Shrewsbury suffered a setback at Wembley but they are still in the race for promotion to the Championship. Adam Bate caught up with manager Paul Hurst to discuss the rising expectations, being labelled the League One Leicester, and Thursday’s trip to Bradford…
Victory for Shrewsbury against Bradford on Thursday night will take them to within two points of the top two in League One. The one-time relegation favourites are still battling it out with Wigan and Blackburn for promotion to the Championship. The impossible remains within reach. It is just hard to think that way after what happened at Wembley on Sunday.
Shrewsbury were beaten 1-0 by League Two side Lincoln City in the Checkatrade Trophy final. For once, the underdogs found themselves wearing the tag of favourites and it did not sit well. Salop boss Paul Hurst was magnanimous in defeat but disappointed too that his team had been nowhere near their best on the big stage. The task now is to raise them.
Bradford vs Shrewsbury
April 12, 2018, 7:30pm
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The good news for Shrewsbury supporters is that, in an odd kind of way, Hurst has been waiting for this moment all season. He was well aware that there would come a time when the players who have so outstripped expectations would need to be lifted. Even before Sunday, he stresses that he could use the result to motivate them whichever way it went.
“I think that’s my nature,” he tells Sky Sports. “I am a little bit more cautious. For me, it is the right way to be not to get carried away with myself or the team. I was told that we could still mathematically be outside the top six but I think we can say now that even in the worst case scenario we will be involved in the League One play-offs. Hopefully better.”
Highlights of the Checkatrade Trophy Final between Lincoln and Shrewsbury
Shrewsbury have bounced back before. They have followed six of their nine defeats this season with a victory, most recently the 3-2 win over Oxford last time out in the league after losing at Rochdale. “While I’m big on the squad, we were down on a few of what we could consider our best so on the back of the Rochdale game it was a good win for us,” says Hurst.
“We have been fortunate with injuries in some ways and the medical staff here are really good, but we were missing a few. The group know who the big players are and that they will be misses but the ones who were already in the team stepped up even more and the ones who have come in and got their opportunity took it.
“They have been outstanding all season really and it is a massive credit to them because more often than not we have earned the results we have got. Sometimes you can be lucky but I cannot think of too many examples of that. Going up against Blackburn and Wigan with their resources, being above teams like Rotherham and Charlton, it is a good achievement.”
Blackburn vs Peterboro
April 19, 2018, 7:30pm
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That is an understatement. The double was the dream but whatever happens now this will be the club’s best league finish in 30 years. Not for nothing did a road sign go up on the roundabout outside Shrewsbury’s stadium declaring this ‘Paul Hurst Way’. Much to Hurst’s embarrassment. “I try to take it how it’s meant,” he says. “It’s a compliment.
“Somebody told me that it actually came up on google maps. It’s not an official name, that’s for sure. Funnily enough, the council have actually been in touch with the football club to tell them that if they want to make the sign official then they have to do a petition. It all got a bit too serious, to be honest with you. Whether it is still there, I’m not sure.
“When people say nice things or ask for a signature it’s nice because I’m sure there will be other times when they are shouting not so nice things or ignoring me. So it take it for what it is.” Other managers are picking up on Hurst’s popularity – and the rise in expectations. “I spoke to Neal Ardley after a very tight game against AFC Wimbledon,” he adds.
Highlights of the Sky Bet League One game between Shrewsbury and Oxford
“We had a good chat afterwards and he was very complimentary but he did say that I was making it more difficult for everyone else. Chairmen will be saying, ‘Well, if they can do it on that’. I said it myself when Leicester won the Premier League. Managers who were saying they had no chance of a top-six finish were suddenly having people say, ‘Look at Leicester’.
“So it probably doesn’t help. I don’t realistically think it should be used to heighten expectations. What we have done so far is possible, but it is unusual. The more resources you have got the more chances you have got of success. That has not changed. But for the sake of everyone’s hopes and dreams it is a nice story for people.”
Now people want to know how the story ends. Leicester won that title but it wasn’t enough to keep Claudio Ranieri in a job for the duration of the following campaign. Hurst is mindful of the praise. “I guess the test will come next season,” he says. “If the dream happens and we have the ending that we would all like then we know we will be massively up against it.
“If it does not quite happen for us and we are still in League One, that’s when the real test would come because there is no reason to think we wouldn’t begin that season in the same position we began this one – aiming to maintain our League One status. That may sound pessimistic but the reality is that I do think that’s how the season would have to begin.
“In fairness, what I would say is that the chairman is very level-headed. I think he understands. He is enjoying it and with each result you get you do dare to dream. Deep down he understands where we are. He likes the fact that it shows you don’t have to spend the most money. He likes that story.
“His background is that he is a self-made man through hard work and some intelligent decisions along the way so he likes that. I think he sees something similar in me and maybe we have some common ground there. I was brought up on a council house estate and so was he there are some shared values there.”
Clearly, nobody at Shrewsbury is getting carried away. But the opportunity is still there and the opportunity is now. Beat Bradford at Valley Parade on Thursday and the next three games are all at home. Three of Blackburn’s next four games are away. This could yet go to the wire. Shrewsbury will need those shared values. Starting on Thursday.
Don’t miss the Sky Bet League One clash between Bradford and Shrewsbury on Thursday night, live on Sky Sports Football and Main Event from 7.30pm