The date is the 28th of January 2017 and the Iron had just completed a 3-2 home victory against Port Vale to take the back to the top of League 1, one point clear of Sheffield United and eight points clear of 3rd place.
Today, Graham Alexander’s men sit in third place with only three additional points (and five goals scored) for their troubles and are now three points behind second place Fleetwood Town and an insurmountable 11 points behind runaway leaders Sheffield United.
The turnaround in the Iron’s form, which arguably hasn’t been the same since the injury time defeat to Bolton Wanderers on New Years Eve, has subsequently seen confidence levels amongst players and fans drop to levels akin those associated with a Brian Laws winless run in the mid-to late 1990’s. For sure we are nowhere near those levels of despair in real terms, but what can the current downturn be attributed to?
The early season success was built around a settled team, and a high energy and pressing game plan which utilised the full extents of the pitch. At times this style of play produced excellent football and saw the Iron dominate opponents for ninety minutes to secure three points.
There is a simple argument that the opposition have got wise to Alexander’s tactics and the manager has not been able to put forward a robust Plan B or C. However, this group of players were rightly labelled, earlier in the season, as the best squad Scunthorpe United had potentially ever had and equally the love for the manager and his tactics was lauded by pundits and fans around League 1.
In addition, a lack of experience or winning mentality in the squad was not an issue and indeed when you look at the CV of players in the squad there is enough experience across the squad to sustain a promotion push. Many fans have pointed towards a poor January transfer window as a reason for the decline.
Most would admit that the signing of Matt Crooks adds value to the squad and that the Ivan Toney signing made sense at the time given the injury to Madden and Toney’s good goal scoring record at this level. Being picky the squad could perhaps have benefited from additional Centre Back and a Winger (rather than Craig Davies), but alas it wasn’t to be and transfer dealings cannot realistically be the key source for the decline.
In January squad members spoke about new contracts, leading to a much publicised ‘Wait until the end of season’ response from the Chairman. Whether you agree with the Chairman’s approach or not, with only 6 months left to run on the contract of an array of first team regulars the question must be asked are players fully focused on the job at hand.
Leading up to transfer deadline day Kevin van Veen’s rumoured £4 million move to China will have made waves at Glanford Park, in the clubs’ offices and the dressing room alike. The potential interest from China has certainly coincided with a drop in the mercurial Dutchman’s performance levels, but has this leaked transfer gossip created a perfect storm in terms of adding to contract talk and potential transfers?
Then there is mysterious case of Hakeeb Adelakun to consider. Rarely does Alexander comment on individuals, but last week saw a very honest and public admission from the manager regarding Adelakun’s current predicament.
Regardless as to what the full Adelakun story is (his chequered history off the pitch is well documented) it has to be the case that the way Adelakun has been cast aside and publicly criticised will have had an impacted upon squad harmony at some level no matter how big or small. The match day squad is stronger with Adelakun in it, particularly when considering the lack of width in recent weeks and the form of Morris and Holmes.
A mid-season blip is usually associated with no win in three or four games, not eight games. The length of the current run eludes to deeper problems beyond tactics and player selection quandaries. Indeed, press reports following the defeat at Charlton elude to disharmony in the squad and the talk of a drop in confidence levels has been upgraded to a lack of character and fight. Such talk is normally associated with a relegation fight not a promotion push. Concerning.
Back in August if third place and four points off automatic promotion, with ten games to play, was offered to the chairman, manager, staff, players and fans all would have said ‘thank you very much’ (and then some).
All those involved with the club have done a hell of a lot of things well this season, indeed they have excelled for long periods. These positives should be the focus for the players.
Confidence can return and harmony restored after a single positive result, so it is far from a lost cause. However, the need for a win and a change in fortunes is becoming greater by the week with a further 10-15 points required to guarantee a play off spot.