Ahead of the Iron’s clash with Millwall, Chris Sumpter looks at five things that will make a recipe for success in the play-offs.
1 FORGET ABOUT WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN
Whether it was Chris Wilder slipping with the League One title trophy on Sheffield United’s open-top bus tour, or several thousand fans (who’ve probably not bothered watching Bolton Wanderers for two thirds of the season) spilling onto the Macron Stadium pitch, the past 72 hours have all been a bit Bullseye-esque for us Iron fans.
All that’s been missing is the sight of Jim Bowen unveiling a speedboat or fitted kitchen amid the backdrop of a despairing gaze from two brothers from Batley, such has been the ‘let’s-see-what-you-could-have-won’ scenario.
As stats on social media delightfully reminded us on Sunday, Scunthorpe have not been out of League One’s top five all season.
Indeed, for 176 days of a 268-day campaign they were in the top two and they spent only two days fewer on top spot than a Blades team who, if we’re keeping the Bully theme going, have dealt with challengers in the same way Eric Bristow would have done when taking on Colin-the-pub-player from Solihull.
Yet somewhat amazingly for all their impressive stats, Scunthorpe have only been the third tier’s third best team and not good enough to go up automatically – the league table never lies and all that jazz.
And, yes, while failure to finish in the top two has been a missed opportunity, there’s no point crying about it now. There’s a trip to Wembley – and hopefully a fitted kitchen – to be won.
2 PICK YOUR BEST TEAM, NOT THE BEST TEAM TO PLAY MILLWALL
To clarify, Scunthorpe’s so-called ‘best team’ might not necessarily be what Graham Alexander would class as his best team to face Millwall. But he’s got to pick it.
For a spell, noticeably so when they lost their early-season swagger and experienced a sticky patch, the Iron seemed to set-up for dealing with opposition threats rather than playing to their own strengths.
A desire to keep out the other side maybe overtook trying to recapture the stage of the season when United out-scored them and it all became, well, a bit dull.
He no doubt won’t have realised the significance, but there was something in Millwall defender Shaun Hutchinson’s comments earlier this week when he said Scunthorpe would be ‘a little bit more worried about us than we will be about them’.
Hopefully not. Hopefully the Iron pick a side that pretty much says ‘here you go Millwall, have a bit of that’ in brackets at the bottom of the official team-sheet.
Scunthorpe have the players to make the Lions look more like pussycats. But they can’t if they aren’t in the side.
3 GET PADDY MADDEN BACK FIRING
In amongst the myriad of reasons to be positive going into the play-offs comes one pretty sizeable concern – Paddy Madden’s barren patch in front of goal.
Not since March 18, when he curled the ball home at Oxford’s Kassam Stadium to reach a half-century in Iron colours, has the Irishman notched.
While seven games might be seen as a mere lull for some strikers, the frequency at which Madden usually finds the net makes his current form akin to drought proportions.
Even more of a worry was the way in which, while most definitely putting in the usual shift, Sunday’s final league game of the season seemed to largely pass him by.
Scoring hasn’t admittedly been too much of an issue for United during the campaign, but it would be great if Madden’s wait for goal number 51 – heck, even 52 and 53 as well – ended in the next few days.
Maybe he’s just saving himself for the biggest stage of all? Yeovil Town will tell you he has history on that front…
4 HAVE FAITH IN JOE ANYON
If ever there was a feeling that Scunthorpe’s season really was going to go, shall we say, belly up, it came, coincidentally, on the weekend of their most recent to The Den, a month ago.
Speaking, unusually tersely, on the back of their 3-1 licking by the Lions on April Fools’ Day, Graham Alexander confirmed (in a roundabout way) that Luke Daniels would miss the rest of the campaign with broken ribs, the club’s third season-ending injury in the space of a week on the back of bad news about Tom Hopper and Charlie Goode.
Daniels has been top drawer this term, form which has no doubt attracted the attention of suitors from the level above.
So let’s give a big hand (see what I’ve done there) to understudy Joe Anyon for the way he has come into the side and become one of the standout performers in the five-match winning run which takes Scunthorpe into the play-offs with momentum.
On the back of making a stop Gordon Banks would have been proud of to keep out a downward header from Bolton’s Max Clayton a month ago, the former Lincoln and Shrewsbury stopper pulled off an equally impressive one-handed save at a crucial stage of Sunday’s 3-1 success over Coventry.
United’s last line of defence is most definitely in safe hands (yes, I’ve done it again).
5 DON’T WORRY IF THURSDAY DOESN’T GO TO PLAN
‘It’s only half-time’, ‘there’s a lot of football still to be played’ etc. Whichever cliché you want to apply to the game at The Den (my fave would be ‘you can’t win it, but you can lose it’) it’s important to remember that there’s still another 90 plus minutes to go.
So if the first leg doesn’t quite go to plan, I’ll be keeping the faith.
Forecasting how the next couple of matches are going to pan out is every bit as difficult as it is dangerous on the back of the two league meetings between the two teams this season.
But at least we can all sleep safe in the knowledge that the Iron can’t be as disappointing as they were when they made the trip to south London a month ago. *Hopefully*