Marcus Braddock brings you his weekly look at all things Shrewsbury Town
With not a huge amount going on over the last week, it makes sense to have a look back at the 2018/19 season now before things start to ramp up again for the new season. It's been an eventful one with some difficulties along the way and I've decided to split it into two parts, with the first half taking us from August until December. It's a personal reflection rather than a statement of past facts, which can sometimes turn out a little dry.
When I cast my mind back to the end of last season and the start of this, my memories are of hopeful anticipation. I wasn't expecting another season like the last but I was hoping that our temporary status as a top three team may be consolidated into an upper mid table finish, perhaps with a flurry of excitement close to the end. John Askey looked a solid enough choice, detractors pointed toward his lack of experience at League One level but that hadn't handicapped the previous manager and every appointment is going to have some sort of risk attached. Askey looked to have the right characteristics; he'd had success on a budget and had been particularly loyal to his previous club.
The players he brought in looked decent enough but his preparations took a bit of a blow when offers were made for two players who could well have been intrinsic to a successful season. It evidently threw Askey a curve ball to deal with, just as time was running out. If I'm being honest, I wasn’t particularly surprised when Jon Nolan and Toto Nsiala obediently head eastwards but the timing sucked. It seemed to be related to money rather than aimed at messing things up for us but the indignant responses from many, myself included, seemed fair enough. It further soured a rather unpleasant taste that had been there since a couple of days after the play-off final. The sad thing was that it didn't have to be that way, I for one wouldn't begrudge anyone progressing after a good performances but it all felt a little grubby. Water under the bridge now.
On the pitch, I saw almost all of our pre-season games and again I thought we looked in decent enough shape although defensively we didn't look as robust as the previous season. The first game of the season was at home to Bradford who won with an early goal, we hadn't played atrociously and Bradford hadn't been particularly good but something wasn't quite right. I put it down to the disruption and continued to do so for a while but it took the best part of six weeks for us to register our first win.
It's not that we were totally dreadful but there seemed to be a fragility when put under pressure. However, ten games isn't a massive amount of time to get the right combination and in fairness they'd won their tenth game under Askey so I thought we might have turned the corner. Our home form wasn't bad but our away form had become noticeably poor, so much so that it took us until November to record our first away win against a Wimbledon team that had lost their previous seven games. By that time, the tension had built up for Askey who acknowledged the pressure he was under at the time in the press.
Although it was great to get that elusive away win at Wimbledon, we made rather hard work of it, which wasn't reassuring. So results had improved but not enough to relieve the pressure on Askey and a poor performance against Salford was enough to tip the balance. It was sad to see because he seemed a nice man but he wasn't delivering what was wanted. Admittedly it's not easy to immediately to say what was wanted but I felt that there was a frustration that the work from the previous season hadn't been built upon enough. I talk to all sorts of Town fans, from season ticket holders to occasional visitors to stewards to the press and a reasonable majority seemed to feel that we hadn't progressed enough. His time with us was fleeting and in an ideal world you might give someone more of a chance but this is football in the 21st century and sadly time almost always costs.
It felt that after a great season that we were back to struggling against relegation. Money had been spent but it was difficult to see that spending in our results and performances. The reality was that we were in 18th and weren't able to beat a team from two divisions below. Yes Salford is in the money and have vastly improved in recent years but John Askey wasn't exactly short on resources either.
The club put coach Danny Coyne and youth team manager Eric Ramsey in temporary charge and things seemed to change overnight. Crewe were beaten the following day in the CheckaTrade Trophy and then we beat fellow struggler's Rochdale at home. Non-League Salford was next up and another winning performance followed, this time in front of the TV cameras. An away defeat against Wycombe spoiled things a little for the caretaker duo but Plymouth were next and they were in a poor patch of form. Argyle was dispatched 2-0, as were Southend who were beaten 1-0 in the F.A. Cup. After such a decent run of form, a few supporters suggested them as a longer-term solution but neither felt ready for that sort of role currently. On December 3rd 2019, Sam Ricketts made the short journey from Wrexham to Shrewsbury to take over as Shrewsbury Town Manager.