The time for talk is over, a new season in League 2 looms large for the Iron. We’ve had an interesting summer, we’ve probably jettisoned about half the failed crop of players from last term that we needed to, and on the whole we’ve recruited astutely.
Whereas last season’s summer business was catastrophic at best, this year’s off season has been measured. We have gone about our business quietly. We’re now not far away from having a squad capable of challenging at the zenith of this league, give or take a few signings.
So how do we see a new look Scunthorpe United, under the ever-scrutinous eye of Paul Hurst chancing its arm in a competitive League 2? I believe the season will be won and lost within two key areas, for the purposes of this piece, I’ll entitle them Fitness and Firepower.
It’s no secret that one of the underlying mantras of Hurst’s overarching modus operandi is fitness. Hurst likes his teams to be drilled to military precision, cadenced to the form of a parade ground unit, favouring shape and concentration over pace and flair. In some respects, this is down to mental and physical fitness.
The bodily fitness required to fight to the end of the game, without relenting on the high-press intensity, married with the mental fitness that we so woefully lacked in League 1; should both be expected without cessation from this group of players.
Nobody will have forgotten the shambolic state in which Nick Daws’ Iron team failed to match their opponents in terms of on-field fitness a season ago, you will not see that under Hurst. But remember, we have a terribly unfortunate record with injuries, and some of our key players this term have of late been susceptible to lengthy spells on the side-line.
Enter Matty Lund, the fulcrum of the midfield, who, if he gets injured for a significant period this season, you’d think will result in us struggling without adequate cover. Clarke, Novak, Butler and Hammill all carry the same worry, in many respects, we’re a hairline fracture away from complete imbalance.
Therefore, fitness really is key. Assume we are fortunate enough to keep our key players away from the treatment table, and a few other things fall in our favour, we’ll have a good chance of challenging.
We’ve lacked it for months, you could say most of the season we fired with wet powder, barely hitting the proverbial barn door with the donkey’s head, and Christ knows we had plenty of those last season. But really, we have never replaced the void left by Josh Morris’ left foot.
We are still massively deficient in terms of attacking options, yes, we have an embarrassment of riches in the advanced midfield department, but a striker who will guarantee a promotion-worthy goal return? Not a chance.
As the squad stands, we have one proven striker in the team a few days before the season starts, I’m afraid that is woefully inadequate. At the time of writing this I expect van Veen to be gone before the end of the transfer window (for the record, I’d like to keep him).
At a pinch, given good service Novak may do well, after all he did bag 12 in the league last time out, in a crap team, yet I feel we need that striking x-factor if we’re to really challenge for a promotion berth. Without it, we might scrape into the playoffs. Supporting acts of rookie McAtee and an immobile Kyle Wootton will not cut the mustard.
We really are, I think, gambling on the fitness of our midfield flair players to hold, and for them to deliver in a much more physical league this season. And yes, I have drooled idly in anticipation of having Hammill and Colclough on opposite wings, dancing past the cloggers that league 2 teams call full-backs, but again, it’s all fitness dependent.
So, if our luck holds and if our players reacquaint themselves with where the bullseye is, we have most of the pieces in place to have a very good season indeed. But do all the pieces fit, and more importantly, can Hurst usher them into place?
The missing pieces
For the most part I agree with Hurst’s system, I don’t like just the one up top, I think it smacks of caution and veils the offensive statement, but I’m happy to overlook it if the wingers bomb on down the flanks, and we emphasise our ability out wide.
In my opinion, we are 3 quality players away from flirting with the title, it’s no secret Hurst has been a tad miffed with the relative lack of new arrivals, but there’s still time. Add another quality midfielder, a goal-scoring striker (emphasis on goal-scoring required), and perhaps another player of suitable class, I’d put some cash on us going up at the first time of asking. But we are not there yet.
As I have said on the Podcast, the pieces are there, give or take a few trump cards, the real question is; can Hurst put them all together before the end of the transfer window?
All the threads lead to the same place, will our fitness hold? Will we have enough raw firepower? Remember these factors, I’m confident they will define our season, if both don’t hold, expect a mid-table finish.