Preview | Scunthorpe United (a)
Scunthorpe are a club in disarray. They are still without a permanent manager, and this week the man who had been in charge on an interim basis, Tony Daws, stepped down. This meant Michael Nelson stepped up as interim boss. Whilst this means Scunthorpe’s preparation will be disjointed, it also makes it hard for Notts to prepare for. The Iron are now somewhat of an unknown quantity, but we have done our best to analyse them and determine how they are likely to set up.
Notts of course had a free weekend, whilst Scunthorpe went down 3-1 away at Wealdstone. It will be fascinating to see what effect the break has on the game. On the one hand, optimists will suggest Notts will be the fresher of the two sides, benefiting from the rest. However, it could also be argued that the break will have halted Notts’ momentum. Furthermore, they may lack the sharpness a matchday provides, so it may end up being Scunthorpe who are the fitter of the two sides. Either way, it is likely to have a bearing on this weekend’s result.
As alluded to earlier Scunthorpe are a club teetering on the brink of disaster both on and off the field, but it's on the field we are focusing on and they find themselves staring down the barrel of 6 straight defeats on the trot.
Since a creditable 3-1 win over Gateshead on 25th October Scunthorpe have lost 5 and drawn one of their last 6 games, scoring just 4 goals and conceding 13 in the process.
Notts will be looking to put the frustration of a 0-0 draw at home to Yeovil behind them, their third draw in the last six games.
In what is becoming a familiar sight the key team action rankings continue to show how Notts dominate teams both with and without the ball.
To be fair to Scunthorpe they don't rank poorly when it comes to the pressing stats and they are definitely a lot more direct in their approach than Notts.
Notts faced difficulty breaking down a low block last time out, however the way in which Scunthorpe set up is slightly different. Unlike Yeovil, who looked to drop off the Notts attackers and retreat whenever the Magpies gained possession, Scunthorpe look to press the ball, closing down whoever is in possession. This means players step up out of their shape, creating gaps in behind. So whilst Notts will have less time on the ball due to the press, there will be more space for them to exploit. Scunthorpe aren’t as organised as Yeovil were, and they also seem more vulnerable to play round the sides too. This is evidenced by the fact their PPDA is far lower than Yeovil’s, their 9.96 much closer to Notts’ own 8.07.
The Iron usually employ a 5-2-1-2 system, very reminiscent to the system Notts use in terms of shape. However, in his last game Daws experimented, shifting to a 4-2-3-1 system in order to force a turnaround in form. While they had 11 players on the pitch it looked fairly effective. Nelson therefore faces a tough decision whether to stick with the back 4 or to adopt the blueprint Yeovil so clearly laid out, shifting back to a back 5.
Their current back 5 system sees Jai Rowe at RWB bomb forward with frequency. This would present opportunities for Adam Chicksen at the back post to continue his goal scoring form. It will be interesting if he is slightly more reserved than usual on Saturday if this formation is chosen, as this is something Notts could certainly target.
Below we first take a look at how Scunthorpe set up with a back 4.
Now a look at how Scunthorpe set up in a back 5.
When Scunthorpe hosted Wrexham earlier in November, most of the Welsh side’s success came from cutbacks from the byline. They would look to get wing backs in behind, down the wide areas, and when the cutback was pulled into the box Scunthorpe looked rather unorganised. The lack of bodies in midfield, and how narrow their double pivot is, really exposes these wide areas. They aren’t able to shift across and help cover the wide areas, allowing sides in behind to get crosses in. This is good news for a side who employ wing backs who love to get high, so expect to see plenty of box entries from Adebayo-Rowling and Chicksen.
Whilst Scunthorpe aren’t as defensively organised as Yeovil, they pose significantly more threat on the break. They will look to take the game to the Magpies, as they did at home to Wrexham, a game they actually were on top in for large swathes of the action. Scunthorpe, especially at home, look to take the game to the opposition, committing men forward, especially their wingbacks and front 3. Whilst this certainly makes them more threatening than other sides at the bottom end of the table, they also leaves large gaps, leaving them vulnerable to the counter. There are gaps in behind their defence, where willing runners like Austin and Adebayo-Rowling could see large amounts of success. This is evidenced by the fact they rank 7th for xG against. This suggests they concede high quality scoring chances fairly consistently, a byproduct of the space they leave for opposition attackers.
Vastly experienced defender Andrew Boyce will be crucial for Scunthorpe this weekend, organising their defence in a bid to keep Notts’ dangerous attack at bay. 33 year old Boyce wins 66.34% of his defensive duels, showing how strong of a defender he is.
At 6' 4" he is also a strong presence in the air, where he wins a very impressive 68.88% of his aerial duels. Notts may have a hard time with crosses into the box, and should look to fizz them into dangerous areas. This would take advantage of Boyce’s ageing legs, as over short distances he lacks real pace. His height is also a threat going forward; he already has 2 goals to his name this season, and he will make himself a nuisance from set piece situations.
Despite clearly being passed his best, midfield dictator Jacob Butterfield still possesses plenty of quality. Most of Scunthorpe’s game comes through the experienced midfield operator, and the 32 year old midfielder still has a wonderful range of passing.
Butterfield has played 853 passes this season, 14th most in the league, so clearly Scunthorpe's game goes through him. This is 155 more passes than any other Iron player. This just shows how crucial he is to their build up, and if Notts are to press anyone it must be the experienced midfielder. If they stop Butterfield playing, they will stifle Scunthorpe’s offensive output.
He may not have the legs he used to, but he still has plenty of quality, and Notts’ midfield isn’t the most physical. The inclusion of Bajrami in the middle, or Jim O’Brien if he is fit enough to return, may provide good options in dealing with him. If he isn’t allowed to play his natural game Scunthorpe will struggle even more. The Iron are likely to have reduced possession against County, so Butterfield will be crucial in doing something meaningful with what little possession they do have.
The dangerman is undoubtedly loanee youngster Rob Apter, who has breathed new life into this Iron side since his arrival from Blackpool. An attacking midfielder with the rare gift of being able to take the game by the scruff of its neck, Apter has 4 goals and 3 assists so far this term.
At just 19 years of age Apter is one of the bright young stars of this league, and he has shown his class despite playing in a side who have been battling relegation all season. Blessed with the fearlessness of youth, Apter attempts 7.19 dribbles per 90, 5th most in the league and more than any player involved this Saturday.
He loves the ball at his feet, and will look to run at, and stretch the Magpies’ back 3. Apter also loves to get involved in the final 3rd, especially in the box, where he manages 2.93 touches per 90, the 2nd most of any Scunthorpe player. He also takes 2.73 shots per 90, 13th most in the league, with only Langstaff and Rodrigues the only players in County colours to take more shots. Clearly Apter will look to keep Slocombe busy, and he is certainly their most threatening player.
Finally we should mention 25 year old striker Joe Nuttall who is the league’s joint 6th top scorer. Scunthorpe will be without their talisman’s services against The Magpies after he saw red at the weekend. Arguably, the dismissal was a little harsh, but nevertheless his absence is likely to hinder the Iron. They will certainly pose less of a goal threat as a result.
Scunthorpe currently sit joint bottom in the league on 15 points and above Torquay courtesy of a slightly better (or not as bad) goal difference.