EFL Trophy final: 'Not much between' Shrewsbury and Lincoln says Paul Hurst
Shrewsbury Town boss Paul Hurst has a stark warning for any over confidence about winning the EFL Trophy against Lincoln City at Wembley on Sunday.
With the Town second in League One, 28 places above the Imps in the English pyramid, bookmakers not surprisingly make Hurst's side odds-on favourites.
But Hurst says: "I don't think we're as clear favourites as people think, just because we're higher up in the league.
"Player wise and budget wise, there's not much between the teams, trust me."
He added: "They've got quite a few players who could be plying their trade in League One if they wanted too."
'Any trophy is special'
Hurst has done a fantastic job since he first pitched up in Shropshire in October 2016.
To get even close to matching Shrewsbury's achievement of winning promotion to the second tier of English football in 1979 is an astounding effort, on such a tight budget.
Yet, although they no longer lead the table having done so for half a season, they are still fighting in second place with just six games left, having all but sealed a play-off place.
Now, just like his opposite number, the equally highly-rated Danny Cowley, Hurst would like to turn all that potential into something tangible by winning something - whether that is at Wembley on Sunday or in the form of promotion.
"Any chance you have to win a trophy is a special occasion," the 43-year-old told BBC Shropshire.
"And this season's got to be right up there in terms of anything I have experienced previously, given the turnaround we've had, the expectation levels and the reality of where we ought to be, but aren't.
"It's difficult to compare winning promotion back into the league with Grimsby (in 2016) after all the hard work and heartache we went through. And I still see this as being in the infancy of my time here. But, with this good group of players it would be special."
Cowley's feelgood factor
For all his ambition, Hurst, who has won at Wembley both as player and boss, knows just how tough opponents Lincoln will be.
Promoted back to the Football League under Cowley just a year after Hurst had taken the same journey with Grimsby via the play-offs, the Shrewsbury boss can see what strides have been taken at Sincil Bank.
"We had some fierce local derbies, while I was at Grimsby," he said. "But, when it came to going back up, they always seemed to fade away.
"Then Danny Cowley went there and, in their first season, they got promoted and had that fantastic FA Cup run.
"They've really capitalised on that, they've invested in the squad used the money wisely and kept that feelgood factor. The club is clearly in a really good place and challenging. They're looking a good bet for the play-offs and another promotion."
They also have none of the psychological baggage carried by Shrewsbury fans. While Lincoln are making their first trip to Wembley, the Shropshire side are on their fourth - and they are still to win.
Shrewsbury will have around 11,000 fans supporting them on Sunday, while around 26,000 Imps supporters will make the trip to the capital.
"I'm sure our fans will give as good as they get," warns Hurst. "But they're certainly going to outnumber us."
Any Wembley experience?
- Jon Nolan and Toto Nsiala were both part of Paul Hurst's Grimsby side who got to Wembley twice in eight days in 2016, beating Forest Green in the Conference play-off final, only to lose to Halifax Town in the FA Trophy.
- Winger Shaun Whalley's victory ambition is fuelled by his desire to atone for father Neil's two losing experiences as a player. Neil Whalley lost there with Warrington Town, 3-2 to St Helens Town in the 1987 FA Vase final, then again with Preston against Wycombe, 4-2, in the 1994 League Two play-off final.
- Striker Carlton Morris played at Wembley for his school in an exhibition game - at rugby union.
- Defender Omar Beckles has been to Wembley once, to see Coldplay in concert.
Who's got the best biscuit?
Shrewsbury and Lincoln both have much in common as quaint reminders of old England.
Although Lincoln, with a population of 94,000 is a city, and Shrewsbury a town of 71,000 residents, both are situated on rivers, and contain plenty of historical reminders of English medieval life.
Both also house lower division football clubs with similar 10,000 capacity grounds, who have known what it is like to drop out of the Football League in recent years.
Best of all, both give their name to biscuits. . . the once mass-marketed Lincoln, with its trademark sugary dimples and the slightly perhaps posher, currant-packed Shrewsbury.
Shrewsbury at Wembley
14 April 1996:
Auto Windscreens Shield
Rotherham United 2-1 Shrewsbury
On the day they made their Wembley debut after 46 years as a Football League club, Shrewsbury still had the bulk of their promotion-winning side from two seasons earlier.
But the decision to bring in two loan players backfired as Town badly underperformed. Two errors by star defender Dave Walton triggered a brace of goals for Nigel Jemson, later to become a Shrewsbury hero himself. Mark Taylor's goal in a late rally proved little consolation.
26 May 2007:
League Two play-off final
Bristol Rovers 3-1 Shrewsbury
Shrewsbury's second visit to Wembley made them and Bristol Rovers the first two Football League sides to play at the new, rebuilt Wembley.
Town got off to a great start when midfielder Stuart Drummond scored in only the third minute. Richard Walker then turned it round with two goals by half time before hopes of a rescue act were wrecked by Marc Tierney's red card and a late third by Sammy Igoe to put the tin lid on it for Gary Peters' side.
23 May 2009:
League Two play-off final
Gillingham 1-0 Shrewsbury
Two seasons later, having again scraped into the play-offs by finishing seventh for the second time in three years, this time Paul Simpson's Shrewsbury were up against fifth-placed Gillingham.
Again, it went with the form book, but it took until the 90th minute for the matter to be settled by Simeon Jackson's late header.
Paul Hurst was talking to BBC Radio Shropshire sports editor James Bond