In this mini run of games which has included three frustrating draws, where we’ve failed to put the opposition to the sword, a trip to Scunthorpe should be just the tonic, right?
Well... maybe it’s not as cut and dry as that.
Since we absolutely bodied Scunny back in August, they’ve sacked their manager and went on a diabolical run of form in late 2018. It was all going pretty god damn terribly.
However, their recent form has been bloody good. Stuart “Mr League One” McCall has guided his team to a run of four consecutive wins and they will be full of confidence as they look to derail our promotion charge. So while this is the type of fixture Jack Ross will need to take three points from if he’s to take us back into the Championship, it could be a tricky afternoon at Glandford Park.
To find out just how tricky it might be, we had a chat with Max Bell, an Iron fan who contributes to Scunthorpe Live.
RR: This season started off as a very poor one for Scunthorpe, including a run of six defeats in November/December. You’ve won you’re last four games though, a pretty remarkable turnaround, so what’s changed over this spell?
MB: The biggest single factor was that our defending stopped being an “insult to schoolboys”. That’s not my quote, but manager Stuart McCall’s. All season long we have been shipping goals, and in that run particularly – we were guaranteed to be literally gifting pathetic goals to the opposition. Frankly, it became beyond embarrassing. Combining that with going 9 and a half hours without scoring (in all competitions) is not a great mix.
Thankfully though, just before New Year’s the rot was somehow stopped. The club moved swiftly to sign five new players in the first couple of days of January – which has served to give everyone a long-overdue kick up the backside, even if all of them are yet to be heavily involved.
RR: Going back towards the beginning of the season, what exactly led to Nick Daws’ pretty quick dismissal? It seemed very abrupt just four games into the campaign, especially considering you had taken four points. Are there any feelings of that being misguided or are the fans taking to Stuart McCall?
MB: Yeah, it has been a funny old season. After varying degrees of play-off heartache in the last three seasons – a bit of mid-table mediocrity would have almost been welcome. Inevitably for a small and over achieving club, this meant losing a number of key players in the summer. Four were cherry-picked by top-half Championship sides, whilst we made some weird decisions to release players who might have otherwise been key.
The sacking of Daws was at least partially fed by us being in denial about what kind of season was in store for us. A 5-0 humbling at home to Fleetwood was undeniably horrific, but seemed unreasonable to be a sackable offence on its own, particularly as the squad itself was clearly sub-standard.
Stuart McCall is popular enough – but there remains a very strong impression that the players have to take responsibility, for better or worse.
RR: How do you see the season ending for you? Are there any optimistic hints that this run of form could spark a potential push for the Play Offs?
MB: It perhaps shows just how tight League One has been this season, that just four wins has taken us from being four points adrift in the relegation zone, to just two points off 10th. We are nonetheless though, 14 points off 6th and have a dreadful goal-difference.
72/73 points is usually the standard marker to squeeze in the play-offs, which would require us to have won at least 17 of our last 22 games (including the last 4). If any Iron fans think we’re doing that – I’ve got some magic beans to sell them.
There is however, the very real potential of at least having a bit of mid-table mediocrity, which after the huge scare of November and December’s relegation battle would be a huge relief.
It would certainly make my weekly column for the Scunthorpe Telegraph a bit less depressing!
RR: Are there any particular players who have excelled in your recent games? Who should Sunderland fans be keeping an eye on as we head into the fixture?
MB: Without striker Lee Novak’s 11 league goals this season, we would be very much facing down the barrel of relegation – so if cutting edge is going to come from anywhere, it is surely our top scorer.
He’s also a well-known Newcastle fan, having previously played for Wallsend Boys Club and Gateshead – and even under a certain Lee Clark at Huddersfield.
Hopefully that might provide him with a bit extra motivation for a goal or two this weekend!
RR: What about the Sunderland squad? Anyone in particular you’re worried about?
MB: Despite the total non-event of a game and performance, I thoroughly enjoyed the trip up to Sunderland for August’s return fixture – particularly pre and post-match drinks in the Colliery Tavern!
I was telling anybody who would listen that Josh Maja had been very impressive and would cause sides problems this season. Since he’s been kicking up a bit of a fuss recently – there’s no chance of you lads selling him before Saturday is there?
Although for the record, since we’re here, what the hell are Bryan Oviedo and Lee Cattermole doing playing in League One? With your budget, fanbase, and quality – anything less than 2nd for you lads this season is a failure.
RR: How do you expect McCall to approach this game and what do you expect his starting line up to be?
MB: The recent turnaround has been with an un-changed side, which injury permitting we are expecting to continue with the same XI that beat Walsall. Most Iron fans would certainly like to see at least one, if not both, of the new Centre-Halves come into the side soon though.
The formation in recent weeks has been fairly fluid, but is has mostly been a 4-3-1-2 in possession. This sees Lee Novak and academy graduate Kyle Wootton up front together; with Leicester loanee and Welsh international George Thomas just behind them in the hole. Belgian playmaker Funso Ojo, ex-Mag James Perch, and another academy graduate Levi Sutton then make up the central midfield 3. Out of possession though, Wotton drops wide left and Thomas deeper - so it becomes more of a traditional 4-5-1.
We’re expecting the largest crowd of the season at Glanford Park, and even with 2,200+ Sunderland fans there – it will certainly feel very different to the Stadium of Light. It’s a very compact stadium, and you’ll be surprised just how close to the pitch you area.
Sorry in advance if you get stuck behind one of the pillars though!
RR: Finally, can we have a score prediction please?
MB: With Sunderland being the only side in all of League One to have already drawn 10 games – there is legitimate hope we can try and nick something if we defend well.
Our winning run will end at some point, but let’s just hope it’s not with a crashing defeat.
I’ll go for 1-1.