Scunthorpe United will look back at the 2016-17 season with regret after failing to win promotion to the Championship.
The Iron were denied a return to the second tier of English football following their playoff defeat at the hands of Millwall, with Neil Harris’ men going on to secure a place in football’s second flight.
Scunthorpe will now have to begin the battle all over again in League One, although the club had shown significant improvement in Graham Alexander’s first full term at Glanford Park.
The Scot will have time to further assess the squad over the summer and make the necessary adjustments to fire his side back into contention, with the Iron backed at 14/1 in the latest betting odds to win the League One title next term.
Alexander will have been extremely frustrated that his side were unable to get over the line as Scunthorpe topped the table at the end of January, boasting a seven-point lead over third-place Bolton Wanderers.
However, a nine-match winless run knocked them down into fifth place and forced the Iron to go through the route of the playoffs as Sheffield United and Bolton finished ahead of them in the automatic promotion spots.
The major flaw that led Alexander’s men to collapse was their inability to keep clean sheets. Scunthorpe managed only one shut-out from the start of January to the beginning of April, a run spanning 17 matches.
Ironically, only Millwall had a worse defensive record than the Iron out of the sides that qualified for the playoffs.
However, the United’s deficiencies at the back were exposed in their semi-final defeat to the Lions, with Steve Morison scoring a second-half brace and Lee Gregory’s strike dumping them out of the race for the final promotion spot.
As a former defender, Alexander will have been hurt by his side’s frailties at the back, especially as they started the season in strong form, keeping 11 clean sheets in their opening 24 matches of the campaign.
The Scot will be determined to rectify the issue – and given the improvements he made at the club in guiding them from the bottom half to contenders for promotion – supporters should have faith that the Iron will be a stoic outfit at the back from the get-go in August.
At the other end of the pitch, the club’s reliance on the goals of Josh Morris proved to be costly, while his form last term will no doubt have attracted clubs from the Championship.
Alexander must make retaining his services a priority as when the midfielder failed to fire, the Iron were ordinary in the final third.
Source: Soccer Supplement via Twitter
Morris scored 18 goals in League One last term but will need support at Glanford Park next season if the club are to maintain a challenge for promotion.
Loanee Ivan Toney impressed during his brief stay from Newcastle United, finding the net six times along with a strike in the defeat to Millwall. The pursuit of a permanent move should be explored by Alexander or even a season-long loan deal.
There is more than enough talent and character in the Scunthorpe side to mount a challenge for promotion next season. However, Alexander cannot afford to allow their playoff defeat to loom over the heads of his team at the start of next term.
Making a statement from the off will be the key for the Iron, with high calibre teams entering the division from the Championship and League Two. As a result, we could see an extremely competitive fight to reach the second tier.