This FA Cup clash at the New Meadow will only be the clubs’ second meeting in their long histories, with the previous one seeing the Reds run out 4-0 winners at the Shrews’ Gay Meadow ground at the same stage of the same competition in February 1996.
With Jürgen Klopp’s men heavy favourites, a similar scoreline will be anticipated by many this time around, even factoring in the heavy likelihood of the German making large scale changes.
Sam Ricketts’ side, though – who are stationed securely enough in mid-table of England’s third tier and will have had eight days of preparation time – are sufficiently positioned to pump plenty of resources into attempting to continue an already impressive cup run.
Grenadian centre-back Aaron Pierre’s 30-yard piledriver saw off Bristol City in their Third Round replay to earn this tie – after an impressive 1-1 draw was secured at Ashton Gate – and added to First and Second Round successes over first Bradford City and then Mansfield Town before the turn of the year.
It’s the second successive season the club have reached the last-32 of the world’s oldest cup competition, something that has already earned them plenty of revenue. Yet, as Ollie states below, the stable management of the club is such that that money – along with the considerable benefits this weekend will bring – will likely go directly towards improving the squad.
Similarly to the Reds, Shrewsbury Town represent a club who have built themselves very solid foundations through their approach in recent years, allowing them the chance to look firmly upwards in those to come.
Ollie Warner provides the Salop perspective ahead of the two clubs’ meeting.
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What would your 50-word intro to Shrewsbury Town FC be for anyone unfamiliar with the club and its history?
Shrewsbury Town are a League One team with a loyal fanbase and an average attendance over 6,000. Two years ago, we nearly achieved promotion to the Championship but were pipped by Wigan and Blackburn to automatic promotion. We have a respectable youth system producing players such as Joe Hart, Dave Edwards and Conor Goldson (plays for Steven Gerrard’s Rangers).
What inspired the setting-up of Salopcast and what’s been your best experience relating to it so far?
I had been listening to podcasts such as the Guardian’s Football Weekly for a number of years, I was aware of club podcasts such as the Roker Report and Anfield Wrap and I thought it would be fun to create the first Shrewsbury Town podcast. I contacted the editor of the fanzine and suggested we start a podcast, the rest is now history!
Our best experiences have been interviewing the CEO discussing how transfers are orchestrated and interviewing club legend Dave Edwards, our first player interview.
What can Liverpool fans visiting the New Meadow for the first time expect from the club, the ground and the team?
For Liverpool fans it will be a quaint experience being in an away end that is in a stand of its own, holding 1,700 fans. The ground is over ten years old but is fairly unremarkable in design. It has been noted by away fans that our stewards are welcoming and friendly. I am sure you will have a pleasant experience. Unfortunately, it’s not the same matchday experience as the old Gay Meadow where you could have drank a few pre-game pints in the Town.
At time of writing, you are sat in 16th place in League One but are 12 points clear of the relegation zone and only seven off the play-offs. What would represent a successful 2019/20 campaign for the club, in your opinion? Are the play-offs a realistic target?
I described League One as a sea of beige at the start of the season and my prediction has come true so far. There is very little between the teams, in the majority of matches either side have a realistic chance of winning, which makes it exciting and frustrating with equal measure. After surviving a relegation battle last season, mid-table would be a success.
What would you say is your greatest strength as a team and who, in your view, is likely to represent your biggest threat on Sunday?
Our greatest strength is our defence, not just our three central defenders but the whole team and how well organised we are. Of course, this is relative to League One, not in comparison to a Premier League attack. Our biggest threat will be the counter-attack and forward Callum Lang, on loan from Wigan, is our best attacking player.
What is your biggest weakness — or point for improvement — as a team?
Very simple: goal scoring. We are the second-lowest scorers in League One.
Midfielder Josh Vela, on a permanent deal, and left-back Sam Hart (once of the Liverpool Academy), on a loan, have been January acquisitions for you in recent days. How likely do you feel it is that they’ll be involved?
Neither player will start as they lack match fitness and I am sure Sam Ricketts will reward the players that achieved success against Bradford, Mansfield and Bristol City. I expect Josh Vela will play more games than Sam Hart by the end of the season.
How do you see yourselves lining up? You normally play three at the back but could Sam Ricketts switch it up?
We have played three at the back for all but about 15 minutes this season. I would bet that we will line up in a 3-4-3 formation that has been Ricketts’ go-to formation in recent months. We play with one striker and two supporting midfielders who will track back to support the rest of the team.
Is there a particular Liverpool player — or element of the team’s play — that you are especially concerned about?
That is dependent on the team you play, but let’s say for simplicity’s sake everyone and everywhere!
It was mentioned in one of your recent podcasts that Shrewsbury represent one of the best run clubs in the Football League, with your financial situation a thoroughly stable one. This means prize and TV money from cup games such as this weekend’s is likely to go directly towards the transfer fund rather than digging the club out of any monetary trouble. How has this been achieved and who deserves credit for the club being on such steady ground?
The chairman Roland Wycherley has transformed the club. When he took ownership of the club, we were at the Gay Meadow which had turned into a urine scented crumbling wreck that had no insurance due to its close proximity to the River Severn. However, it was very picturesque surrounded by large trees and on the doorstep of Shrewsbury’s fantastic pubs.
Wycherley funded the club to ensure we paid the bills, sold the ground at the height of the property boom and built the new ground without any debt. He then grew our non-match day revenue and built a Championship standard training ground. We are one of the few EFL clubs with money in the bank and always in the black, the man deserves a medal.
The Liverpool tie will earn us about £400k, roughly 5% of our revenue. I suspect the funds will be given straight to the manager to improve the squad.
Grenadian centre-back Aaron Pierre scored a stunning winner in your 1-0 Third Round replay win over Bristol City. What’s the story with Grenada FA President Cheney Joseph’s interest in the club’s progress and could he even be in attendance on Sunday?
There was a Twitter thread suggesting he was going to attend, but I am not sure it will become a reality. Aaron Pierre was a Grenadian international when he joined in the summer, he then persuaded Omar Beckles, a fellow defender, to join him and both players have helped Grenada reached the Gold Cup. Cheney Joseph has become an enthusiastic follower of the club. It would be a great story if he was guest of honour on Sunday.
What would a win — or earning a replay — on Sunday mean? Where would it rank among the club’s achievements?
Earning a replay would be great from a financial perspective. From a fan’s point of view, I am sure those fans who haven’t been to Anfield before would be very excited at the prospect. If I had a choice, I would prefer beating Liverpool on Sunday!
Winning would be one of the greatest single victories in the club’s history, would it eclipse beating Everton in the FA Cup? Perhaps so, but if it’s against Liverpool’s B team, it would make it less of an achievement.
How do you see the game going and what’s your predicted score line?
Ninety-nine times out of a hundred Liverpool win, but miracles do happen!
I predict a 5-1 victory to Liverpool.