Michael Bailey: All eyes south as new man gets his big chance to shine
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It’s all change at Ipswich Town – and Norwich City fans will cast a keen eye on what happens now. Fresh from covering Paul Hurst’s final Shrewsbury Town game at Wembley, MICHAEL BAILEY looks at what it means for a fierce derby rivalry.
The Canaries connections and connotations were deep and plenty when Shrewsbury Town prepared to face Rotherham United in last weekend’s League One play-off final.
Both Ben Godfrey and Carlton Morris had grown as players after a season under Paul Hurst’s Shrews wing; inspired arrangements instigated by City loan manager Neil Adams, who knows Hurst well.
That Norwich son and Rotherham boss Paul Warne came out on the winning side at Wembley was also a remarkable story, ensuring he will get to face his boyhood club twice next term – pipping his friend and former long-time Millers team-mate Hurst to the second tier. Initially, anyway.
Warne, Godfrey and Morris all played their part in a cracking occasion on Sunday. And the irony is, all three City connections also played their part in getting Hurst his new gig at Portman Road.
The two young Canaries were key to proving how good Hurst is with potential and loans.
You won’t hear a bad word from either about their gaffer for the past season. Indeed, both poured effusive praise on Hurst and his assistant – at Shrewsbury and now Ipswich – Chris Doig.
“He’s been brilliant – for me personally and the rest of the team,” Morris told me after Shrews training ahead of Wembley. “The training routine is a big thing and he’s got that spot on, plus his man-management skills with the players, how he talks to everyone and makes you feel like you’re part of a team.
“He says it all the time, it’s not a starting XI game. The whole squad got us crucial results in crucial games, players off the bench or not in the squad and coming in.
“He’s not afraid to mix it up so everyone has got to be ready all the time. It keeps us all on our toes.”
You imagine Hurst’s switch puts paid to Adams placing any more of City’s young prospects with the highly-promising manager – after all, there is creating a challenging environment and then there is creating more problems than it would arguably be worth.
As has been well told, Hurst did a remarkable job to take a side widely touted for relegation, and see them spend almost an entire season in League One’s top three. There was no shame in being pipped to automatic promotion by Blackburn and Wigan sides relegated the previous season.
Making sure there was no festering disappointment as the Shrews swept Charlton aside in their play-off semi-finals, was the most eye-catching of his achievements; evidence of the man-manager at work.
And in those traditionally focused, tense times ahead of a huge game at Wembley was a manager happy to share time and opinions. Share honesty over the club’s position and speak well of the challenge ahead. A self-assured nature and almost overt openness as he allowed us to chat and watch him coach a group knitted tightly together, buzzing off the walls and clearly enjoying everything being thrown at them.
It doesn’t take long in Hurst’s company to appreciate why people would want to work for him.
But let’s not get too fluffy about it all. Hurst’s future prospects were effectively decided for him by losing to his old team-mate at Wembley, in a final where his Shrewsbury side were second best – a similar fate he experienced against League Two Lincoln City in the Checkatrade Trophy final, seven weeks earlier.
Their formation and plan from kick-off on Sunday appeared a direct replica from Town’s semi-final success – while Warne made changes that the Shrews took too long to counter. Arguably Rotherham could have been out of sight before half-time.
The tweaks eventually came and a superb free-kick routine straight off the training ground opened the door – but the damage was already done, predominantly from their own set-piece defending, and Shrewsbury lost out to the third club relegated 12 months previous.
The subdued hurt was there in the aftermath. But with hindsight, it’s hard not to reflect without the feeling Hurst knew he would earn his own promotion regardless. He certainly knew he would face a tough summer as his Shrews group was “disbanded” adding: “It’s like going on one long holiday. You meet people and get on really well with them, and then it’s time to go home. That’s where were at now.”
Shrewsbury fans will always hail Hurst as a hero – but they were not happy at the timing or nature of his departure.
Some will have sympathy with that but not Grimsby fans, where Hurst spent three years in sole charge and earned them their Football League return – before bailing out in a fashion that left a similar feeling to those now being experienced at the Shrews.
For a likeable man, those two exits say everything you need to know about Hurst’s ambitions and ruthlessness – and that part will resonate with City fans still wondering where the real Paul Lambert has disappeared to.
No football appointment brings any guarantee – but there is no denying with Paul Hurst, Ipswich have stacked a few things in their favour. The rest is up to him.
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