FOOTBALL LEAGUE boff Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) runs the rule over the League One play-off semi-final first leg between Scunthorpe and Rotherham on Saturday.
Scunthorpe v Rotherham | Saturday 12th May 2018, 12:30 | Sky Sports
Chairman Peter Swann made a controversial decision in late-March to dismiss manager Graham Alexander with the team in the top six. At the time, many outsiders thought that decision to be careless, but there were valid reasons why change might have been necessary.
Back then, the Iron had shown few signs of getting their second win since New Years’ Day and performances would have been hard to accept for a relegation threatened side, let alone one with promotion ambitions.
The main problem was that Neal Bishop, a holding midfielder and Murray Wallace, a centre-back had been used in the full-back positions, which slowed down attacks. Since natural incumbents Jordan Clarke and Conor Townsend have come back in, the tempo has increased and the team has looked far more balanced.
Sides that succeed in the play-offs normally have a blend of physicality, control and creativity; Scunthorpe tick all those boxes.
Funso Ojo is a commanding presence in midfield while the diligent Ryan Yates dictates play, giving attacking midfielders Hakeeb Adelakun, Duane Holmes and Josh Morris the platform to rotate seamlessly in the final third.
Striker Ivan Toney has the athleticism to dominate opposing defenders and at the other end, Rory McArdle brings bags of experience.
With this template Daws has put in place, the Iron have won four, lost none and drawn three – and in at least one of those draws, the 1-1 at Oxford, Scunthorpe should have been out of sight by half-time.
Nick Daws and Paul Warne were teammates at Rotherham United in the early noughties; ironically, the winning manager could potentially face Paul Hurst, another ex-Millers colleague, at Wembley.
Warne is well-liked by fans due to his love for the club and his honesty, which has helped galvanise the place.
The football has been brisk; early balls into a target man, a role that was initially taken up by Kieffer Moore but currently Michael Smith, who joined in January after Moore left.
Although Smith might not be the best striker in the play-offs, he is arguably the most important because Rotherham’s play necessitates a target man but they do not have another player capable of doing the same job.
Playing off the ex-Bury man will be the mercurial Ryan Williams, who makes clever runs off the left channel while midfielder Will Vaulks arrives late in the final third for powerful shots from distance, which was how he scored the winner in Saturday’s 1-0 triumph over Blackpool.
That final day performance however, was not the most convincing – with their opponents missing several chances – and Warne has various decisions to make.
Joe Mattock or Ben Purrington could start at left-back, Michael Ihiekwe or Semi Ajayi could be the centre-back partner for Richard Wood, Vaulks’ midfield partner could be Matty Palmer or Richie Towell depending on the latter’s fitness while Jon Taylor and Anthony Forde are yet to make the right wing berth their own.
Millers fans have once again, a committed team to be proud of, which is certainly a step forward after last season, but whether they have the minerals to go back up remains to be seen.
The betting angle
You might have guessed by now that we’re firmly on the Scunthorpe for promotion bus; the question is how to back them for this first leg?
Rotherham have only scored nine goals in 10 games against fellow top six sides while their hosts have conceded three in seven under Daws; their four victories have come by a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline.
To give us some insurance in case the visitors get one goal, we’ll take 188Bet’s 28/13 on a Scunthorpe win with Under 3.5 Goals as our best bet.
We’ll also recommend Betfair’s 2/1 on Ivan Toney to score anytime; the 22-year-old has scored eight in his last 13 and since arriving at Glanford Park in January, he has never completed 90 minutes without finding the net.