Analysis: Where is it going wrong for Scunthorpe defensively?

The Iron are conceding goals for fun at the moment, having kept just two clean sheets from their opening 13 League One matches.

There is no doubt about it, Scunthorpe must improve defensively if they are to achieve their target of being in or around the playoffs come May. They are currently letting in two goals a game, on average, after shipping 26 league goals so far this season.

Stuart McCall is yet to work out which set of defenders are his best option, having tried out a couple of different formations and personnel in recent weeks. The United boss hinted last week that new recruits will probably be acquired in January, and that is sure to include at least one defensive player.

Where is the defence going wrong?

Obviously, they are conceding too many goals and, perhaps, it may just be that the current defence is not good enough.

There has been criticism from large sections of the Iron fans lately, that the defence is not making enough challenges in and around the box, allowing their opponents to work opportunities and get shots on goal. That was the case on Saturday against Peterborough.

Let’s take a look at a few stats, to see if we can put a finger on the areas which the Iron defence could improve upon.

The defensive stats

The stats will be based on what the Iron are doing, on average, per game this season.

Stuart McCall has admitted his frustration at his sides passing ability on a number of occasions, and rightly so. Their pass accuracy level has been 74.8%, despite making 51 less passes a game than the teams they have come up against, who have a success rate of 78.8%, on average.

Scunthorpe are giving the ball away too much and that is proven by their forward passes success rate (62.3%) and their long balls success rate (43.5%). This must improve.

They have so far let their opponents have 6.15 shots on target against them a game, which is too much, considering that the Iron have just 4.46 accurate shots at goal themselves.

In terms of defensive duels, the team are challenging for 78.31, however, they have so far only been successful with 18.7% of those duels. That is an incredibly low number.

As for aerial duels across the pitch, United are much better, though. They are currently coming out on top 51.1% of the time in aerial battles.

The Iron are making more sliding tackles than the opposing teams have made against them, with a record of 9.08 per game, compared to the oppositions’ 7.69. Of those sliding tackles, they have so far only been successful 28.9% of the time, while their opponents have a success rate of 30%. It all counts.

Scunthorpe are currently making 52.92 interceptions and 31.85 clearances a game. That is considerably more than other teams have made against them, at 40.08 and 16.85.

You could look at the interceptions and clearances being made in either a positive or a negative light. Yes, it is good that they are making them, of course. But why are the numbers so high, compared to the opposition? They are clearly being forced to defend more in games, which is why they are picking the ball out of the net several times a week.

Fouls committed is another one that you could take either way. Stuart’s McCall’s side are committing 11.62 fouls per match and receiving 1.62 yellow cards, on average.

Whereas, in their encounters, opposing teams are making 14.69 fouls, to go alongside 1.85 yellow cards. Perhaps other teams are making more challenges, breaking up play more and committing themselves more to games.


We know that the problem is not in the air, as the United defenders are all competent in going up and winning headers. The problem is that they are making too many unsuccessful challenges, right across the park, which then puts them on the backfoot and they are being exposed.

The Iron are also giving the ball away too cheaply and it’s just coming back at them. It is no secret that the current set of defenders are not completely comfortable in playing out from the back, so this must be combatted in some way, otherwise, they will carry on giving possession away.

There is time for Stuart McCall to turn Scunthorpe’s defensive frailties around – but by the time he succeeds in doing that – could it already be too late?

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Written by James Murray

Aspiring journalist and Scunthorpe United fan studying at the London South Bank University.


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