After slipping to back-to-back defeats in League Two, we return to a competition that delivered the club one of its greatest days in recent history. However, given the farcical nature of the Checkatrade Trophy, this game feels more important for the opportunities it gives Mark Robins to change things up than it does the beginning of a defence of silverware.
Following another high-profile gaffe from Liam O’Brien in goal at the weekend, this game comes at a good time to drop the keeper without the same level of significance that it would have for a league game. If Lee Burge can came through this game without having made any major errors of his own, he’s quietly back in the side. If Burge doesn’t pass the test, it doesn’t cost us league points and O’Brien stays in the side.
Arguably the more pressing concern for Mark Robins than the goalkeeping situation though is our attacking play. While goalkeeping mistakes turned the past two games against us, our inability to create and take chances was the reason why those mistakes cost us points.
Despite the calls from some fans for Robins to sign Carl Baker and another striker before the window closes, we really do have plenty of options in attack. By my reckoning, we have nine first-team players to fill the four attacking slots in the side. The likes of Tony Andreu, Jodi Jones, Duckens Nazon and Marc McNulty have demonstrated both for us and at other clubs that they should be too good for League Two, it’s about Mark Robins figuring out the best combinations and right shape to play them in.
Last Time We Met
A goalless draw at Shrewsbury back in March was notable mainly because it was Russell Slade’s final game in charge of the club. Ironically, it was that it was a better standard of performance than we had seen throughout much of Slade’s reign that was the final nail in the coffin for him. Injuries had forced Slade to utilise Ben Stevenson and Gael Bigirimana in midfield, and the gulf in quality between those two and Slade’s preferred options of Kevin Foley, Andy Rose and Callum Reilly demonstrated just how poor our soon-to-be former manager’s judgement of what was required to win games of football.
How Are They Doing?
After struggling for much of last season, Shrewsbury Town have started the new season in League One in fine form. Unlike Russell Slade, Shrewsbury boss Paul Hurst very much knows a good player when he sees one, and what it takes to get the best out of them. Despite making the majority of his signings from non-league, League Two and some very raw Championship youngsters in the loan market, Hurst can not only exploit gaps in the market, but seems to be able to figure out specific roles for his players in order to maximise their strengths and minimise their limitations.
Shrewsbury have won three out of their opening four league games – drawing 1-1 with Oxford on Saturday – with their six goals coming from five different players, demonstrating their lack of star players and the emphasis Hurst places on the overall team effort. Ahead of this Checkatrade Trophy tie, the former Grimsby manager, is likely to ring the changes and allow some of his fringe players an opportunity to stake a claim for a more regular place.
That makes my task of picking out Shrewsbury players to keep an eye on difficult. Nonetheless, Jon Nolan, if selected, in midfield has really caught the eye this season since arriving from Chesterfield. Having played under Hurst at Grimsby, the Shrewsbury boss clearly knew what he was getting from Nolan, a creative, driving presence in midfield with the quality to perhaps even play in the Championship in the coming seasons.
With a surfeit of attacking options, Shrewsbury are likely to give the likes of Wolves youngster Niall Ennis, former Kidderminster winger Arthur Gnahoua, and Swansea winger Daniel James a run-out. Shrewsbury look weakest in defence, where the inconsistent Aristote Nsiala and full-back Mat Sadler have often been used as a central defensive partnership.
The nature of this competition and the likelihood that both sides will be massively changed makes it difficult to predict. While Shrewsbury, as the higher division side, our favourites, I don’t think there’ll be too much to pick between two teams likely to be going through the motions.
I’ll put this down as a 1-1 draw.