pre-season training, and four friendly wins against Championship sides showed the new ethic would work. So far, during the run that has taken League One by storm, they are covering distances of up to 110 km a game. Teams in the lower half of the Premier League averaged similar last season.
Can they keep it up though? It won’t be for the lack of trying. It will be intriguing to watch their season unfurl.
EYE-CATCHER: Stefan Payne celebrates a goal against Oxford and, inset, boss Paul Hurst