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Finally! Something To Cheer About
Posted on November 7, 2013
A week can be a long time in football, and for Mark Robins and his players it’s a fair bet that the last seven days have dragged like no others as the wrong’s needed to be righted following the embarrassing 1-0 defeat to lowly Blackpool last Saturday.
This game against high flying Coventry was undoubtedly a key one of Robins’ relatively short tenure, with pressure increasing from the restless fans and no doubt the ones that matter observing from upstairs – despite midweek statements to the contrary.
Consternation, too, must have been growing amongst the players themselves, who are in no doubt of each others vast levels of ability; yet a quick look at the league table could easily quash such thesis.
This would have been a ‘banker’ on most pundit’s betting slip. Coventry, in free scoring mode plundering fourteen goals in just six games prior to this encounter, arrived full of confidence perched ominously in second place knowing a victory could have sent them top.
Boasting the division’s leading scorer in Adam Armstrong, on paper this looked a torrid fixture for a beleaguered Scunthorpe side who have showed no promise in previous games with Robins seemingly hell bent on making the failing 3-5-2 formation work.
Fans once again showed their own disapproval by staying at home, with around 2500 home supporters braving it. Ironically, as it transpired, the ones who did stay at home missed one of the best all-round Iron performances in recent years – it was THAT good.
Speaking to Coventry fans prior to kick-off, naturally they were in buoyant mood as around a thousand of them made the journey up from the Midlands. Asked what to expect from Scunthorpe, I could only inform them of what we’ve witnessed so far this season, which appeared to buoy them even more.
Alluding to Robins’ time in charge of the Sky Blues, they did look puzzled as to what’s going wrong.
“We played some fantastic attacking football, without really getting the results we deserved”, one of them said – the 3-0 JPT semi-final home defeat to Crewe in front of 30,000 fans was one such occasion.
His time at Coventry appeared to strike a chord with most fans, despite his hasty defecting to Huddersfield, which only elongated the confusion as to what kind of mess he was creating here.
I recall a conversation with Coventry Telegraph’s Sports Writer and big Scunthorpe fan, Aidan McCartney, when Robins was appointed. He said the fans down there loved Robins and the brand of football he offered them was fabulous.
When he arrived last season, he implemented an expansive and flexible 433 system which paid dividends in the interim, despite the lacking of quality players at his disposal.
However, with assurances from the chairman that the purse strings would be well and truly loosened in the summer – which came to fruition – and the blueprint for a if not promoted, then get damn close season from the chairman, Iron fans were naturally excited about the forthcoming campaign.
The chairman himself was quoted in pre-season about ‘the need to bring in quality wingers to feed Paddy and KVV’ – so when no wide players arrived, but two more strikers did, the confusion was understandable.
It seems apparent that some time between the months of May and August, the manager received some ‘divine’ intervention through whatever means that a 3-5-2 system was the way forward. Expedite six weeks, and finally he could see what all the fans have been seeing all along that it needed changing, promptly!
His future as Iron manager possibly hung on this game, and finally he partially delivered what the fans had been calling for – and boy what a difference!
We didn’t get quite what we called for, but it wasn’t far off. On paper it looked better, the reality was just that.
When it takes all of 38 minutes to see any Coventry player up close, that alone speaks volumes regarding the quality of this ‘new-look’ Scunthorpe side.
Taking into account the season the Sky Blues are currently experiencing – riding high and scoring goals for fun – this not only reiterated that they are not that good, but also displayed the level of performance that these Iron players are capable of producing.
From the first whistle, Scunthorpe played with a swagger and a belief. Players, in the main, playing in positions of which they felt comfortable. These lads grew up playing in simplistic systems, it must have been so frustrating having to reinvent the wheel.
Hopper was the only one who didn’t look completely at home – having to play the lone man role – but it still didn’t prevent a performance of undeniable effort and commitment which he always produces.
King had to be on it – with the three man defence ditched which often saw the resembling of a Sunday morning stroll – and he was! Alongside Wallace they were solid, complimented by exceptional full-back play by Laird and a rejuvenated Clarke.
As a unit, they were first to every ball – it looked like men v boys, a defensive masterclass it has to be said, as good as I’ve ever witnessed. Yes, it was! Daniels had probably the quietest game of his career behind them, but what he did do, he did with authority.
The old man asked about Ness prior to the game, having never witnessed him first hand. Informing him of his attributes and potential ability along with encouraging words from Crewe fans where he spent time on loan last season, he seemed intrigued. He knows about him now! What a performance.
From the moment the crowd acknowledged a pin-point 50-yard diagonal ball to Paddy out on the right touchline, the confidence in the former Stoke midfielder flourished. He literally ran the show, showing touches of class in all areas and always looking to play threatening, positive passes.
Bish did what Bish does, amazing! Alongside Ness, they were dominant as a partnership. It’s hard not to feel sorry for Macca, who has been one shining light during recent weeks, but Ness’ ability to penetrate in offensive areas was the only reason for his omission.
When the crowd saw Macca being prepared to enter the field of play and a visibly struggling McSheffrey, groans could be heard and a collective feeling was in evidence that we would be reverting back to the 3-5-2.
When Ness walked off, mixed feelings of elation that it wasn’t to be the case and vexation of the obvious injury were apparent around the ground.
Macca settled in well, doing his business in his usual calm and effective manner, the change made no difference to the balance of play with the Iron still dominant.
When the brilliant KVV was subbed and the hard-working Hopper were replaced by Syers (great to see him back out there) and Henderson respectively, the balance for a short period did swing.
Coventry found a rare spring in their step, giving their strong support behind Daniels’ goal fleeting moments of cheer and belief.
For all of the Iron’s prevalence, the scoreboard still read 0-0, and that sucker-punch scenario no doubt sat firmly at the forefront of the home supporter’s minds.
But despite Coventry’s miniscule (and only) five minute spell in the game, the equilibrium was soon restored and Scunthorpe began to go a little more direct – utilising Henderson’s height and strength to full-effect.
It was partly due to the former Watford player’s aerial prowess that the breakthrough finally came with Paddy the beneficiary of great play between Henderson and Clarke who managed to take a touch and fire hard and low into the bottom corner.
The looks on the Coventry players faces was telling. No disappointment. No finger pointing. No gesticulating with one another. This had been coming, they were well beaten and they knew it.
Was there to be a response from Mowbray’s men? Nope. A corner, that’s about it. The game petered out and even with an inexplicable seven minutes of injury-time added by referee Andy Haines (what the hell??) Scunthorpe remained calm and controlled to bag their first win since beating Crewe almost a month ago.
This performance alone showed many things and without getting TOO carried away, I’m sure this one alone has taken a hell of a lot of pressure off the manager’s shoulders.
The players looked happy. Laird and Clarke both enjoyed sporadic bursts down both flanks, without having to neglect any defensive duties, they were both superb, unplayable! McSheffrey provided width – what we’ve been crying out for. Van Veen added a touch of class, what a player! Paddy, despite still being out of position, went about his business in his usual manner – he must be a dream to manage.
Everyone put a shift in. Bish said last week that the players needed ‘to grow a pair’ – and they did. Appreciated by the support, there was an air of calm in the stadium and a reassurance that this season is well and truly retrievable. Had we lost yesterday to a potential sucker-punch, I still believe that Robins would have been cut some slack.
This was what we were promised, and he’s finally delivered.
Now, this needs to be backed up starting with Rochdale. Never an easy place to go, although success has been enjoyed there in the recent past and we’ve nabbed arguably their best player, which can only be a good thing.
I heard somewhere yesterday that Robins stated that the 3-5-2 wasn’t dead. If it isn’t, give me a flippin’ gun! A precedent has been set, don’t change it now. Everyone knows that the players brought in were/are good enough and we hoped that collectively they were good enough to challenge.
After convincingly ‘destroying’ allegedly the best team in the division, the proof is there before us. One game at a time, the cliché goes – but credit where it’s due. This was bloody brilliant.
Up the Iron!
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