GREGOR ROBERT­SON

Our guest columnist hails the work of Shrews­bury boss Paul Hurst

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - Gregor Robert­son

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.

Re­mark­able

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.

PIC­TURE: AMA

EYE-CATCHER: Stefan Payne cel­e­brates a goal against Oxford and, inset, boss Paul Hurst

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