Having escaped from The Den with a 0-0 draw against Millwall in the first leg of their League One play-off semi-final in early May, Scunthorpe United supporters could’ve been forgiven for thinking they had one foot in the showpiece final at Wembley already. However, despite holding a 1-0 lead in the return leg at Glanford Park thanks to Ivan Toney’s first half strike, veteran Millwall and Wales forward Steve Morison’s header on the stroke of half-time and another to sandwich a Lee Gregory goal after the break forced fans of ‘The Iron’ to accept another season in English football’s third tier.
After finishing the campaign in third place with an impressive 82-point haul and just four points behind the automatic promotion positions, manager Graham Alexander endured a difficult off season losing the influential trio of goalkeeper Luke Daniels, centre-back David Mirfin and midfielder and captain Stephen Dawson, not to mention experienced squad players such as Scott Wiseman, Scottish midfielder Jamie Ness and Welsh forward Craig Davies.
After coming so close to promotion last season, many have tipped Alexander’s men to be there or thereabouts again next May. But can they defy their current odds of 20/1 and their position as joint-ninth favourites with Sun Bets to go two better than last season and win the League One title? We’ll know the answer to that very question in around 40 games time.
Moving on Up?
Despite the departure of some key players during the summer, former Scunthorpe and Preston North End stalwart Alexander has dipped into the transfer window to strengthen his depleted squad by snapping up former Rochdale and Aberdeen centre-back Rory McArdle for free on a three-year deal from League One rivals Bradford City. Joining former Northern Ireland international McArdle in North Lincolnshire will be experienced ex-Scotland and Glasgow Rangers goalkeeper Matt Gilks who also signed on a free transfer from Wigan Athletic while the arrival of former Belgian under-21 international and Willem II midfielder Funso Ojo, a former PSV Eindhoven youth team mate of established Iron striker Kevin van Veen, is an intriguing proposition.
Meanwhile, Alexander has managed to retain the services of last season’s top goalscorer Josh Morris, who found the back of the net 19 times as well as van Veen who notched 10 and Irish forward Paddy Madden, scorer of 50 league goals in total over the past four seasons. Holding onto the goalscoring trio will have been key to Alexander’s plans and hopes of challenging for a promotion place this season. That task will though prove all the more difficult given the quality of opposition they will face this season, with clubs of the calibre and spending power of Blackburn Rovers, Charlton Athletic, Wigan, Rotherham and MK Dons sure to be up there challenging them.
For and Against
Last season, Scunthorpe finished second only to League One champions Sheffield United in the goalscoring stakes, with 80 goals in 46 league matches at an average of nearly two goals per game. Conversely, they conceded 54 goals in 46 matches and Alexander, a former defender himself and one of only two outfield players ever to rack up over 1,000 professional appearances, will be looking to tighten the gaps in the Iron rearguard to mount a credible promotion push for a second successive season.
Scunthorpe last graced the Championship division back in 2010/11, when having only just escaped relegation by one position the previous year, the club dropped back down to League One with a whimper after finishing bottom of the pile. Three games into the current campaign, Scunthorpe are currently unbeaten having recorded two score draws and one win, sitting in 9th position in the early season table.
If Scunthorpe are to challenge for promotion this season they will need to turn draws into wins (as they did on Saturday) to ensure they are not left behind by the early pacesetters and they will need van Veen and Madden to find their shooting boots. However, with 43 games still to play, it is very much a case of it being a marathon not a sprint and if Scunthorpe can avoid a slump such as the one they suffered in February and exceed their record of 24 wins from 46 matches last season, Alexander and his charges may well be lining up against the big boys of the Championship once again this time next season.
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Chris qualified from the University of Brighton in 2007 with a degree in Sports Journalism and is a sports fanatic, spending pretty much all of his money following the Welsh national football team all over Europe (and yes spending five weeks on tour with Wales in France at Euro 2016). He has written for numerous websites and has two fully published football biographies to his name. Chris also enjoys rugby union, cycling and politics and enjoys a regular (okay daily!) punt on football.