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Thursday, 17 January, 2019

Shrewsbury should be backed to upset the odds against promotion rivals Rotherham

Paul Hurst's men can cap extraordinary campaign with playoff triumph

Shrewsbury goalkeeper Dean Henderson celebrates the semi-final win over Charlton
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Sky Bet League One playoff final
Sky Sports Football, 3pm Sunday

Shrewsbury can overcome the odds, Rotherham and their Wembley curse to follow Wigan and Blackburn out of Sky Bet League One and into the Championship.

The Shrews, in the top two in the division for much of the season yet outsiders of the four going into the playoffs, have proved they are the third-best team in the section over the course of an unforgettable campaign.

Now, having defied those who rated them as relegation fodder at the off, they look ready to make a nonsense of the odds once more.

Eight points superior to Rotherham over the course of the regular season, they look a top bet to finish off the job in 90 minutes at the national stadium.

There are Wembley ghosts to be exorcised for the Shrews. Defeat by Lincoln in the final of the EFL Trophy final last month made it played four, lost four at Wembley – a sequence that started with a 2-1 loss to Rotherham in the same competition in 1996. Town boss Hurst was in that triumphant Millers side.

Shrewsbury staff, however, are making all the right noises, saying that playing, and losing, at Wembley has given them a real sense of keenness to put it right this time.

Against Lincoln they allowed the no-nonsense Imps to bully them while leaving striker Carlton Morris isolated up front.

Rotherham's tactics are less primitive than Lincoln's but they will still look to get the ball up to Michael Smith and hope he can impose himself on defenders Mat Sadler and Ari Nsiala.

Expect Hurst, therefore, to ensure that his defensive midfielders provide plenty of protection while encouraging wingers Alex Rodman and Shaun Whalley, as well as the increasingly influential Joe Nolan, to work alongside Morris.

The Shrewsbury boss is outstanding at redressing shortcomings. He has been doing it all season so it’s little wonder that he is now top of Ipswich’s wanted list.

Hurst's opposite number Paul Warne may have to be a little more savvy, though long balls, long throws and set-plays are key parts of the South Yorkshire side’s armoury. Equally, if they get Joe Newell or Ryan Williams on the ball then they have got some pace and invention.

Rotherham, though, look iffy at the back where Michael Ihiekwe and Richard Wood are mistakes waiting to happen. They conceded 53 goals in the league campaign. 14 more than the Shrews, and handed out chance after chance to Scunthorpe during their 4-2 aggregate success in the playoff semi-finals.

Shrewsbury, meanwhile, showed defensive improvement by producing a pair of clean sheets against a dangerous Charlton side.

A feast of goals looks unlikely given the tension of the fixture. Eight of Shrewsbury’s last nine matches have produced under 2.5 goals and the four semi-final ties averaged only two per game.

1pt 12-5 Sky Bet

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Sky Bet League One final standings

Team news
Darren Potter and Jamie Proctor have been sidelined for most of the season but Michael Ihiekwe has shaken off a thigh strain.

Skipper Abu Ogogo and Junior Brown are the only absentees.

Key stat
Shrewsbury’s last 11 League One matches have produced 34 goals, with 25 coming in the second half.

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Shrewsbury have shown defensive improvement by producing a pair of clean sheets against a dangerous Charlton side
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