EFL lover Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) has been impressed with Scunthorpe United’s upturn in form and reckons there’s reason to think Glanford Park could see positive things in 2019
Why were they struggling?
Before we look at what has gone right for Scunthorpe recently, it’s important to understand why they were as low as 23rd just 10 days ago.
Chairman Peter Swann has invested a lot of money into the club over the previous three seasons, in hope of achieving promotion to the Championship.
Alas, they just missed out on the play-offs in 2015-16, then suffered semi-final heartbreak against Millwall and Rotherham under Graham Alexander and Nick Daws respectively in the following two seasons.
Of course, with the home crowd remaining around a modest 4k, rather than rising directly in proportion with on-field progress, it was difficult to sustain that heavy spending.
It was therefore understandable that Swann made cutbacks in the summer and made an internal appointment in Daws, who had done well in two spells as caretaker gaffer.
Unfortunately, although Daws is an Iron legend for his coaching work over the last four years, he did not quite possess the leadership qualities to succeed in the number one job full-time.
Equally, the loss of key players – consistent centre-back Murray Wallace, reliable left-back Conor Townsend, midfielder metronome Ryan Yates (who had been on loan), wide speedster Hakeeb Adelakun and nifty attacking midfielder Duane Holmes – was keenly felt.
The lack of investment meant limited squad depth, which became problematic when injuries struck to versatile forward Ryan Colclough among many others and the few remaining first teamers from last season, such as right-back Jordan Clarke and holding midfielder Funso Ojo, suffered dips in form.
A section of fans felt Swann had been dishonest about the size of the summer budget.
It was important, therefore, that he spoke to an independent podcast to discuss supporters’ concerns openly and honestly, to find some transparency and re-build bridges ahead of a vital push for survival.
Swann has responded with actions as well as words, giving manager Stuart McCall the backing to make five signings which massively strengthen Scunthorpe’s squad.
McCall worked with Tony McMahon at Bradford and knows that the right-back can produce a fine standard of deliveries, especially from set pieces.
Centre-back Byron Webster, meanwhile, has been an integral part of promotions at this level with Yeovil and Millwall.
Crucially, Webster’s iron-willed leadership could help get the best out of Rory McArdle.
While McArdle did well at Bradford alongside other good centre-backs like Aaron Davies, Reece Burke and to an extent Nat Knight-Percival, he has never been the dominant centre-back in a duo.
The role of guiding a younger centre-back like Charlie Goode or Cameron Burgess has not quite worked for him; the burden on the 31-year-old could be eased slightly by Webster’s arrival, allowing him to focus more on his own game.
Harrison McGahey, meanwhile, joins from Rochdale, to provide alternative ball-playing qualities.
Experienced wide man Adam Hammill, loved at Barnsley for his character, commitment and community-centred mentality, should become a hit at Glanford Park very quickly.
Withdrawn forward Kevin Van Veen scored 19 goals for the club during a previous spell and there is no denying his capacity for the spectacular.
Although he divided opinion at Scunthorpe due to his work rate, he has become used to putting in a shift under Keith Curle at Northampton; retain that side of his game and he should endear himself to the natives.
Scunthorpe have recorded three consecutive wins for the first time this season, thanks to a 2-1 triumph over Coventry.
Lee Novak, whose clinical finishing was the difference in the valuable 2-0 win at Peterborough on New Years’ Day, remains the most consistent player for the Lincolnshire outfit this term.
The experienced front-man gained a reputation at Huddersfield and Birmingham for his willingness to graft and occupy defenders – he has done that superbly this season too.
Some fans had called for more pace to be added to the side this month but, recently, we have seen Kyle Wootton relish feeding off Novak wide right in a front three, rather than acting as a main striker as he has for much of his career to date.
George Thomas, meanwhile, has taken time to settle following his loan move from Leicester but has looked lively in 2019 thus far; he and Wootton will need to fight for their places with Van Veen coming in, but all three could enjoy a strong second half of the campaign.
The Betting Angle
Scunthorpe are currently 6/1 with Betfair to finish in the top half, just four points behind 12th-placed Fleetwood having played one game more.
The sides above them – Walsall, Accrington, Wycombe and Shrewsbury – do not have the resources to make the calibre of signings United have and for that reason, there is potential for them to rise above the quartet in the second half of the season.
Scunthorpe to reach the top half (6/1 Betfair)