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.
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.
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.
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.