There’s already been a lot of “welcome to League One” moments this season. Climbing over people’s back gardens to get into Kenilworth Road, losing to Burton Albion (again) or playing Stoke’s U21s team in the Checkatrade Trophy - Shrewsbury Town away in a league fixture is just another one to add to that list.
To be fair though, the Shrews could have easily been a division above us this year. Last season under Paul Hurst they were excellent and were only denied promotion in extra time of the Play-off Final - a good platform to build upon then, you would imagine, right?
Unfortunately, League One success without promotion means all of your talent ends up getting poached. Hurst joined Ipswich Town in the summer and took most of Shrewsbury’s best players with him. While things aren’t going brilliantly for Hurst at Portman Road, things are just as miserable at The New Meadow as new boss John Askey has his new charges struggling towards the bottom of League One.
Salop can’t seem to score and are flirting with relegation in these early stages of the season, making this a great chance for Sunderland to record two away wins on the bounce. To find out just how confident we should be, we had a chat with Glyn Price of Blue & Amber Fanzine and Salopcast, who doesn’t sound like he’s in the most optimistic of moods.
RR: A successful 17/18 campaign ended in heartbreak with Shrewsbury suffering a play off final defeat against Rotherham. Paul Hurst was then poached by Ipswich and the club haven’t been able to continue the form of last season. Is that purely down to losing Hurst or is it more complicated than that?
GP: It’s complicated!
Losing Hurst was bad, losing most of the back room staff was hard too and then losing almost the entire squad that we had fallen in love with (loans returned, some got better offers) including Nolan and Toto Nisala to Ipswich very late in the widow was an absolute body blow!
We were back to starting from scratch. Which in some respects was good for the new manager who could build his own squad. Recruitment was weird, we assembled a unbalanced squad full of central midfielders but with a huge lack of goals in attacking positions, recruited two blokes who are clearly never going to play (Loft and Kennedy) and took a punt on a couple that have not hit the ground running.
Weirdly though there are town fans who well tell you that we have a better team/squad than last year. The issue has been John Askey has not been able to get the right tune out of them. When we play well, we lack a cutting edge and can’t score. When we play poor we are dispatched but its still close.
Most games have been tight. We seem to turn a corner then lose badly to a poor team next week. There’s no consistency and lots of changes in the team.
In summary despite being almost a quarter of the way into the season we don’t know our best team, we don’t know our best formation and we seem to be trying to figure that out week by week as we flirt with the relegation zone.
RR: After the departure of Hurst, you looked to John Askey who had just got Macclesfield Town promoted from the National League. What did you make of the appointment at the time? Did you support the decision to go for someone up and coming or would you have preferred for them to appoint someone with a bit more experience at this level?
GP: With hindsight, some experience at this level was a better option, but I can see why the club went for a manager who looked to be on the up as it worked so well with Hurst. But it was asking for lightening to strike twice and thus far there is not even a cloud in the sky.
Personally, I was as unimpressed in the appointment as you could be once we got a taste of him in the first interviews and what was considered a disastrous first fans Q & A. There is absolutely no bond with the manager for a lot of out fans and now things have started going poorly its given him less wriggle room. Salop fans are a very easy and honest bunch, never hounding a manager out early doors. But a combination of factors this season, probably combined with higher expectations following last season and the club record transfer fee being spent in the summer means that Askey has a sizable portion of the fanbase actively wanting him gone. If you hammer us, you might hear that vocalised on Saturday.
I’m sure the next manager we bring in if Askey is to move on will have some decent experience.
RR: Things haven’t started brilliantly for Askey as you mentioned, with you sitting in 16th having only picked up two wins. It sounds like the fans are starting to get restless?
GP: As previously mentioned, yes, the fans have turned following the loss at Fleetwood which was dire and Askey admitted was down to his own tactical mistake (playing 442!). Based on latest online polls its about 60% out and 40% in. A lot of the ins are only in because who else is there or it’s too early to sack a manager. It’s hard not to look at this start to the season as a really poor one, statistically it’s been one of the worst in our history, so its understandable some have lost faith.
Worst is this bad run (and result at Fleetwood) leads us into playing you next (not easy) and then Barnsley (not easy) before a run of make or break games vs teams down the bottom. Askey might limp through the next two home games with zero points but if he failed to win vs Oxford or Plymouth then it would probably time to move on. As I said, Town fans are patient. What other club would allow two home losses on the back of a slow start to the season and not on mass be demanding a manager go?
The atmosphere on Saturday will be interesting.
RR: With 11 goals scored you’re one of the least prolific teams in the division but you’ve only conceded 13, which is the same as ourselves! So is fair to say that your strengths lie in defence but a lack of goals is costing you?
GP: Yes. Basically we don’t have a player capable of scoring regularly, and when they do Askey has chopped and changed.
Our striking options are Lenell John-Lewis (The Shop) who is comically bad and Askey got into hot water with a lot of fans last week for playing him at Fleetwood. Lee Angol, recruited in the summer who got on a hot streak of 4 goals playing out of position and then got dropped for reasons we still can’t figure out. Amadi Holloway, who’s never been prolific at any club he’s ever been at and finally Fejiri Okenabirhie who fans like, scored a hat-trick in the Checkatrade, started a league game and was hauled off at half time.
Between our forwards I doubt there are 40 life time League 1 goals, possibly not 40 league goals between them in total! Its got to be one of the weakest front lines in the division.
Defensively we have continued the good work of last season replacing players in a like for like manner. Sadler and Beckles have continued to be solid and dependable in the main and Josh Emmanuel (loan) at right back has been good. Luke Waterfall has replaced Toto Nisala and makes all sorts of mistakes that have costs us games and is generally poorly regarded so far, but to be fair despite all the weak areas all four of these lads have, between them they have been solid and dependable in the main and defence has generally been a way lower concern that the lack of goals.
It should be noted however that the good defensive record is down a lot to the shield that Anthony Grant has been offering the defence and the tactic we play which sacrifices an attacking midfield player so Grant can always be just in front of the less than pacy centre backs. Grant was ill against Fleetwood and in the first 45 minute his absence was keenly felt as the Fleetwood midfield waltzed through us.
Don’t expect us to play an attacking formation against you.
RR: Josh Maja has nine goals already this season and will be looking to get into double figures at the New Meadow. Do you see him as our main threat or is there anyone else in red and white that you’ll be keeping a close eye on?
GP: To be honest, I have not really looked at the Sunderland team until now. Frankly we have had more to worry about!
As you have only just come down and are not a squad full of League 1 players, its hard to make that much of a judgement. I’m assuming that Cattermole and Loovens are still good players. Max Power was excellent when we played against Wigan last season and is a player I really like, so I’m glad he’s suspended.
To be honest I have never heard of Maja but his record this season looks impressive. He almost got as many goals himself as our entire team! That tells its own story.
RR: How do you expect Askey to approach this game and what do you think his starting line up will be?
GP: Defensively. We will probably revert back to what seems to be our favoured formation of 4-5-1. The five is two wingers and then Grant sat deep and two other midfielders in attacking roles. One bloke up front who will get and miss once chance in the game!
A draw would be a great result for us on form. Askey can’t afford a 4 or 5 drubbing in all honesty which if we go without the defensive shield would completely expose us and could happen.
Starting line-up prediction would be: Coleman, Emmanuel, Sadler, Waterfall, Beckles, Grant, Whalley, Docherty, Laurent, Gilliad, Angol or Holloway.
RR: And finally, can we have a score prediction please?
GP: On the Salopcast pre-match prediction that we did on Sunday I went 4-1 to Sunderland as I was in a dark, dark place following Fleetwood away. Days later though my mood has brightened so will go 3-1 Sunderland win!
I would be staggered if you don’t come away with all three points.