Preview: Scunthorpe United

We’ve reached the final game of a season where so much has happened but strangely has felt like it never really got going. From the waiting for quality signings that never came in August, the wait for a replacement for Tony Mowbray, the wait for Russell Slade’s reign to take-off, the wait for Russell Slade to be shown the door, the wait for Wembley, to now, the wait for the start of next season.

In a sense, it will be a relief when it’s all over and Mark Robins can get on with the task of getting us out of League Two. However, given the constant flow of bad news around the club over the past few weeks, there’s the strong feeling that relegation is less an opportunity to rebuild the club and more the opening of another dark chapter in our history. As fans, we can only hope that Mark Robins is the right man to trust at such an important juncture for this football club.

Possible Line-Up

As for this final game of the season, it’s probably the case that Robins has already decided who he wants to keep and who he’s planning to move on. In fact, it would be a tad concerning where he to be swung by one good or bad performance from players in this game. While someone like Vladimir Gadzhev impressed last week, one decent showing in a pressure-free game shouldn’t be considered representative of a player’s level of performance over the course of a long and hard season.

As has been the case since the Checkatrade Trophy final, this is likely to be a team selected on a basis of who is fit rather than managerial preference. Ideally, Robins would not be picking loan players or those whose contracts he will not renew, however, players like Kevin Foley, Marcus Tudgay and Farrend Rawson may have to be used in order to get 11 players on the pitch.

Last Time We Met

Despite losing to Scunthorpe at the Ricoh Arena back in November, the performance looked to have further demonstrated Mark Venus’ ability to pull us further away from danger after a run of four wins in six games. In a fairly close game where both sides had about us much attacking threat as each other, it was Scunthorpe’s star man Josh Morris who ghosted in at the near-post to secure victory for the then-league leaders.

How Are They Doing?

 

In a manner familiar to Sky Blues fans, Scunthorpe have struggled over the second half of the season after starting it in blistering form. Unfamiliar though is that Scunthorpe have managed to reverse that slump over recent weeks, winning their past four games to salvage a play-off spot.

 

While it may have been the case that Scunthorpe over-performed in the first half of the campaign – with Josh Morris scoring some absurd goals at a ridiculous rate – not to have held onto a top six spot would have been criminal given the strength of the starting XI. Manager Graham Alexander seemed to struggle with the pressure of the slump, making unnecessary signings and too many changes to the side, but has regained his composure in recent weeks to scrape out a few wins and restore confidence.

Winger Josh Morris remains the key player for this Scunthorpe side, despite a drop-off in his rate of goalscoring. His delivery from set-pieces and open play have been a regular source of goals over the second half of the campaign, demonstrating Scunthorpe’s meticulous organisation and physicality. His fellow impressive wide-man from the first half of the season, Duane Holmes, however, has struggled to get into the side over the past few months.

Possible Line-Up

Scunthorpe have an incredibly solid spine to the team, largely thanks to Mark Robins’ underwhelming spell at the club. The dominant centre-back Murray Wallace and the energetic midfield tyro Stephen Dawson were both brought to the club by Robins and have probably been the two other key players for Scunthorpe behind Josh Morris. Wallace’s defensive partner, David Mirfin, adds further experience and physicality to the back-line, while Neal Bishop in midfield offers something similar in the centre of the park.

While the changes Graham Alexander made over the second half of the season seemed to disrupt the balance of the side, the loan signings of Ivan Toney in attack and Matt Crooks in midfield have played a large part in this recent run of good form. Toney’s goalscoring form has come at a crucial time where other strikers have struggled for goals. Crooks has also scored some crucial goals, but also offers an important element of control and presence in midfield – although he is now injured of the rest of the season.

Prediction

It’s been an encouraging run recently, but the end-of-season feel to many of the games we’ve played during that run has to be considered an important factor. While Scunthorpe have ensured themselves a top six spot already, so have nothing to win or lose in this game, they’ll be keen to avoid a potentially demoralising defeat to an already-relegated side as they look to head into the play-offs with momentum.

With that in mind, I can see this being a 3-0 loss.

Preview: Scunthorpe United

The win over Burton last Sunday providing more optimism for the season ahead for me than our goal-crazy three-game winning streak to start the season with. In each of those games, we won after taking the lead and were playing with a lot of confidence. Against Burton, we fell behind and there was clearly less confidence to our approach than the zippy fast-paced football we had been playing during our wonderful start.

As encouraging as it was to see this team come through a difficult test and win, there have to be concerns over the manner of our performance, particularly in defence. We look very exposed at the back and it isn’t just because of Lee Burge’s flaps, Reda Johnson’s tactical indiscipline or our full-backs being a bit crappy. It’s a whole team thing and aside from Romain Vincelot and possibly Jim O’Brien, the player playing in front of our defence are not all too concerned about offering protection.

My feeling after the recent Walsall defeat was that the best teams in this division are going to be able to exploit the opportunities we offer teams to create chances. What the win over Burton suggested to me though was that against teams with less of a cutting edge, our attacking players offer enough quality going forwards to outweigh their lack of contribution to defence. Although it has to be said that against Burton, our attacking play left plenty of room for improvement.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

Heading into this Scunthorpe away game, Tony Mowbray has added the exciting Liverpool prospect Ryan Kent to the squad as James Maddison’s nominal replacement. At the start of the summer we only had Jim O’Brien, Marcus Tudgay and George Thomas as our attacking options, now we have a genuine surfeit to pick from and more than one player who could make a big impact on the game will miss out.

Considering that this is likely to be Ryan Kent’s first senior competitive game, I would be cautious in throwing him in straight away. I think we’re also highly unlikely to see Marc-Antoine Fortuné start too given the current balance of things. The biggest selection issue is who to drop in favour of the returning Adam Armstrong. Although it feels more natural to drop one striker for another, Armstrong was more involved in the Southend game after Tudgay came on and I would be tempted to give that partnership another look.

Last Time We Met

It was a night that confirmed that Steven Pressley was beyond the point of no return in his tenure, not because of the performance or result against an in-form Scunthorpe but the clear atmosphere of hostility towards Pressley from the home fans. The absolute nadir coming when the team completed a 15-pass move from back-to-front whilst being heckled throughout, only to then fashion a decent opening which few gave them credit for.

Of note that night too was the return to the Ricoh Arena of Mark Robins, Gary McSheffrey and Jordan Clarke. McSheffrey received a warm reception and was applauded after curling in a free-kick past the hapless Jamie Jones to open the scoring. The hometown kid returned the affection shown to him from the home crowd by then going to dive in an attempt to win a penalty, which he was correctly booked for.

In what fans of clubs managed by Mark Robins except for Coventry City fans have come to note as a Robins trope, his team attempted to sit on the goal advantage rather than attempt to score a second against a Sky Blues team that were there for the taking. Scunthorpe were made to pay after Marcus Tudgay lobbed their keeper in the final minutes to secure a hard-earned point for the home team, for which they were roundly booed for having the impudence of playing for an unpopular manager.

How Are They Doing?

That draw proved to be something of a turning point for Mark Robins’ reign at Scunthorpe, although they did record a remarkable win over Swindon a few weeks later. Since then though, it has been a tale of tactical inflexibility, baffling team selections and a preference for fielding loan signings over players owned by the club. All of which has placed Mark Robins in a similar situation as to the one Steven Pressley was in the last time we played Scunthorpe.

To add to the Steven Pressley parallels, Robins has come under fire for building a team to play 5 at the back only to implement it in a way that doesn’t suit the strengths of his playing squad. Robins made a number of changes over the summer in the transfer market but somehow has come out of it with a squad of six strikers but just one left-back and just one winger.

Despite the general disarray that Scunthorpe seem to be in, it is remarkably similar to the situation there were in the last time we played them almost exactly 12 months ago. Losing that game went on to completely derail our season after a solid start. Given that they managed 23 shots on goal in defeat to Blackpool, this is still a capable and dangerous side.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

The main threat from Scunthorpe comes in attack and the main source of that attacking threat is Paddy Madden. The Irish forward confirmed his status as a reliable source of goals last season as he managed 14 goals in a struggling side whilst playing a lot of his football on the right wing. He’ll be supported by Kevin van Veen who has struggled for goals since joining last January but is big and can link play pretty well, they also have the option of Darius Henderson from the bench.

Elsewhere, Scunthorpe are a physical and experienced team who will be more than capable of bullying our nimble attacking players into submission. Epitomising that is Neal Bishop in midfield who is a big, nasty and aggressive defensive midfielder who has plenty of experience of making life difficult for teams with pretensions of playing pretty football.

Prediction

The thought that a win in this game could get Mark Robins the sack at Scunthorpe is tantalising given the way he used this club as a stepping stone for a slightly better job two-and-a-half years ago. That’s something that adds spice to the occasion but as most of the playing and coaching staff at the club right now weren’t around for Robins’ departure, it means very little other than just another league game.

It’s a battle between the quick, nimble, passing team and the experienced, robust, solid team for who takes the three points. The first goal is likely to dictate how the battle plays out, although there aren’t many football games that aren’t dictated by the first goal, it’s certainly a thought to pad out this brisk preview though.

Anyway, I am going to be a bit confident here and suggest that we might win this game 2-1.

Preview: Scunthorpe United

Another week, another win for Coventry City. The most pleasing aspect of the game against Yeovil was how it almost felt routine. Now that we are back at the Ricoh Arena we feel like the club we should be again, of course Coventry City should beat Yeovil Town and that was exactly what happened on Saturday.

With Reda Johnson in the team we will always be able to threaten from set-pieces, he managed to head in a Jim O’Brien corner despite being fairly well marshalled by the Yeovil defence. As the game wore on Frank Nouble had a greater influence on the game, terrorising the Yeovil back-line with his pace as well as physical presence, if he can build on his last two performances, he will be a menace in this division. Another plus point from Saturday’s game was Simeon Jackson getting on the score-sheet, the hope is that he can now become the go-to man for goals this season.

The star of the show was once again John Fleck, whilst I feel that he is still below the level he was at 12 months ago he has really risen to the challenge of playing in front of the bigger crowds at the Ricoh Arena. So many were robbed of the opportunity to see Fleck in full flow last season but even at 90% he is being rightly lauded as the key player for this team.

Momentum is building after another win at the Ricoh Arena.

Momentum is building after another win at the Ricoh Arena.

We now sit 5th in the division following back-to-back win at the Ricoh Arena. A seemingly straightforward week on the road with trips to lowly Scunthorpe and Rochdale present great opportunities to build on our current run of form. Complacency could be a killer here as both of our opponents will be desperate for home points and we will have to continue to work hard for results. This team though seems to relish battling for results, a credit to Steven Pressley’s recruitment over the summer.

Heading into this evening game at Glanford Park we are facing something of a crisis in terms of attacking options. With Shaun Miller likely to continue to be absent from the squad with an injury picked up in the Swindon game, Josh McQuoid had to be substituted due to concussion last Saturday and there are also concerns over Frank Nouble. Luckily, our depth in attack means that we will be able to put two decent strikers on the pitch against Scunthorpe in Marcus Tudgay and Simeon Jackson but ideally you would imagine that Pressley would have wanted to pair Jackson and Nouble after the two showed promising signs of a partnership against Yeovil. He may though still be able to do that provided Nouble can prove his fitness.

Otherwise we should be able to field a full-strength team although Jordan Willis limped off with an injury in the Yeovil game so Seb Hines may have a chance to make his first start for the club.

Possible Line-Up: (5-3-2) Allsop; Clarke, Willis, Webster, Johnson, Haynes; O’Brien, Fleck, Thomas; Nouble, Jackson.

Last Time We Met

This evening’s visit to Glanford Park might allow Steven Pressley to reflect on the progress made during his time with Coventry City. The last time we visited Scunthorpe was in Pressley’s first game in charge at the club back in March 2013. With the team still with a realistic shot at the play-offs, it was important that we got off to a winning start. Despite falling behind to an early Akpo Sodje goal, Carl Baker and Leon Clarke made it a winning start to life at Coventry City for Steven Pressley.

Following that win, Coventry City were able to pick up four points from the next two games to keep the team within spitting distance of the play-offs. However our hopes were dealt a body-blow after the club were deducted 10 points for administration and the season played itself out in a rather drab fashion.

We return to Scunthorpe once again looking to give our play-off/promotion hopes a real shot in the arm by taking three points. Only John Fleck and Jordan Willis from our current squad featured in that previous contest as we very much have become Steven Pressley’s Coventry City.

How Are They Doing?

Back then we faced a Scunthorpe United side who were going through a period of stagnation after a couple of good spells in the Championship during the reigns of Brian Laws and Nigel Adkins. Their eventual relegation during the 2012/13 season preceded a number of changes at the club which saw them win promotion last season at the first attempt. Chief among which was chairman Peter Swann taking the reigns in the boardroom. Swann funded last season’s promotion whilst handing the manager’s job to Russ Wilcox at a key stage last season. The longer-term future of the club has seemingly been secured with plans to move to a new 12,000 all-seater stadium in the next few years.

Russ Wilcox's job is on the line ahead of this evening's fixture.

Russ Wilcox’s job is on the line ahead of this evening’s fixture.

However the sense of momentum is under threat after a desperately poor start to the season. Whilst I tipped Scunthorpe to be something of a surprise package earlier this summer, a combination of managerial inexperience from Russ Wilcox and the loss of several of last year’s key players has led to the Iron sinking to 23rd in the division.

The key losses for Scunthorpe over the past few months have been selling top-scorer Sam Winnall to Barnsley and letting attacking foil Paul Hayes leave the club for Wycombe. Additionally injuries to creative midfielder Dave Syers and experienced centre-back David Mirfin have left Scunthorpe struggling to create chances as well as keep goals out at the back.

After containing Chesterfield fairly well for 45 minutes on Saturday and taking the lead early in the second-half, Scunthorpe eventually ran out of steam and conceded four goals in the final 35 minutes. This is a team that still has the potential to be awkward customers for those ready to underestimate them but confidence is very brittle, an early goal conceded might be too much for them to handle.

Key will be Paddy Madden in attack, their current top-scorer. It was a surprise to see him drop into League Two last January despite being the League One top-scorer the prior season but he is currently one of the rare sources of hope in this Scunthorpe United team. He will be supported in attack by ex-Sky Blue Gary McSheffrey who will have a point to prove after being placed in the ‘bomb squad’ last year by Steven Pressley.

Possible Line-Up: (4-4-2) Olejnik; O’Neill, Llera, Canavan, Dawson; Adelakun, Sparrow, McAllister, Williams; McSheffrey, Madden.

Prediction

If we want to make the top 6 this season then you would have to say that we should be looking to win games like this. Scunthorpe are in disarray and we need to take advantage of their crisis in confidence. If we can win this game, then you can see some further momentum being built to go alongside the return to the Ricoh Arena and our current seven game unbeaten run. Three game winning-streaks in the league are a rare sight at Coventry City in recent years and if we were to win tonight it would be only the second time we have done so since relegation to this division.

The main worry for me would be the wounded animal argument in favour of Scunthorpe United. It all depends on how much their players want to fight for their manager or if they might want to make this the potential final straw for Russ Wilcox. Either way we are still a strong team with plenty of confidence and resilience, my prediction is a 2-0 win for Coventry City.