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Paul Hurst defying the relegation odds at Shrewsbury Town

Tuesday 22nd August 2017
Just days before the beginning of the 2017-18 League One campaign, Shrewsbury Town was the 11/8 favourites with many bookmakers to be relegated from the division, but after just three games into the new season, there is a mood of optimism at New Meadow after winning all three contests.

During the early stages of the last term, Shrewsbury had already been dismissed as relegation certainties after earning just ten points from their opening 15 fixtures, culminating in successive 3-0 and 4-2 home defeats by Sheffield United and Northampton Town, with previous manager Micky Mellon having already departed for Tranmere.

Paul Hurst was then appointed as manager with the Shrews bottom of the league table, and fortunes have improved from that moment with a 1-1 draw earned at Southend in his first match plus three wins earned from the next six league games. Hurst eventually guided Shrewsbury into a final 18th position in the League One table but just two points from safety, with a 1-0 win against Southend in their last home game of the campaign proving crucial.

Although the bookmakers were sceptical of Shrewsbury's hopes of avoiding relegation for a second successive season, they may have misjudged the managerial skills of Paul Hurst. After playing for 15 seasons at Rotherham during which time he appeared in nearly 450 games for the club, Hurst became joint manager of Ilkeston Town and Boston United before eventually becoming the boss of Grimsby.

Former football league club Grimsby had been playing Conference football for several seasons but Hurst guided the Mariners into the 2015-16 promotion playoffs beating Forest Green Rovers 3-1 in the Wembley final. Just a few months later, Hurst moved to Shrewsbury.

During his first few months at New Meadow, Hurst addressed the defensive problems of his newly inherited squad and he was eventually rewarded when only Charlton was able to net more than twice against Shrewsbury during the final three months of the campaign.

For the first two league fixtures of the new season, clean sheets were registered in two successive 1-0 victories although summer signing Lenell John-Lewis netted an added time winner in an opening day home victory against Northampton.

Hurst admitted that the weekend visit of Rochdale would be a much sterner test for his much-changed squad especially as Dale opened the scoring via a converted penalty. The Shrews replied with two first half goals before conceding another spot-kick during the second period from which the visitors equalised. New signing Stefan Payne was then introduced and proceeded to score the winning goal for Shrewsbury. Payne enjoyed a successful loan period with the club last term but arrived at New Meadow just a day earlier after moving from Barnsley on a permanent basis.

A difficult weekend away fixture at Oxford now awaits Shrewsbury with the hosts installed as an outside bet to claim a promotion playoff position and justifying those odds by winning their first two games of the season before narrowly losing at Scunthorpe on Saturday.

However, Shrewsbury has already claimed as many points as were earned by late September last season and they could emerge as one of the surprise League One team this term, assuming that Paul Hurst is not lured to a higher level of football in the coming months.
John Welsh
I am a freelance sports writer specialising in football covering Premier League, EFL and English non-leagues plus top leagues in France, Germany and Italy. I have written for Inside Futbol, Football Weekends plus football previews for Hong Kong Jockey Club, and I’m also the author of book First Touch, a novel covering the exploitation of young African footballers and their experiences in Europe.

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