Sunderland travel to Lincolnshire on Tuesday where they will face Scunthorpe at Glanford Park in the EFL Trophy.
The match will conclude the group stage and decide whether Sunderland will advance into the knockout round of the tournament. The winner of the match will progress, as if the match is drawn penalties will be played for a decisive bonus point.
Sunderland beat Grimsby 3-2, but lost 2-1 to Leicester U21’s last Tuesday leaving the Black Cats third in the table. On the other hand, Scunthorpe beat Grimsby 2-1 thanks to a Kevin Van Veen brace, with their 1-1 draw with Leicester placing them one point above us.
Ahead of the cup match, I spoke to Scunthorpe fan Matt from the Iron Bru podcast to discuss how his team have performed since their League One relegation, as well as whom he expects to progress into the next round.
MC: The team that wins tonight's fixture will progress into the next round of the EFL Trophy, how much of a priority is this tournament with Scunthorpe being part of a League Two relegation battle?
M: The week got off to a terrible start with a 4-1 FA Cup hammering at Crawley. That result was as bad as it gets and without being disrespectful to Crawley, it shows how far we have fallen in such a short space of time.
With a positive season in the league now looking unlikely, fans were looking to the cup for something to cheer about! With that in mind, the Crawley result was frankly unacceptable. We’ve had a brief upturn in results in the league, particularly at home, but turning the corner seems to have stalled and we are in serious danger of been involved in a season long relegation battle.
There are likely to be a number of changes to the side but I think Hurst has to take it seriously given the budget has been cut following relegation last season and we’ve blown any chance of a money spinning FA cup run. The EFL trophy may well be our best chance of some success and boosting the coffers for January.
MC: Paul Hurst was linked with Sunderland following an impressive period with Shrewsbury, he appears to have struggled so far managing Scunthorpe - are you confident he will still be your manager come the end of the season?
M: Not particularly, however the owners are definitely being a little more patient with him than some of our previous managers as he attempts to try and turn things around. It was always going to be a big job, but we were expecting to have more points on the board by now and it’s becoming a little worrying.
Having got through our fair share of managers in recent seasons it’s fair to say we have been crying out for a bit of stability, regardless of how we started the season, but it has been a massively disappointing start considering the players he has at his disposal. He had full control of the transfers in the summer as the fans previously voiced their disapproval of the board choosing and signing the players, but it hasn’t been particularly successful.
I’m not sure we are any better off for it and some of his signings have been questionable at best. He’s also the ex Grimsby boss, had a bust up with Adam Hammill (loaned to Stockport) and his man management skills seemingly leave a lot to be desired so he hasn’t endeared himself to supporters! If results don’t improve quickly and we don’t pull away from the drop zone, I think his days are definitely numbered.
MC: It is evident to the football world how detrimental consecutive relegations has been to Sunderland both on and off the field, if Scunthorpe suffered a similar fate what would the consequences be for the club?
M: It simply can’t happen. I’ve always been of the opinion that if we were to get relegated out of the football league it would take us many years to recover, if we were to properly recover at all. With one of the biggest budgets in League Two, it would be impossible to sustain in the National League without massive backing from the owner and although he has bankrolled us for the last five years, it’s not a bottomless pit of money.
The biggest worry for me is the fact that we’ve had a number of managers over the past few years who have all struggled to get the best out of what looks to be on paper, a good squad. Something is fundamentally wrong and it’s a big worry but I’m comforted somewhat by the fact there is only one side relegated from League Two this year and we should hopefully have enough to avoid the drop.
MC: Scunthorpe winger Ryan Colclough won League One with Sunderland duo Max Power and Will Grigg whilst playing for Wigan - what has happened to him after he appeared to have so much potential?
M: Colclough clearly has a lot of quality but he suffered a serious injury last season and missed most of the campaign. He’s shown flashes of what he is capable of this term but yet to hit the heights we may have expected. That said, on his day he’s too good for League Two and if he hits form he will probably be on his way sooner rather than later.
MC: In Jamie Ward Scunthorpe possess a striker with vast EFL and international experience, how important is he to any success your team has this season?
M: He’s only just recently joined but he has already shown his quality in terms of finishing, but also creating. He’s intelligent and it’s clear to see he has played at a higher level.
The problem is that he’s getting on a bit and he looks like he’s going to have a number of niggling injuries which means we might not see him as much as we would have liked. If we can get and keep him fit, he’ll be a key player but he’s not going to be available tonight.
MC: Many clubs use the EFL Trophy to test different formations and players, who are the eleven Scunthorpe players you expect to start the match?
M: After the 4-1 drubbing at Crawley I expect a number of changes. We’ve got a long list of players that are either injured or doubtful for the game so it’s almost impossible to call and I think we may see a number of players playing out of position: (4-4-2) Watson / Brown, Butler (C), McArdle, McGahey / Gilliead, Lund, Perch, Eisa / Proctor, Van Veen.
MC: If there was one Scunthorpe player you think Sunderland would be interested in signing, who would that be and why?
M: Ryan Colclough. He’s already proven himself in League One and would be a great signing for anybody at that level.
MC: Sunderland’s attendances have been horrendous this season in the EFL Trophy - what have attendances been like at Scunthorpe since the tournament’s restructure adding U23 sides?
M: Shocking. The previous format was never well supported but we rarely, if ever, saw attendances below the 1,500 mark. The past few games have seen sub 1,000 gates and our lowest ever attendances for a professional game. As a podcast, we arranged a ‘B Team boycott’ game on the evening we played Grimsby (arguably our biggest rivals) earlier this season and raised some cash for charity instead of attending the match!
MC: Scunthorpe equalised late on to draw 1-1 with Sunderland last season at Glanford Park. What do you think the final score will be tonight?
M: It all depends on what kind of side both teams put out, but I’m struggling to see a win. A scrappy 1-1 draw at best.