March 22, 2022 2.30 pm

Time running out for Scunthorpe as relegation to non-league looms

A glimpse into where it all went wrong for the Iron

Scunthorpe United’s 72-year stay in the English Football League is on the verge of ending, and with the Iron ten points adrift of safety, they are running out of time to preserve a proud history among football’s professional game.

It’s a tale of woe and devastation. Scunthorpe United were once a battling side with lofty aspirations, just 15 years ago they were promoted to the Championship, the second tier of English football; now the Iron are rock bottom of League Two with eight games left to survive.

The man tasked with steering the Iron out of the relegation zone is Keith Hill, given the job in November after Paul Cox’s sacking, but the new manager bounce hasn’t worked. To put into context the depth of Scunthorpe’s problems, their 1-0 win at home to Walsall on February 8 is the club’s only win of 2022. We are almost into the fourth month of the year.

Keith Hill is the manager of Scunthorpe United. | Photo: Scunthorpe United FC

Things have gone wrong for Scunthorpe this season, but the wounds that are laid bare for all to see were inflicted long before a ball was kicked in 2021/22, this has been a simmering cauldron of hostility for quite some time.

It’s hard to believe that just four years ago in 2018, Scunthorpe were fourth in League One, again daring to dream of a return to the Championship. Heroic former player Graham Alexander was in charge and all seemed great.

Two months later, he was sacked. Sure, the Iron were without a victory in eight games, but they were still comfortable in a play-off position in League One. Little did they know that this would be the beginning of a dangerous slide down the pyramid.

Scunthorpe missed out on promotion via the play-offs that season, it was still a great team. They had brought in Ivan Toney on loan for that campaign, the striker who is now plying his trade at Brentford, with double figures of Premier League goals to his name.

The real issue, however, was financial. The club were spending way beyond their means in a bid to regain Championship status, when that didn’t happen, the wheels began to fall off.

Owner Peter Swann declared budgets had to be cut, and with that statement came the fading of dreams, an acceptance that perhaps this might be the club’s level.

Glanford Park, now known as The Sands Venue Stadium, was transferred over to Cool Silk, a separate company owned by Swann, in April last year, and the relationship between fans and club has been on a knife edge ever since.

Protests have been held all season, perhaps the biggest of which was when supporters locked the gates outside the stadium before a match, and attendance figures are as low as they’ve been in decades.

Graham Alexander’s replacement, Nick Daws, lasted four games as permanent manager, as the owner said he “made a mistake” giving Daws the job. Ouch.

Then came Stuart McCall, who was sacked in March 2019 with Scunthorpe just two points above the League One relegation places, and temporary boss Andy Dawson could not save the Iron. They would be playing in League Two for the first time since 2013-14.

Paul Hurst, former manager of Scunthorpe United and current manager of Grimsby Town. | Photo: Grimsby Town Football Club

Paul Hurst, now current boss of rivals Grimsby Town, was selected as their manager for the 2019/20 season, but he was sacked in January, to be replaced by a returning Russ Wilcox as caretaker manager.

The season was halted by COVID, so Scunthorpe finished 20th in League Two on points-per-game, just two years after competing in the League One play-offs, the fall from grace was now all too real.

Neil Cox was then chosen for the 2020/2021 campaign, and he lasted just over a season, despite narrowly avoiding the dreaded League Two relegation by finishing in 22nd place. A terrible start to the 2021/22 season resulted in his sacking and the hiring of Keith Hill.

Ex-First team manager Neil Cox. | Photo: Scunthorpe United FC

That’s seven managers post-Alexander. Seven managers in four years. Scunthorpe are playing on the pitch, like they are off it – a fractured club in need of stability.

The Iron have made 20 first-team signings since the start of this season alone, that is basically an entirely new squad, and still the same problems appear. Most goals conceded, fewest scored, fewest wins, most losses, something has to give.

The bottom two sides go down in League Two, and Scunthorpe are at the foot of the table in 24th place, with a pitiful four wins in 38 games so far this season.

Their 24 points leaves them ten behind Stevenage in 22nd, and most of the teams around the Iron have played fewer games, so the already uphill task is made even harder.

Every game between now and the end of the season is a cup final, starting with the home game against Harrogate Town on Saturday, March 26.

Four of the Iron’s last eight games are against sides in the top half, including table toppers Forest Green Rovers, so the other four against teams either floating around mid table or flirting with relegation places are vital for Scunthorpe. They don’t have time to waste, points are a must at this stage.

Lincolnshire already saw Grimsby Town relegated to the National League last season, it has also bared witness to the ugly sight of Lincoln City’s demise into non-league, and barring a miracle, Scunthorpe United look set to become the latest club in this county to fall off the cliff into the abyss.