Scunthorpe are heading on the path to non-league football unless Neil Cox can mould his squad together to overcome their horrendous start to the 2020/21 campaign.
The Iron are languishing in the relegation zone after four defeats on the spin, with only one victory to show for their early season exploits, which came against Carlisle United at Glanford Park. It’s a case of history repeating itself at the club. At the start of last season, Scunthorpe failed to win any of their opening seven matches of the campaign.
Paul Hurst was under immediate pressure, and although he turned it around slightly, the Iron were never able to find their stride under the former Rotherham United defender. He was sacked in January after a 3-0 defeat to Northampton Town with the Iron in 16th place in the table.
Russ Wilcox did enough to keep the club on the straight and narrow before the season was brought to a premature end. Scunthorpe secured their status for another campaign, but the issues that have reared their head this term were evident last season. The Iron have been shipping goals with ease at the back and have been toothless in the final third. It’s a combination that could be fatal should it persist into the winter and beyond.
Despite the problems Cox and his side have had at the start of the term, the bookies are not completely down on the 49-year-old turning things around, with the Iron being backed in the football betting odds at 12/1 for a top-seven finish. At times under Hurst last season, there were hopeful signs, reaching as high as 12th after a win over Grimsby before Christmas. After that horrendous start, it was a major achievement even if it didn’t last for long. Cox could perform similar heroics, although there is a huge challenge in remedying the problems at both ends of the pitch.
Kevin van Veen’s absence has been huge. The Dutchman has been sidelined with a knee injury, and he could be out for months to come. van Veen was the Iron’s top scorer last season in League Two with 10 strikes to his name. The next highest player on the scoring charts was Alex Gilliead with six, while Lee Novak and Abo Eisa both notched five apiece.
Without van Veen, there has been no threat in the final third as no one has stepped up in the absence of the 29-year-old. Eisa, Aaron Jarvis and John McAtee have failed to fire, with the lack of experience hitting the Iron hard not only up front, but across the pitch.
Scunthorpe could have used a player like Novak this term but he was allowed to leave in January to sign for Bradford. There are no obvious solutions for Cox. Players of the quality of Eisa and McAtee have to start producing – not only for the club but to deliver on their potential. Ryan Loft has shown glimpses, finding the back of the net against Newport County on the opening. At the age of 23, he could be the man to deliver on a regular basis, although it has to come sooner rather than later.
Defensively, the issues are perhaps worse. The Iron are conceding two goals per game, including back-to-back thrashings at the hands of Forest Green Rovers and Cambridge United. The entire backline is green to say the least. The oldest starter in the back three in the defeat to Cambridge was Emmanuel Onariase at the age of 24, while Tyler Cordner only joined the club on loan from Bournemouth in August. Without the stability of the injured Jordan Clarke, it will take a coaching masterclass to improve those youngsters in a tough environment.
The odds are stacked against Cox and Scunthorpe. It will take a major transition in their fortunes to beat the drop with such an inexperienced side. However, if they pull off the impossible it could be the making of the Iron in the long run.