League One Club-by-Club Preview for 2017/2018: Scunthorpe United

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2016/2017

Record Last Season + Quick Summary: 

League One - 3rd; W 24 / D 10 / L 12 / F 80 / A 54 / Pts 82
(Lost in the play-off semi-final)

Beyond expectations, even if an excellent campaign ultimately ended in play-off failure. A solitary defeat in the first 14 matches, coupled with some swashbuckling performances backed up by a steady defence, had the Iron in a shock lead at the summit of the table. Goals and victories continued to be plentiful supply up until the end of January with only the occasional loss. The considerable momentum Graham Alexander’s side had built up came to a shuddering halt soon afterwards; a yield of three draws from nine matches found the north Lincolnshire outfit listing badly and at one time, it even seemed as though they would fall out of the top six. Their fortunes turned around in mid-March but despite triumphing over second-placed Bolton Wanderers in the closing stages of the season, they finished four points below the Trotters.

A stalemate in the first leg of the play-offs at The Den was a good result on the face of it. However, Millwall (uncharacteristically for 2016/2017) put in an impressive away performance, coming back from a 1-0 deficit to notch three times in a 15-minute spell. Scunthorpe clawed a goal back but it wasn’t sufficient to force the tie into extra time, thus resigning them to another season in League One… but there can be little doubt that progress had been made.

Top Goalscorer: Josh Morris (19 goals in 46 starts/4,067 minutes)

Top Creator: Josh Morris (15 assists in 46 starts/4,067 minutes)

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Josh Morris was the most productive player in League One last season when you add together his goals and assists… and that was achieved despite a barren spell that coincided with a downturn in form for the Iron and not even playing as a forward!

2017/2018

Manager/Head Coach: Graham Alexander; racked up three-figure appearances in the four clubs he played at in a long career, starting as a professional in 1990 and only hanging up his boots in 2012. Initially appointed as head of youth development at Preston North End, he was headhunted by Fleetwood Town just several months later to be their manager. He guided the Lancashire club to promotion in his first full season and they finished their maiden term at their highest ever level in a very respectable 10th place. Perhaps harshly sacked by The Trawlermen in September 2015 after both a poor start and a significant cut to the playing budget, Alexander found himself back in the dugout in March of the following year at Glanford Park. Missing out on sixth spot on goal difference alone after a late charge up the standings, he went one better as described above. A methodical manager, he is unlikely to panic if things go wrong and he believes in the players’ ability to turn things around and balance defensive and attacking priorities, which was evident for the vast majority of 2016/2017.

Ins: Funso Ojo (Willem II), Rory McArdle (Bradford City), Matt Gilks (Wigan Athletic) & Cameron Burgess (Fulham).

Outs: Scott Wiseman (Chesterfield), Stephen Dawson (Bury), Craig Davies (Oldham Athletic), Jamie Ness (Plymouth Argyle), Joe Anyon (Chesterfield), Scott Laird (Forest Green Rovers), David Mirfin (Mansfield Town), Luke Daniels (Brentford) & Dominic Vose (free agent).

Predicted First XI & Shape:

Scunthorpe1718
Murray Wallace hasn’t yet been officially named as captain but I’m reliably informed that he’s likely to be chosen

Tactics: Goalkeeper Matt Gilks is adept at commanding his area and ensuring that the backline are coherent as a unit and is a reassuring presence between the sticks. The further additions of Cameron Burgess and Rory McArdle to the roster points strongly towards a three-man defence and that has been a feature of pre-season thus far; the former played every single match of his loan spell at Bury in 2016/2017 as the left-sided centre back, often stepping out to provide cover for the wing-back. His physicality and sheer power will be a nightmare for opposing forwards and not just in air war. McArdle brings with him a wealth of experience and is similarly dominant when defending high balls into the box. Murray Wallace is the sort of player most fans love in their side: a real backs-to-the-wall, keep the ball out of the goal at all costs pro. He has a propensity for making accurate last-ditch tackles and will probably take over the captain’s armband from the departed Stephen Dawson.

The advanced wing-back pairing of Conor Townsend and Jordan Clarke complement each other well in terms of their attributes. Whilst down the left flank, Townsend isn’t as blisteringly quick as his teammate, his diagonal balls are more accurate. On the other side, Clarke has plenty of stamina and is at his best defensively when tracking back to cut off a searching ball down the wing.

In the middle, the continuing doubts over Sam Mantom’s fitness have led in part to the acquisition of Funso Ojo, who has previously lined up alongside Kevin van Veen. Ojo can cover a lot of ground from his ‘anchor man’ position, breaking down attacks and recycling possession to the plethora of options around him. Neal Bishop will be his help in midfield and although he is 36 in two weeks’ time, he isn’t showing many signs of slowing down and on form, he is a match for most other players in his role. He will provide the link between the wing-backs, Ojo and the front three.

Speaking of the front three, there is little reason for Alexander to alter Josh Morris’ responsibilities on the field, especially Scunthorpe employ a variant of 3-4-3 (although he could easily play on the right). He is excellent from dead balls, accurate when shooting both outside and in the penalty area but most impressively of all, he’s always looking to be involved and be an outlet for his teammates, so don’t be surprised if he drifts from his nominal starting position to find pockets of space.

To the right of Paddy Madden, Scunthorpe have several decent options to choose from; Hakeeb Adelakun could get the nod in the early stages of the league season and is starting to show his potential. He is quick, direct, good on the dribble and is bound to continue learning from both the coaching staff and his more ‘seasoned’ teammates. Madden spent a big chunk of last season on the sidelines, but still managed a goal tally of double figures. A tireless worker, he is characterised by his expert finishing, movement and willingness to keep going; he is rarely substituted because he’s tired in spite of putting himself about for his side.

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Socceroo U23 international Cameron Burgess’ signing from Fulham is a coup for Alexander; he arrives with third tier experience

Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Play-off chasers. Whilst several of the departures from Glanford Park over the close season have been disappointing for Alexander and the supporters, the incoming players look an improvement on previous defensive-minded players in similar roles. The major weakness not yet addressed is the lack of depth in the middle of the park. Ojo could strike up a rapport with Bishop quickly but after Mantom, options are worryingly thin on the ground if anything happens to either of them. There is still plenty of time to address this issue but it currently prevents me from placing them in the ‘gunning for automatic promotion’ category. They have a sensible manager, arguably now the best back three in the entire division, plenty of width, creativity and goals in the squad. In a more competitive and equal League One in 2017/2018, they have every chance of a third decent stab at the top six come May, especially with Morris looking like he’s staying for at least another season.

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