Meet the opposition: The ‘Paul Hurst derby’, Ricketts’ revamp and a Canaries connection
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Ipswich Town host Shrewsbury Town in a league game for the first time since 1989 tomorrow. STUART WATSON takes a closer look at the opposition.
The 'Paul Hurst derby'
That might just be the saddest name for a 'rivalry' in football.
It's not a rivalry, obviously, but Mr Hurst is what connects two clubs whose paths have rarely crossed.
He went from hero to zero among Shrews fans in May 2018 when, less than 48 hours after their League One Play-Off Final defeat to Rotherham at Wembley, it emerged, following weeks of speculation, he was all set to be Mick McCarthy's replacement at Portman Road.
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Chief executive Brian Caldwell accused Ipswich of an 'illegal approach'. Hurst soon raided his former employers for key duo Toto Nsiala and Jon Nolan.
It was a sour end to his highly successful time at the Shropshire club, the former Grimsby boss having taken over a team that was bottom of League One in October 2016 and swiftly transformed them into an outfit that defied the odds to finish third and also make the final of the Cheackatrade Trophy.
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Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but no parties emerged well from the switch.
Hurst lasted just 149 days and was sacked with Town bottom. His replacement at Shrewsbury, John Askey (a man whose reputation was on the rise after guiding Macclesfield to the National League title), was sacked just a few days later after overseeing just four wins in 17.
Ipswich went on to finish bottom. Shrewsbury managed to avoid the drop with a game to spare.
Hurst waited a long time to get his next job. His Scunthorpe United side are currently bottom of League Two. His public fall-out with senior player Adam Hammill and some stinging post-match comments have an air of deja vu.
Askey is now at Port Vale, who are currently placed behind Macclesfield in the early fourth-tier standings.
Sam Ricketts arrived at Montgomery Waters Meadow in December.
The former Welsh international defender, who played for the likes of Swansea, Hull, Bolton and Wolves, immediately set about remodelling the squad.
There were six signings in January, a further 12 this window, with potentially one more to come before Monday's deadline.
Including staff, there have been 30 changes in just nine months.
Just three regulars from the Hurst era remain - defender Omar Beckles, Shaun Whalley and Lenell John-Lewis.
Given the major summer overhaul and a sizeable injury list that has hit central midfield hard, it's been a decent start to the season for the Shropshire side.
A 1-0 home win against Portsmouth on the opening day, followed by a 1-0 defeat at MK Dons the following weekend, then a much-changed side were thrashed 4-0 by Rotherham in the Carabao Cup.
Since then there have been a pair of goalless home draws against Rochdale and Burton, sandwiching a dramatic 3-2 win at Accrington. In the latter, Shrewsbury were 2-0 down with 13 minutes to go.
Well-drilled and organised, but far from gelled as an attacking unit seems to be the summary.
Style of play
Word of warning: It's wing-backs. That's the system that Town struggled to break down for so long when AFC Wimbledon came to frustrate at Portman Road last week.
"We're trying to get better control of games," said Ricketts. "We don't want to be playing for a lot of fight balls. You have to earn the right, but it is a sign that we're not fluent yet.
"The good thing is we're not easy to play against. That has to be a given. When we can play and move how we want to then we can really start hurting teams.
"It's just a question of not being fully on it at the moment with the ball. I don't think we're a million miles away though.
"I think once we can handle the ball and move the ball better we'll be more compact as a team and that will help the top two.
"At the minute they're having to work extremely hard in and out of possession and the more we move the ball the more threatening we can be in an attacking sense."
A lot of injured or semi-fit players, primarily in centre-midfield.
Sean Goss - a key signing from QPR - is a doubt (ankle). Dave Edwards, Josh Laurent, Luke McCormick, Louis Thompson and Brad Walker are all still getting up to speed following disrupted pre-seasons and recent knocks.
This game could come too soon for Ollie Norburn or Romain Vincelot to return.
Forward options are also reduced. Striker Fejiri Okenabirhie has been ruled out this weekend (hamstring), while Daniel Udoh has only just returned from a groin problem.
Carlton Morris and Ben Godfrey were big hits at Shrewsbury during spells from Norwich. The Shrews have gone back to Carrow Road for another loan signing this year in midfielder Louis Thompson. The 24-year-old is highly-rated by the Canaries, but needs to put a catalogue of injuries behind him.
Striker Steve Morison played under Paul Lambert's management at Carrow Road. Now aged 36, he's on loan with the Shrews from Millwall for the season.
Taming the Shrews
Shrewsbury were the last team that Ipswich beat in a penalty shootout - that League Cup victory coming following a 3-3 draw in Shropshire back in 2009.
This will be Shrewsbury's first visit to Portman Road for a league game in 30 years.
The clubs were second-tier foes from 1986 to 1989. They were third-tier rivals for much of the 50s.
On their way to the Division Three South title in 1957, the Blues beat Shrewsbury 5-1 on Suffolk soil.
Altogether there have been 11 meetings at Portman Road, Town winning 10 and drawing the other.