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.

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Preview: Shrewsbury Town

As wins over weakened League Two sides go, Tuesday was as important as it could possibly be. With all the negativity around the football club at the moment, a defeat to a League Two side wouldn’t have played well. I dread to imagine what the atmosphere heading into this first home league game of the season would have been like. While the League Cup may not be incredibly important, we have averted an early season crisis at the very least.

The significance of that win over Portsmouth ultimately rests on how we do in this meeting with Shrewsbury. Although we made hard work of a heavily-rotated League Two side, there isn’t a lot we could have done about their two goals and the three goals we scored demonstrated a level of attacking threat and spirit that questioned this current Sky Blues side could produce.

The performances of Ryan Haynes and Ben Stevenson on Tuesday night may have caused Mowbray to re-think his squad options. Most thought the arrival of Lewis Page on loan would see Ryan Haynes phased out of the side, possibly for good, but a performance that recaptured Haynes’ breakthrough displays two seasons ago means there is genuine competition at left wing-back. Stevenson’s assurance on his debut may have convinced Mowbray to make the youngster fourth-choice central midfielder once Chris McCann returns from suspension. Stevenson could well start this game should Mowbray go for Rose over Dion Kelly-Evans at right wing-back.

Possible Line-Up

The impact of Kyel Reid and Jodi Jones from the bench on Tuesday demonstrated how important those two are going to be this season as our attacking threat. If Reid is fully match-fit in time for this game, it’s then a question of whether Mowbray wants a striker in Marvin Sordell who can take advantage of what those two will create or Ruben Lameiras who look to exploit their pace with paces in behind Shrewsbury’s defence.

Although there were defensive signings rumoured to be on the way, no-one has been signed in time for this game. Similar to last week then, it leaves us sweating on the fitness of Sam Ricketts and Jordan Willis, which could either see Jack Finch involved or force Mowbray to alter his tactics. Given that we were potentially going to be handing a debut to Juhani Ojala, a player with no experience of English football and hasn’t played since last October, we may have avoided giving a player a baptism of fire, albeit at the cost of having to play potentially unfit players in his stead.

Last Time We Met

Our last meeting with Shrewsbury at the start of March was perhaps one of the most frustrating games of last season. Having lost the past three games, our hold on sixth-place was slipping and a big performance was needed to re-invigorate the season. A big performance came, Aaron Martin gave us an early lead, we had a few decent chances to extend it, even Marc-Antoine Fortuné was having a good game. Two poor defensive errors allowed the home side to claim a lead they didn’t relinquish.

Our last home game against Shrewsbury was more satisfying, a game that was possibly Marc-Antoine Fortuné’s other good performance for us. It was just an exercise in the superior attacking quality we had over a quotidian League One side, Shrewsbury were probably on top before Armstrong gave us the lead. Fortuné extended it from the spot and Armstrong added a third after half-time, all without us playing particularly well. It was also a game notable for it being the league debut for Reice Charles-Cook in goal, he hasn’t relinquished his first-choice status since.

How Are They Doing?

A lot of casual observers have noted that Shrewsbury signed a lot of players this summer, and early on in the transfer window. However, the players they’ve signed are largely journeymen from around this division so they are question marks as to whether the squad is any better. In particular, the departure of Crystal Palace loanee Sullay Kaikai severely reduces their attacking threat after the youngster almost single-handedly kept Shrewsbury up last season with his goals and assists.

What manager Micky Mellon has tried to do is make Shrewsbury a more resilient, robust side, in the hope that a loss of attacking penetration can be compensated for by improved defensive solidity. Players like Gary Deegan, Jim O’Brien and Adam El-Abd are going to make Shrewsbury fierce competitors in this game and we’re going to have to stand up to a more physical test of our credentials than we have faced in the opening two games.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

Although Shrewsbury lack pace on the counter-attack, they play some neat, overlapping football to create opportunities after soaking up pressure. New loan signing Ivan Toney from Newcastle will be key in holding the ball up in attack, while also being the only genuinely pacey player that Shrewsbury have on their books. Although Ajay Leitch-Smith, Louis Dodds and Jim O’Brien are all decent enough players to be supporting in attack.

Shrewsbury’s defence will be marshalled by Adam El-Abd, who was nicknamed El-Bad during a particularly poor spell with Bristol City but is a grizzled, muscular, albeit immobile, centre-back who suits teams who defend deep and narrowly. Goalkeeper Jayson Leutwiler is one of the better ones at this level, although he had a shocker against MK ‘Dons’ whenever he had the ball at his feet. Weirdly for Shrewsbury’s defensive style of play, they have two attack-minded full-backs in Joe Riley and Junior Brown and we should be looking to isolate them against Jodi Jones and Kyel Reid.

Prediction

Shrewsbury are more or less built to put in a classic League One team away day at the Ricoh Arena, where they’ll look to bully us, block the middle of the pitch, defend deep and hit us on the counter. Although we came from being a goal behind against Portsmouth on Tuesday, playing against a full-strength side in the same division as us with points at stake is an entirely different prospect. I would imagine that if we fall behind in this game, it’s going to be tough to get back in it.

In an earlier draft of this preview when it looked like Juhani Ojala was set to make his debut for the club, I predicted that we would lose due to the likelihood of a defensive lapses. Although it’s frustrating we haven’t managed to bolster our threadbare defence, it’s probably better to go with what we’ve got rather than throwing someone in at the deep end. Altering my prediction somewhat, I can see us edging this 1-0.