The Imps have the chance to end the season on a high against close rivals Shrewsbury, writes Tom Morton.
In a sense very little rides on the game; we will be playing third-tier football again next season. That said, a win would take us past sixty points and secure our eleventh-place finish. If Charlton slips up we could end in tenth – which is a pretty nice way to end things I think.
By contrast, lose and not only will Salop cruise past us and we could dip as low as thirteenth. Still not a bad place to be after forty-six games but there is something about Top Ten that just feels compelling. This is certainly a league where everything can change in just one weekend.
Shrewsbury may well turn up half off the pitch, but they may also want a bit of a result to end on. Other than taking the win from a dead-duck game against Bristol on Tuesday, they’ve had a terrible run of form to end the season. Through April, for example, they picked up just one point in eight games. It was about the worst fixtures anyone could have faced – a run of eight games against teams at the top of the table. I certainly don’t envy them that run! However, if I were a Salop fan I’d be hoping for my team to put that to memory with a win today.
Regardless of the reason for their recent form, the truth is today the stats sit in our favor. Salop are not so great away from home. They’ve picked up 1.05 PPG this season to our home performance of 1.17. That’s before you factor in that we struggled to pick up goals, and therefore points, earlier in the season. Shrewsbury do score a decent number of goals. They have a slightly worse goal difference than us (-8 to our -1) but have put away six more goals than us. In fact, if you think about it just in pure number of goals (regardless of the result) then Salop fans have seen nearly twenty more than us this season – that’s over 20% more goals.
This is manager Steve Cottrill’s second full season with Shrewsbury and it feels like he’s done a good job with a team that generally spent the season scrapping to avoid relegation and finishing an average of 18th place. To turn a team into a potentially top-ten is a decent result in two years.
In terms of the squad, Salop will be broadly unchanged from our December encounter, which they took 2-0. Although a few key names may not feature. Goalscorer Tom Bayliss had a season-ending injury in March and it looks like forward Christian Saydee has been struggling with a knee issue. Luke Leahy, who put away a stonewall penalty last time out, is a sure bet though. In fact, the only new face we will see is Killian Phillips. The twenty-one-year-old was the only incoming loan for Salop during the January window. Phillips is currently with Crystal Palace having moved from Irish side Drogheda United in 2022.
From a tactical point of view, Salop play with two up front and that did cause us a bit of bother last time. They are not a heavy possession team (30% in their win against Bristol on Tuesday) and actually that seems to have tended to make for better games at the Bank this season. It should open the game up and let us run a bit more. With their three-at-the-back and more of an out-and-out winger style of play, it could create gaps for our forwards to exploit. Certainly, it would be good to see Ben House back to his best and pressing his way into the box.
Our last game against Shrewsbury was a bit of a frustration. I feel like we were starting to show a bit of the fight we’ve ended the season with but ultimately caved in the second half. It was back in early December, just before our major slip in form, and the key takeaway was our inability to translate pressure into goals. Have we fixed that problem? Hard to say, but certainly recent games do feel that way.
It is tempting to say we’ve finished on a high. But we can’t ignore two straight losses (even if we can explain them). But it’s not just about the result. I’m not saying I’d like our card-infested win over Port Vale to be a regular occurrence – I don’t think my nerves could take it. But gosh it was a buzz, right? Whether we walk away today with a result or not I hope we leave having seen a game of football and not flat a maudlin end-of-season kickabout. There is still a bit to play for.
It’s been a pleasure previewing games for you this season and I hope you’ve enjoyed my ramblings – and thanks to Gary, of course, for having me! Hopefully, we’re in for a great summer & some decent signings – see you next season.