Steve Cotterill's Shrewsbury had a catastrophic start to the season. They lost their first four games without scoring a goal and found themselves bottom of the league with a minus seven goal difference.
Given their poor start it is quite an achievement that by last weekend they had climbed, albeit temporarily, out of the relegation places. Their away form has continued to be dire (eight defeats and two draws) but at home since the end of August they have won four, drawn two and only lost once - to Wycombe. They have seen off Gillingham (2-1), Wimbledon (2-1), Milton Keynes (1-0) and Cambridge (4-1) and on Tuesday evening they played for 45 minutes with ten men but came from behind to force a 1-1 draw with Sunderland. They have only managed 17 goals in 19 games but they are clearly no pushover at the Montgomery Waters Meadow Stadium.
The red card on Tuesday was shown to former Birmingham and Wolves midfielder David Davis who joined Shrewsbury in January of this year. His dismissal means that travelling fans will be deprived of the opportunity to watch one of the most memorably forgettable Charlton loanees of recent years. Signed in the January 2019 transfer window he played five pretty anonymous games for us in the run up to the suspension of the season before refusing to play once it resumed. His suspension from this game will no doubt spare him some rich abuse from the away end.
Our last visit to Shrewsbury was a depressing affair almost a year ago. We took the lead through a Ben Watson goal with twenty minutes to go but it was all downhill after that. Johnny Williams had come on as a substitute but Lee Bowyer called him off again twenty minutes later for pulling out of a tackle. In the fifth minute of injury time Albie Morgan sliced a high clearance back into his own area. It was allowed to bounce and, in the ensuing melee, Chris Gunter gave away a penalty which was duly despatched. A win would have put us into third place but instead there was a drop in performance and morale during the ensuing months and we dropped to eighth before Bowyer left for Birmingham in March.
We will be heading up there with high expectations on Saturday despite the rather weary account the team gave of itself at Morecambe on Tuesday. There is some doubt about whether Jason Pearce will be fit to return so our defence may need to become all the more makeshift with Chris Gunter starting in the centre. The squad will however be strengthened by the return of Jonathan Leko who should be able to supply some fresh impetus, although probably from the bench.
If we are to mount a play-off challenge this is the sort of game we need to win. The bookmakers are still far from convinced about our potential and see us as no more than mid table finishers. A result on Saturday followed by two successive home games might see those odds shorten before we go down to Plymouth to give them another reminder of how good we are.