Salford City compete in the Emirates FA Cup First Round for only the second time ever on Sunday when they travel to Shrewsbury Town (KO 12:45).
The Ammies head to Montgomery Waters Meadow on a 17-game unbeaten run in the league, plus the Fourth Qualifying Round win at Marine. Despite being on such a good run and with plenty of confidence, Graham Alexander is also cautious of Shrewsbury’s higher league standing.
He said: “We’ll know the challenge, we’ll know the quality that Shrewsbury have, they’ve picked up some real good results of late and when you think about it, Shrewsbury were in the play-offs for the Championship in May so that’s the competitive nature of what Shrewsbury can bring to the game.
“We’re going to have to be at our best or as near to our best as we can be to make it difficult for them. But we go into every game confident of our own ability, our own qualities, we always focus on those but you’ve also got to respect the opposition and we respect every opponent we play and Shrewsbury will be no different.”
After such an impressive showing last season, losing out in the play-off final to Rotherham United, The Shrews were rocked by the departure of Paul Hurst for Ipswich Town in the summer but replaced him with National League winner John Askey.
The former Macclesfield Town boss made over 500 appearances for The Silkmen as a player and led them from the Northern Premier League to the heights of the Second Division, but it has taken him some time to adjust to managing in the Football League again having had a brief spell in charge at Moss Rose from October 2003 – April 2004.
Sitting 18th in League One is probably not where Shrews fans would have been expecting to be after last season, despite the changes, but they have picked up some important wins that for now are keeping them adrift of the drop zone.
A tricky start saw The Shrews either drawing or losing out by one goal so they haven’t been carved open particularly, it just took them until mid-September to pick up a win which came in the form of a 2-0 victory over Southend United. They have followed that with three wins from nine in the league plus a 6-0 hammering of Tranmere Rovers in the Checkatrade Trophy.
It is often said in the FA Cup that part of the magic is having a home draw, and Shrewsbury will certainly be glad to have seen their name come out of the hat first as their home form is superior to their away form. They would be comfortably in the top half if the table went off home form alone…
Consistency has perhaps been the source of frustration for some fans on social media, whose vocal opinions led to a national newspaper claiming Askey is on the verge of being sacked. That claim was very quickly opposed by chief executive Brian Caldwell, but it is now up to the players to prove that and put together back-to-back wins for what would be only the second time this season.
Two wins from the last three is more encouraging reading for those fans with the 3-1 win over one of the promotion favourites Barnsley last time out at home a highlight. Summer signing Luke Waterfall scored in that game, plus both goals in last weekend’s 2-1 win at bottom side AFC Wimbledon so he is a man in form.
Shrewsbury enjoyed a good start to October with three consecutive clean sheets in a draw and two wins, and already off to a winning start in November, they will be hoping for more of the same on Sunday.
One to watch – Oliver Norburn
The midfielder signed for Town in the summer for an undisclosed fee from Tranmere Rovers, who he helped to promotion back into League Two via the play-offs last season.
It is the second time the 26-year-old has linked up with Askey having played at Moss Rose in 2016-17 when his form captured the attention of Rovers, who signed him to replace a departed Lois Maynard.
4 goals in 44 appearances and a play-off promotion with the Prenton Park outfit made Norburn a wanted man in the summer with Shrewsbury winning the battle to sign him, and so far he has two goals in 14 games this season. A lively midfielder, he isn’t afraid to take control of possession and try to beat players, with a decent shot too.
In addition to the quality the midfielder brings – he was a youth player at Leicester and has a number of Football League appearances under his belt from spells at Bristol Rovers and Plymouth Argyle – Norburn is well accustomed to non-league’s top tier so he will be aware that it takes a certain something for a team to be competing at the top end of the National League as Salford are.
The Salford number one spent three seasons at Shrewsbury Town between 2009 and 2012, and had a loan spell from Preston North End in 2006 without making a league appearance.
After leaving Preston, Neal signed for The Shrews permanently and in his third and final season he was the main man between the sticks as Town were promoted to League One after finishing second.