Shrewsbury Town are enduring a yo-yo start to this year’s campaign, showing a lack of consistency that plagued their attempts to maintain a prolonged period of form throughout last season.
Matt Taylor’s side succumbed to their second league defeat of the season at home to Lincoln City on Saturday, with the Shrews left to rue missed chances which heavily frustrated the 41-year-old manager.
Registering just three goals in their opening four League One fixtures, do Shrewsbury have the firepower to compete at the top end of the third tier this season?
The inability to find the back of the net is not a new problem in Shropshire. Under Steve Cotterill’s management, Salop scored 52 goals in the 2022/23 League One season, which ranked as the second lowest number of goals scored by any team in the top half of the table, with only their opponents from the weekend, Lincoln, with a worse record in front of goal (47) from the top 12 clubs.
Perhaps most concerningly, midfielder Luke Leahy was top scorer with nine league goals, however, six of those came from the penalty spot. The 30-year-old has now joined fellow League One side Wycombe Wanderers after handing in a transfer request and rejecting a new contract at The Croud Meadow.
Taylor’s side fell foul to a lack of a cutting edge in attacking areas once again against the Imps. Despite having the better of the first period, the sides went into the half-time break level, with Shrewsbury unable to capitalise on nine attempts at goal.
Taylor Perry found himself through on goal in the 32nd minute, with the ground in anticipation waiting for the net to ripple, but the midfielder was unable to convert as Lukas Jensen’s outstretched leg denied a priceless goal.
This chance, and the first half in general, largely represented a microcosm of the season so far for the side that currently find themselves 12th in League One.
Shrewsbury have now registered 42 attempts on goal in their third-tier fixtures, hitting the target on 11 occasions and finding the back of the net three times, a goal-to-shot conversion rate of just over 7%.*
Unable to record back-to-back victories, the Oxford-born manager was frustrated at his side’s lack of a cutting edge, which he feels is the difference between those competing for promotion compared to those in mid-table mediocrity.
Salop were 18 points off the final play-off spot last term and were only able to beat Bolton Wanderers in the league and Peterborough United in the FA Cup, out of the sides that finished in the top six.
Speaking to the Shropshire Star at the weekend, the 41-year-old boss said: “I’m stood here annoyed because we’ve lost a game of football that we shouldn’t have.
“I think today we were worthy of at least a point but that’s football.
“Sometimes you don’t always get what you deserve.”
The former England U21 international added: “I felt that we created a lot with the players we had on the pitch, we just didn’t have that cutting edge.
“Ultimately it separates the teams at the top of the league and the ones that are in and around the middle.”
There have been attempts at The Croud Meadow to close that aforementioned gap to the top 6 and address the lack of firepower this summer.
New Zealand international forward Max Mata arrived from Sligo Rovers, whose 11 goals in 23 appearances had him as the joint top scorer in the League of Ireland at the time of his departure. The 23-year-old has already amassed 50 goals and 21 assists in his short career, with Taylor again feeling frustrated at the absence of his injured addition.
“I’m really disappointed that Max wasn’t able to affect the squad (on Saturday),” said the former Walsall boss.
“I think that minus if he didn’t have the calf injury, you’d have seen him.
“He’d have given us a different dimension, a different element, but, it is what it is.”
There was also confirmed interest in bringing multiple players to the club, with an insistence that the squad will look different by the completion of the transfer window.
Earlier this month, Shrewsbury were linked with ‘powerful’ Wolverhampton Wanderers forward Nathan Fraser. The 18-year-old forward impressed during pre-season and is said to be one of the highest-rated prospects at Molineux, finding the back of the net on seven occasions for their U21 side last season.
Shrewsbury Town are now a well-established side at this level, having competed in this division every year from 2015 onwards. Much of their time has been spent in the lower half of the table, however, when they’ve got their recruitment spot on, as they did in 2017/18, they can finish in the upper echelon of League One.
I believe their finishing position this time around will again come down to their potency in attack. They are still a way off from bridging that gap to the top teams in this division, but if Mata can hit the ground running and there is another impressive addition in forward areas, such as the potential capture of Fraser, Shrewsbury could prove to be the surprise package this term.
Whatever happens, the final couple of weeks of the transfer window are going to prove pivotal for the Shropshire-based side’s hopes this season.