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Making Up For Lost Time

Making Up For Lost Time

For Shrewsbury Town’s Tom Bayliss, his career to date has taken somewhat of a jagged trajectory.

Rewind to the summer of 2019, and the Coventry City Academy graduate was one of the hottest prospects rising through the EFL after bursting onto the scene with the Sky Blues.

On the back of an impressive maiden League One campaign at the Ricoh Arena in the 2018/19 season, Bayliss earned himself a big money move to the Championship in the shape of Preston North End. However, his move to Deepdale never really took off, starting just two league matches in three-years.

“It was so disappointing. It’s the toughest thing to accept as a footballer when you’re not playing games because that’s all you want to do. It was so hard,” Bayliss told LFE. “I felt that I was worthy of being at that level in the Championship and I wanted to test myself. Preston also paid a record fee for me and gave me the number seven shirt, which really signalled their intent and how much they wanted me at the time. But, in the end it didn’t work out. I don’t know whether that was through opportunities, moving away, I don’t know what went wrong. I don’t think I ever got a fair crack at it if I’m being honest.

“People would always ask me why I’m not playing, and I’d never have the answers which was frustrating. You’d like to be able to at least give a reason why. I’m getting all these questions from my friends, family, agent and former teammates, asking me what’s going on and there was never an answer. I just kept my head down and worked hard and that at least gave me clarity of mind. But things happen for a reason, and I wouldn’t change my experience at Preston because it’s made me stronger, mentally stronger and it’s made me appreciate playing football week in week out again.”

Following a loan spell at League One Champions Wigan Athletic last season, the 23-year-old terminated his contract with Preston and joined Shrewsbury Town on a two-year deal as he looked to reignite his stalling career.

I felt like I needed to go out and play games again. I had a few years where I wasn’t playing consistently, and as a footballer that’s all you want to do. Shrewsbury came in for me and I went to meet the manager and his assistant, and it was positive. They were building a good squad and I felt it was the right time for me to move on from Preston and go and play football again. I’m just enjoying myself again. There’s a good feel factor around the place and we’ve built quite a good squad for League One, everyone’s optimistic.

“I feel like I’m almost making up for lost time. When you’re not playing, you don’t feel like you’re part of a team and you feel frustrated about the situation and you feel like you shouldn’t be there, so Shrewsbury just feels like a fresh start. It feels like the Coventry days again, I’m enjoying my football, playing in front of big crowds and trying to show everyone what I can do. Those years behind me are gone now and it’s time to just focus on the future with Shrewsbury.”

Under the guidance of Steve Cotterill, the Leicester born midfielder has flourished so far in Shropshire and is thankful to his new manager for helping him rediscover his mojo.

“Some would say he’s a bit old fashioned compared to other managers I’ve worked under. He’s been around the game a long time; he’s got bags of experience and he’s been brilliant with me. He’s reinstalled trust and he’s reinstalled that confidence in my ability. He’s onto me a lot because he knows I can be an asset to the team and I think that’s good because there’s no time where you can be off it because he will tell you when you are, so he’s been great with me and it’s nice to be working under a manager that believes in your ability and has confidence in you.

“I think confidence comes hand in hand with playing football. I know the ability I’ve got, and I know how I can perform in League One, so it’s just about being given the opportunity to go out there and prove it. It’s great to again be playing week in week out and I’m really enjoying my time at Shrewsbury.”

Following an initial slow start to life at Montgomery Waters Meadow, Bayliss has enjoyed a rich vein of form in recent weeks, contributing with goals and assists on a regular basis.

“I took a little while to get going and I think that’s normal after not playing every week for so long. There is training fitness and then there is match fitness. They’re both completely different things. I’m a midfielder who wants to contribute with goals and assists and I think they’ve slowly accumulated over the last month or so.

“I feel like at this moment in time I’ve got a couple of people who I’d like to prove wrong and that comes from within and decisions that have happened in the past, but like I said you can’t change the past, but you can determine your own future.

“You want to go out and win, play every week and contribute to your team. But also, the manager plays a huge part. He doesn’t let me drop my levels and if I ever do, he tells me! I just want to play well for myself, the team and my family. Everything is now going in the right direction, but there is more to come. I just want to help the team as much as I can.”

From the outside, expectations around Shrewsbury as a team aren’t sky high. With one of the smallest squads in the league, a mid-table finish would be respectable. However, after a solid opening few months of the campaign, Bayliss believes his side shouldn’t write themselves off for a potential play off push.

“I think we’ve always been quietly confident. We’ve assembled a good squad, a tight knit squad.  We had a good pre-season trip to Spain, and it was all about for me getting to know everyone. I already knew a few lads there already but it’s a nice small squad, probably one of the smallest in the league and because of that we all get on well. There’re no clicks and everyone wants to help everyone. The staff as well are great. They’re always around asking how you are and seeing if they can help with anything. Everyone just wants to work hard and hopefully the results coincide with that.

“The morale is good; it’s a good bunch of lads and we just want to finish as high as possible. I think we’ve got an outside chance of the play offs, but we just have to focus on the next game. I know it’s a cliché, but you just don’t know where it’ll take you come the end of the season. There are obviously goals within the setup, but I think we’ll keep that between ourselves for now.

As a result of Bayliss’s impressive start to life at Shrewsbury, rumours of a possible return to the Championship have already begun to circulate, with several clubs having already shown supposed interest in the former Preston man. Despite this, Bayliss insists his focus is solely on Shrewsbury Town.

In the here and now I just want to do well for the club I’m at. Shrewsbury have shown a lot of faith in me, and I want to repay that faith. However, I think any footballers’ goal is to play at the highest level possible for their ability. Whether for me that’s League One, or I get the chance to go up the leagues again, I don’t know. But right now, I’m just really enjoying my football here at Shrewsbury and that’s the only thing I’m thinking about.”

This article features in Issue 44 of LFE’s Touchline Magazine.

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