Wembley heartbreak for Ipswich target Hurst - six observations from the League One play-off final
- Credit: PA
Ipswich Town look set to move for Shrewsbury boss Paul Hurst after his Wembley heartbreak. Andy Warren watched the game.
Hurst’s Wembley heartbreak
If this was to be Paul Hurst’s last game as Shrewsbury manager, bowing out following an extra-time defeat at the end of a stunning season will certainly hurt.
Ipswich Town are expected to move quickly this week as they look to appoint Mick McCarthy’s replacement, with Hurst having been identified quickly in the two-month-long process as a leading contender.
The attraction is surely the job Hurst has done in turning relegation-favourites Shrewsbury into serious promotion contenders but, sadly, there was to be no fairytale ending to their stunning season.
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Richard Wood scored a brace which secured Rotherham’s return to the second tier after a year away, with Hurst’s Shrewsbury out on their feet at full-time as they lost their second Wembley final of the campaign. It should not take away from what will remain a special campaign, though.
Shrewsbury will remain in League One next season. It remains to be seen whether Hurst will be managing in the Championship.
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Style of play
A Wembley final – a traditionally tight occasion – is certainly not the best place to judge a manager on his side’s style of play.
And Shrewsbury’s first half performance wasn’t a true account of how Hurst’s Shrewsbury like to play. He sets his side up on the front foot but found his team forced back by Rotherham in the early stages of the game, as David Ball missed a penalty before veteran Wood headed the Millers into the lead.
Things improved in the second period but Shrewsbury struggled to get creative force Jon Nolan into the game while their wide players, Shaun Whalley and Alex Rodman, were not able to make a significant impact.
Hurst tweaked his initial 4-2-3-1 formation slightly prior to Rodman’s superb set-piece goal, which got them back into the game, before they began to test the men in red more and more as Nolan began to pull the strings.
But in truth they needed to hang in there to take the game to extra time, before Wood’s second of the game killed the Shrews off.
Inventive set pieces
There is far more to Hurst’s side’s set-piece game than launching the ball into the box and hoping for the best.
They are inventive, eye-catching and innovative, particularly at corners where groups of players line up in unorthodox positions. Those include a cluster of players grouping on the corner of the penalty area before breaking towards goal when the ball is delivered, as well as a line of players positioning themselves in single file behind the penalty spot before looking to find space and confuse the opposition.
But the headline-grabber was Rodman’s equaliser, as their work on the training ground was in evidence as the winger converted a well-worked free-kick which was played into the box to baffle the Rotherham defence.
Hurst didn’t appear to let the magnitude of the game get to him.
It must have been a strange occasion for the Rotherham legend, managing against the side with whom he made more than 500 appearances – many of which were played alongside Millers boss Paul Warne.
There was a warm embrace between the two on the touchline pre-match and he continued to look calm and relaxed throughout, even sharing jokes with his friends on the Rotherham bench.
He wore a glum expression after Wood’s opener but continued to encourage his side as they looked for a way back into the game. Hurst raised his arms above his head with a knowing smile after Rodman’s set-piece goal got them back into the game, and even tried to hug the fourth official.
His disappointment at the final whistle was obvious, but there was a warm embrace for Warne and the Millers staff before he began consoling his players.
Having lost the Checkatrade Trophy final to Lincoln on their previous Wembley visit, just 49 days prior to the League One final, Hurst opted to make some changes to his side’s preparation.
Known to be a little superstitious, the 43-year-old changed his side’s pre-match hotel, arrived in London a day later than on their previous visit and changed his attire.
He arrived at Wembley in a smart blue suit and club tie but, unlike in March, he opted to switch to a tracksuit when he took to the touchline.
Hurst did not lead his side out onto the pitch, with assistant Chris Doig taking that honour.
Emmanuel the Wembley winner
The young right back will return to Portman Road this summer as a Wembley winner, following a hugely productive loan in which he made more than 30 appearances and picked up the club’s young player-of-the-year award.
The Rotherham side is set up to allow the full-backs to get forward and Emmanuel was able to do that from the early minutes of the game, while he defended well as he dealt with two dangerous balls played into the back post.
He looked to get forward again at the start of the second period, but it was his man, Rodman, who broke from the wall to find the Shrewsbury equaliser.