The Football League In Focus: Positive signs for Sam Ricketts at Shrewsbury

Gabriel Sutton by Gabriel Sutton / 17 December 2018, 15:07

Sam Ricketts oversaw his first home game in charge of Shrewsbury Town on Saturday against Peterborough United.

It was an impressive performance against the promotion credentials and although an injury-time Posh equalizer meant Ricketts had to settle for a 2-2 draw, there are reasons to be excited about his time at Greenhous Meadow.

Here’s what he needs to do to become a success in Shropshire.

Learn from Coyne and Ramsay

Although Shrewsbury Town needed a new manager, they did not necessarily need a new regime.

After John Askey was dismissed in November, Danny Coyne and Eric Ramsay did a wonderful job in interim charge, with both being hugely respected coaches within the club.

The team won five of the duo’s seven matches in all competitions at the helm, scoring 14 goals.

Of course, Coyne does not want the job on a permanent basis giving Ramsay the gig would have been very risky, with just a month of senior coaching under his belt.

The ideal solution therefore was to appoint someone who will keep Coyne and Ramsay on board in prominent roles, to continue the coaching setup that had been working so well, but who also has some record of thriving as a number one.

Sam Ricketts fits that bill.

The fact that he has managed only 25 games in his career could be considered, by some, to be a negative thing, but in fact it means he will be more receptive to new ideas.

A management trio who are all learning together could be more effective than one manager who is very experienced but does not want to collaborate as much.

Keep the midfield diamond

The first Greenhous Meadow line-up Ricketts named was very similar to the one that thrived during the interim period, with the same four midfielders in situ.

At the base of the diamond, Anthony Grant looks almost like an Abu Ogogo lite.

The ex-Port Vale man draws comparisons with last season’s key performer due to his tenacity and readiness to do the dirty work.

Of course, he might not quite be at the same level in terms of pace and stamina yet his mental strength makes him a useful cog in this side.

At the tip, Josh Laurent has been surprisingly efficient; despite being relatively lanky at 6’2”, he triggers the press with impressive agility and has the athleticism to make aggressive, lung-busting runs which give his teammates more time to find their shape.

For a four-man midfield to work, it needs the wide players to be very disciplined without the ball and Norburn is often in the right position; he is not shy to go strong in the challenge, too and can threaten from distance.

Greg Docherty was billed as an attacking midfielder to replace Jon Nolan, now of Ipswich, but arguably his best form has come in that wide right position.

There, he has had to stay in his defensive third for spells but equally, he has still been able to make well-timed runs into the final third and is the team’s joint-top league goalscorer with five.

Intriguingly, none of those players featured in the 2017-18 side that challenged for promotion last season and yet they have gelled quickly enough to become one of the strongest parts of the team.

Develop Okenabirhie

In the first three months of the season, Fejiri Okenabirhie looked a raw yet exciting forward.

As well as pace and power, the former Dagenham man had skill helped by being equally adept with both feet.

Stepping up from National League level though, it perhaps took him time to refine certain technical aspects of his game and sometimes tame or wasteful finishing let him down slightly.

More recently however, Okenabirhie has held onto the above qualities whilst finding more belief around the penalty area, enabling him to score seven goals in his last seven games in all competitions.

His most recent goal, in the 2-2 draw with Peterborough, he even had the confidence to round the goalkeeper before slotting into the net, almost from the byline.

With the unpredictability of Okenabirhie combined with the industry and work rate of Aaron Amadi-Holloway, Shrewsbury have a reasonable strike-pairing who can fashion chances for themselves.

Improve the defence

Mat Sadler was excellent last season.

He often faces centre-forwards with a physical advantage over him and thus he knows not to be overly aggressive which, in theory, reduces the number of clear cut chances for the opposition.

This calculated method of defending however, functions best when the cautious centre-back has a partner with the athleticism and bravery to attack balls into the box straight away.

Aristote Nsiala did that superbly last term, before leaving for Ipswich in the summer.

Luke Waterfall was billed as the replacement for Nsiala, having captained Lincoln to the National League title in 2016-17.

It should be noted though that the ex-Bradford man was not necessarily a vital player for the Imps in League Two; he only became a regular starter for them in the second half of last season because two other centre-backs left in January.

There was a feeling at Sincil Bank that while they might have missed his leadership qualities and proficiency in the opposition box, his actual defensive ability at EFL level was debatable.

For that reason, it is perhaps unsurprising that he has found stepping up a division slightly problematic and thus, centre-back is an area for Ricketts to review in the next two transfer windows.

Engage the fans

John Askey achieved remarkable success at Macclesfield Town, leading them to the 2017-18 National League title despite major ongoing financial issues.

A big part of that success though was his connection to supporters, which had come organically due to his involvement with the club, spanning four decades in a playing and managing capacity.

When he went to Shrewsbury though, he had to prove himself all over again.

Without doing too much to interest and enthuse fans in his press conferences, it is possible that he lost battles at Greenhous Meadow that he had never had to win at Moss Rose.

Despite reasonable performances under Askey’s management in the first three months, results were disappointing and fans did not feel compelled to give the regime time.

The challenge for Ricketts, therefore, is to embrace the local media and relish the opportunity to interact with fans.

An engaging Fans Q&A, which came very early in his reign, represents a positive start.

Strike the balance

While Ricketts was at Wrexham, he was credited for adding guile to grit.

His predecessor, Dean Keates, built a solid, dependable outfit that very rarely lost – yet Ricketts took them up another level in terms of their use of the ball and quality of approach play.

There’s a feeling at the Racecourse that, if they had a striker of the quality to match those of their promotion rivals, they could be top of the league.

Not only did Wrexham maintain an excellent goals against record, with just 14 shipped in 22 under his tutelage, they became better to watch.

There is no reason, therefore, why the former Wolves defender cannot bring his own ideas into the fore.

Ricketts will do that however, with a willingness to collaborate with Coyne and Ramsay; he might just prove the perfect fit.

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Graham Westley
Graham Westley
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