An amazing turnaround against Wycombe on Wednesday night has put a different complexion on what looked to be two rather underwhelming performances in the cup. Not only should the turnaround give us a sense of impetus heading into our toughest league fixture of the season but we look to have a decent level of strength in depth, which is never a bad thing.
This Scunthorpe game though is going to test just how much we can read into the Wycombe turnaround, our impressive home form and the modest improvements made since Tony Mowbray’s departure. The fixture list has been fairly kind to us this season, especially at home where we’ve played three of the current bottom four and just one of the current top six, which is why it still doesn’t quite feel like we’ve justified looking towards the play-offs rather than the relegation zone. Getting something out of this game – points or a really good performance – will provide that validation we’ve been missing thus far.
With only the injuries of Chris Stokes, Chris McCann and Kwame Thomas to contend with, Mark Venus is free to pick what he feels is his strongest side for this game. The performances of Ryan Haynes, Jodi Jones and Jack McBean provide the temptation to deviate away from a formation and team selection that led to our recent improvement, Venus has to decide whether those players have provided a convincing enough case to justify potentially disruptive changes to the side.
Ryan Haynes is probably least likely out of the three to come in, simply because the defence appears to have gelled over the past five or six league games. A lot of our good attacking play against Wycombe involved Jack McBean’s hold-up play, but with Rose back in a three-man midfield, those qualities may not be as important as pace to hit Scunthorpe on the counter. Jodi Jones has a much better shot given that Venus doesn’t seem to have found the best combination in the front three, but could struggle against a physical Scunthorpe defence.
Last Time We Met
Scunthorpe inflicted upon us a 2-1 defeat that was our third in a row and which heralded our collapse from promotion contenders to mid-table also-rans last season. Scunthorpe put in a well-disciplined away performance, blocking the centre of the pitch, countering with intent and taking their chances to hold us at arm’s length for most of the contest. A late Adam Armstrong penalty wasn’t enough to reverse the tide and just days later James Maddison was sold to Norwich to make the unravelling even worse. Also, Stephen Hunt played for us that day.
How Are They Doing?
Scunthorpe showed against us in January that they had a really solid base to build on and since Graham Alexander’s appointment as manager in March, they’ve managed to convert that solid base into a ruthlessly efficient team-unit. While former manager Mark Robins deserves a modicum of credit for putting most of this squad together, Alexander has done incredibly well at making sense of the squad he inherited and making a few additions of his own to make them even better.
Despite being runaway league leaders for much of the campaign, Scunthorpe aren’t a particularly flash side but are physically-imposing, incredibly hard-working and lethal in the final-third. They’ve scored a lot from set-pieces and on the counter, but have also demonstrated the ability to grind teams down through efficient spells of possession too. Even though last season’s top-scorer Paddy Madden is likely not to feature in this game, one of the main attributes of this Scunthorpe side has been how many goals so many different players have scored for them.
Left-winger Josh Morris is the club and the division’s current top-scorer, with most of his goals being incredibly well-hit set-pieces and long-range efforts – this was a player Bradford let go for free this summer. Powerful Dutch striker Kevin van Veen never really lived up to the hype under Mark Robins but has returned from a loan in his native country as a key focal point in attack, scoring some beautiful goals of his own but also providing a physical presence up-front and creating chances for his team-mates. Former Leicester youngster Tom Hopper has also chipped in with his fair share of the goals this season and is another typically hard-working player on Scunthorpe’s books.
The energy from midfield provided by captain Stephen Dawson and the young American winger Duane Holmes has allowed Scunthorpe to over-run teams at times. Holmes looked a big prospect at Huddersfield before struggling to nail down a starting place but has offered Scunthorpe a real outlet on the counter, as well as the ability to track-back and protect his full-back. Dawson, with the burly Neal Bishop alongside him, is part of that solid spine of the team that Graham Alexander inherited at Glanford Park.
The central defensive duo of David Mirfin and Murray Wallace is one of the most solid partnerships in the entire Football League. The veteran Mirfin is a classic physically-imposing brute who’s enjoyed a renaissance at the club under Graham Alexander when Mark Robins had been keen to let him go. Wallace is a more mobile defender who can also bring the ball out from the back but is first and foremost an incredibly competent defender. Alexander is spoilt for choice at full-back with Jordan Clarke and Scott Wiseman at right-back and Conor Townsend and Harry Toffolo at left-back all capable of walking into any other League One back four.
Overall, I’m just not convinced that this recent upturn in form is enough to go out and beat the league leaders. We seem to have developed a habit of starting games lackadaisically and against a team with quality in the final third and a rock-solid defence, we would struggle to get anything out of this game if we fall behind.
I’ve got a feeling this will be the game that shows just how far away we are from being a genuinely good side again. Scunthorpe to win 3-1.