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: Scunthorpe United

Two limp defeats in the wake of an already poor run puts pressure on the team not only to win this upcoming game against Scunthorpe but to follow that up with a winning streak. We know this side is more than good enough to be leading the pack, to be in danger of falling entirely out of the race for promotion is more than a little embarrassing.

There are issues but there is more than enough time left to sort things out and give this season the finish it deserves. We could do with maybe one or two signings, some tactical tweaks and Mowbray settling on his best team, but above all, it’s about desire and intensity if we are to return to the swagger with which we started the season with.

I do go into our issues and possible solution in more detail here, so onto the more specific matter of beating Scunthorpe United. With no new signings looking like arriving in time for this game and the possibility of another Murphy and Armstrong-less affair, Tony Mowbray’s going to have to work with what he’s got.

Maybe, Might Be, Could Be, Possible Line-Up

Maybe, Might Be, Could Be, Possible Line-Up (To Be Taken With A Pinch Of Salt)

In defence, that means that an unchanged back four is almost dead certain given that Aaron Phillips looks set to be on the naughty step for quite a while. It may not necessarily be the worst thing in the world despite the makeshift nature of it, it might be better to settle on a four at the moment to give them time to learn from their mistakes rather than cause more disruptions and tinkering with the side again.

With John Fleck still suspended, Bigi is going to have to put in a much better performance but could do with some help from Vincelot in aiding his efforts to get the ball moving from the back. Further forward, only Tony Mowbray knows who’s going to line up in those front positions? Surely James Maddison has to start but right now the only surprise would be an unsurprising team selection, which raises an interesting paradox if you think about it.

Last Time We Met

For the second season running we gave a Scunthorpe manager’s ailing tenure a shot on the arm with an unexpectedly abject performance. Mark Robins’ side, packed with almost as many ex-Sky Blues as Bury, did a number on us. Pressing us high up the pitch, restricting us to just three shots (all off target), somehow we escaped Glanford Park with just a 1-0 defeat. John Fleck made an avoidable error in front of his own goal, not that he’s prone to doing that sort of thing, and Paddy Madden scored a typical poacher’s finish.

How Are They Doing?

Once again Mark Robins proved himself to be a manager with a limited shelf-life at a football club. When he arrived last season he made some sensible decisions, signed some good loan players and had Scunthorpe flying for a bit. Yet once the initial surge wore off, Scunthorpe became a fairly dull, obdurate League One side, despite the club’s chairman backing Robins fairly strongly in the transfer market.

A 5-0 defeat to Blackpool two weeks ago confirmed at last to Scunthorpe’s chairman Peter Swann that things weren’t ever going to improve under Robins. Under caretaker charge last week, Scunthorpe beat Colchester 3-0, which is pretty impressive although three goals against Colchester’s leaky defence is like half a goal against most other League One sides.

Scunthorpe should be feeling pretty confident about exploiting our tetchiness regardless though considering the talented squad that Robins assembled. The most recognisable name in that squad (aside from our ex-players) is Paddy Madden who is an energetic striker and an excellent finisher who guarantees goals at this level. Robins spent much of his reign trying to convert him into winger.

Possible Line-Up

Possible Line-Up

In further, ‘I’ve got a bad feeling about this’ news, Gary McSheffrey has returned from injury in time to come into contention for this game. Jordan Clarke is out of favour at the moment and is unlikely to start in this game. They do also have ex-loanee Luke Willliams who didn’t have the best of times with us but looked close to being a pretty good player and could be looking to make a point here.

Murray Wallace in defence is a commanding presence at the back who played a big role in cutting off our entire attacking threat in the last meeting between these two sides. The competitive Stephen Dawson and Neal Bishop in midfield give Scunthorpe a very solid look to them down the middle which will make them especially awkward to play against. Despite Scunthorpe’s lowly position, there is more than enough about them for them to cause us real problems.

Prediction

Talk of instantly returning to our old swagger and swatting away one of the division’s also-rans is well wide of the mark. Scunthorpe have everything about them to set up just like Burton did, shut off the middle of the pitch and wait for us to make errors at the back. Or they could be more proactive and press us to turn an anxious home crowd against their team. This isn’t going to be good viewing, especially if either or both of Armstrong and Murphy remain unavailable for selection.

You would expect some reaction here and I think talk of a collapse is both premature and melodramatic. I really have no idea what kind of performance we are going to produce here, we could return to that old trend under Mowbray of just getting a result when the pressure is starting to build or this could set the tone for the rest of the season.

So I’m going to pick a scoreline out of thin air here (aside from the usual scientific approach I take with these previews) and call this a 2-1 win for the Sky Blues because why not?

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.