Scunthorpe secured safety in League Two this weekend with a 0-0 draw over Bradford which condemned Southend to the National League along with the Iron’s fierce rival Grimsby Town, writes Oliver Woolley.
Even with the Iron securing safety on Saturday, many fans are already worried about safety next season. This makes the next Summer window the most crucial in the club’s recent history.
With most of the squad out of contract this year, there is a lot of work to be done to make a competitive squad. The first decision that needs to be made though is whether to keep manager Neil Cox. Fans seem divided on this issue with some saying the players are to blame for this seasons performance and they were not giving their all for the badge. Others say Cox was failing to motivate them and playing negative football. Either way, chairman Peter Swann must decide and soon.
He has said he wants to get business done early in the window, giving the players a full pre-season together that they have lacked in recent years. It is imperative a manager is in place for that pre-season or all the work that goes into the signings will have been wasted without a manager there to familiarise the players with how they should play.
Even if Swann does want rid of Cox, which manager would take the Scunthorpe job right now. The chairman has given himself a reputation of being trigger-happy and despite sticking with Neil Cox, that reputation hasn’t faded. With job security extremely low at the club and a 22nd place finish looking likely, there aren’t many managers who would take the risk of joining Scunthorpe. Personally, I would rather see Cox keep his job and given a full season with players he wants, but I would make changes to backroom staff. The Iron managed just one shot in target in three games before Saturday and the attack has looked disjointed for most of the season. Fresh ideas are required to improve the attack if the Iron stand any chance next year.
Another key decision is abandoning the all-out youth policy the club has used this year. While there have been successes for youngsters like Mason O’Malley, experienced heads like Jem Karacan and Mark Howard have proved experience is as important as ever in the game. Youth can still play an important part in the squad but there should be a better mix of experience and youth enabling the youngsters to learn from players who have played at a good level for years. We have seen in recent weeks the capitulation of the team under pressure and the only way to counter this is by adding the extra experience to the squad.
The final decision, and arguably the most important, is who to sign. Swann has said he wishes to reduce the budget so every player signed must represent true value for money. With a bloated squad of over 30 players this season, money can be found by reducing this size significantly. While quality is required, commitment and work rate are equally important in League Two. Many Iron fans will tell you they would rather have a team that fights for the badge every week but has a bit less quality, especially with the current team which no longer seems able to battle for results.
There has also been talk of one-year contracts to players, but the right sort of players must be signing these deals. The performances of this year have shown most players out of contract are unwilling to give 100% each game. We must look at examples like Morecambe who similarly have a squad full of players on one-year contracts and a low budget but who give their all each game and are in fourth. This is despite many seeing them as likely to be involved in a relegation scrap at the start of this season.
This Summer window could truly make or break the club but there are clear examples of successes for clubs in similar positions, and the Iron must do their best to emulate these teams. The most important thing for Scunthorpe is to stay a League club next season and try to rebuild the club following that after a full season of fans in stadiums and the club, hopefully, in a more stable position.