A League One side hosting a Premier League team at 3pm on a Saturday in January? That means the sniff of a potential upset will hang heavy in the Shropshire air this weekend as Nuno Espirito Santo brings his charges to Montgomery Waters Meadow. Wolves have had a decent season back in the top flight, sitting eighth at the end of last weekend’s play, and have the chance to augment their strong league performance with a cup run. Standing in their way will be former Molineux stalwart Sam Ricketts and his Shrewsbury side.
Ricketts captained Wolves for a spell between 2013 and 2015, and took his first steps in coaching while in the Black Country. It seems unlikely that he’ll let gratitude for that opportunity spoil his chance to take a famous scalp so early in his managerial career. Nonetheless, with Santo’s side having taken out Liverpool in the previous round, the Shrews need not be under any false impressions as to just how hard a match this will be.
Shrewsbury Town vs Wolves Prediction: Shrewsbury Town 0-2 Wolves
Wolves have had an up-and-down season on their return to the Premier League – rarely have they been outclassed, and they have taken points off some of the top sides in the division. On the other hand, they’ve lost to the likes of Cardiff and Crystal Palace, indicating that their counter-attacking instincts are less effective when there’s not much of an opposing attack to counter. They could find themselves in a similar pickle here, but over the course of ninety minutes, it’s hard to see the top-flight side not finding the form to outclass their keen but limited hosts.
Our recommended tip: Wolves HT & FT
Wolves come into this game off the back of a meeting with Leicester City that they needed to win three times. Having led 2-0, then 3-2, and finding themselves pegged back to 3-3, they finally won thanks to a Jota hat-trick. That ability to keep going through to the final whistle demonstrates a mental strength on the part of Santo’s players; a strength that will be tested in a different way here. Shrewsbury are unlikely to play as open a game as Leicester did – and controlling possession will be tough on a League One pitch – but with William Hill offering 13/10 on Wolves to lead at half time and win, we think the visitors will find a way to win.
The last time these sides met on this pitch – outside of surprisingly numerous friendlies – was in League One back in September 2013. In the Wolves defence that day was none other than Sam Ricketts, and he captained the West Midlanders to a 1-0 win. It was by no means an easy game – the Shrews held their more noted visitors scoreless until the 85th minute, when Jon Taylor was sent off for handling on the goal-line. Bakary Sako stepped up to fire home the penalty. Shrewsbury will be aiming to make this afternoon just as awkward for their visitors, despite the league gulf that has opened between the clubs.
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Players to watch: Mat Sadler & Morgan Gibbs-White
For the underdogs to get anything from this game, they will need a heroic performance from their defence, and veteran club captain Mat Sadler will be integral in that respect. Born and raised in Birmingham, and a product of the youth system at Birmingham City, the opportunity to put one over on local rivals Wolves will be a motivating factor for the 33-year-old. FA Cup ties are the type of game where players like Sadler really stand out – and Sadler won’t need any geeing up for this huge game.
Although Wolves have kept the same XI from game to game for much of this season, it’s getting harder to ignore the claims of attacking midfielder Morgan Gibbs-White for a first-team place. Hugely gifted on the ball and with fine attacking instincts already, the 18-year-old is a name to keep an eye on for the future. FA Cup squad rotation could be the perfect reason to give him a start here – it may be a raucous atmosphere, but it’s surely nothing a World Under-17s Champion won’t have experienced before.