Ten years ago, as Shrewsbury moved out of town after 97 years at Gay Meadow, they changed their crest too, losing two of its three loggerheads as well as the inscription “Floreat Salopia”.
This season they restored them. Evidently three dunces are better than one. The crest is of a wave and Shrewsbury are flourishing, the Football League’s only unbeaten club and top of League One by four points after beating Scunthorpe United 2-0 at home on Saturday.
“It was a big win,” said Paul Hurst, their manager, not because it was their first by more than a goal but because The Iron had conceded only three before and not lost away. Hurst cuts the season into months and, after 10 points out of 12 in August, he said “to take 19 out of 21 is ridiculous”. Last season they did not reach 29 points until the end of January.
Hurst did not reach Shrewsbury until the end of last October, when they were bottom of League One with 10 points from 15 matches. A left-back legend at Rotherham, with over 450 games, he cut his managerial teeth outside the League before leading Grimsby into it in 2016. Only now is he proving his full worth, drawing on his non-league knowledge and backing his hunch about players who “maybe took a knock earlier in their career but can make the step up”.
Last season he never got Shrewsbury above 17th and they went into the final day facing possible relegation, losing at Oxford and surviving in 18th. Grateful to the chairman, Roland Wycherley, for “not putting him under pressure while probably a nervous wreck”, he was even happier to change the guard and team spirit with 14 newcomers in the summer. Results speak for themselves. Chris Doig, his assistant, was a prancing presence on the touchline in the first half. Hurst was dead calm in the second. Their very own side had pocketed their ninth victory.
An old stager said beforehand he had not in 20 years “seen a Shrewsbury side with such a spirit, that works for each other and tries to play football”. The outcome after an uneasy start might have been different if Dean Henderson, 20 and on loan from Manchester United, had not held Josh Morris’s angled shot, then palmed away Rory McArdle’s header from a corner. Gradually, in a contest of dominant defences, Jon Nolan, with poise on the ball and time to size up options, got Shrewsbury on the front foot. Hurst generously let him go from Grimsby to Chesterfield, then a division higher than they are now, but wasted no time signing him in June.
Shrewsbury went ahead when James Bolton met a corner with a header too hot for Matt Gilks to hold, allowing Stefan Payne to force in his fifth league goal. Bolton is new from Gateshead, Payne from Barnsley. Of those retained Mat Sadler stood out in central defence and Junior Brown has converted from wing to wing-back to dual effect. Ben Godfrey was a diligent defensive midfielder and his fellow loanee from Norwich, Carlton Morris, spared fans late agony with the second goal.
This owed everything to the captain Abu Ogogo’s commitment. The match sponsors were Select A Skip and Hurst could not have chosen a better one. Sponsors get prominent coverage at this level, be it for substitutions, added time or whatever, and the ground has had so many names that players have hardly known where they are. Often it has been League Two. Top of League One is heaven.
• Just when it seemed the Championship was finding some kind of order Sheffield screwed it up. First United, resurgent under Chris Wilder and winners at Wednesday the weekend before last, went down to a previously modest Nottingham Forest, despite scoring early. Then Wednesday put three goals past Leeds, who had previously conceded only eight in 10 games. It is all to the good. The improbable sustains hope.
• Like Paul Hurst, Harry Redknapp, who stepped in to save Birmingham from Championship relegation last spring, got in 14 players of his choice for the start of this season. After six league defeats in eight games, including the last five, he was sacked. Some managers have it. Some lose it. Will this really be the end of Harry?
• John Sheridan ended his playing days with six seasons at Boundary Park, easing into a caretaking role while still on the field and subsequently having three stints as manager as if he was always going to be the answer to all their problems. The third ended after nine games this season had produced seven defeats and four points. His successor, Richie Wellens, also played over 100 games for the club. So far he has won both games as manager. Surely Oldham and Sheridan have finally run their course together?
• League Two looks as if it may reproduce the remarkable rises and falls of last season. Cheltenham had four points from their first seven games; Saturday’s 2-0 win at Chesterfield gave them 10 from the last four to reach 13th. Conversely Crewe, whom they passed going the other way, were unbeaten with eight points from their first four games but have since picked up three from seven, losing 1-0 at Coventry on Saturday to lie 19th. Next Saturday Notts County, still top despite losing 3-1 at neighbouring Mansfield, are at home to Forest Green, struggling to get a foothold in the League and bottom of the division with five points, 20 fewer than County. What odds a vegan victory?
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