Iron in the fire

Posted by on Apr 15, 2011 in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

As baptisms of fire go, they don’t come much more fiery than Alan Knill’s at Scunthorpe. The erstwhile Bury manager’s first game in charge of the team he once played for took place at Carrow Road and saw his side given a brutal pummelling. Norwich’s mercilessness was exemplified by the fact that one hat-trick (from Grant Holt) was followed by another from Simeon Jackson, a player whom Paul Lambert had only allowed twenty minutes to impress.

Post-match, Knill claimed not to have been too surprised by the mauling: “Don’t get me wrong, I knew what I was getting into. We’re second from bottom and I know it’s a team that has problems. I knew that when I came and this match confirmed what I was expecting.” His shellshocked expression, though, gave the appearance of someone just beginning to realise the magnitude and impossibility of the job they’ve agreed to take on – the sort of expression you’d expect to find on the face of El-Hadji Diouf’s PR man or Joey Barton’s defence lawyer. It can’t have helped that, while his hapless new charges were being demolished in East Anglia, his old side Bury were merrily sweeping aside Oxford with two goals from Nicky Ajose, the momentum of their automatic promotion train apparently unaffected by the fact that the driver had disembarked en route.

It got no easier for Knill, either – following hard on the heels of the Championship’s second-placed side were (you guessed it) those at the absolute summit, QPR, who had suffered just four defeats all season. A no-brainer – or so you’d have thought. Knill had demanded a reaction and once again the reality far outstripped his expectations, the Iron recovering from an early setback to crush the champions elect 4-1. This time it was Knill basking in the glory, Neil Warnock delivering the shellshocked exit interview.

But, with the West Londoners cruising towards the title and knowing they could afford to drop points, an arguably greater challenge awaited Knill and Scunthorpe in the shape of the division’s most in-form outfit, Reading, the side against whom they secured survival last campaign. Three days on from the QPR victory, the Iron couldn’t repeat the trick, though, second-half goals from Shane Long and Ian Harte ruthlessly punishing a failure to make early pressure and opportunities count.

Seven successive wins have taken Brian McDermott’s men deep into the play-off scrummage, but the latest one also left Knill’s side six points from safety with seven games to play. (It could have been worse had Leicester’s Matt Oakley not denied 21st-placed Crystal Palace two precious points.) Survival remains a possibility but the likelihood is that, together with fellow basement dwellers Preston and Sheffield Utd, Scunthorpe will be giving up their seat at the second tier table to Brighton before long.

Should it come to pass, I don’t suspect the Iron’s relegation will raise many eyebrows. Just consider the facts: they sold off all of their prize attacking assets – Gary Hooper, Paul Hayes, Martyn Woolford – without any significant reinvestment; they lost to Southampton the alchemist who had done a magnificent Hollowayesque job of fusing supposedly base metals into something that glittered; and with a ground, fanbase and budget all most kindly described as modest, they’ve had to try to compete with the likes of Cardiff (boasting Craig Bellamy on a permanent loan and two Arsenal loanees too) and Leicester (who Sven-Goran Eriksson is moulding into a Premier League side simply by the stealthy introduction of a new top-flight reserve each week). Never mind this season; it’s a miracle they survived last.

Objectively Bury look to have much the same potential as Scunthorpe, so if Knill does come face-to-face with his former employers in League One next season, it’ll be interesting to see whether his decision to leave is vindicated.

Ben is a long-suffering Newcastle Utd supporter (is there any other kind?) who co-founded and co-wrote Black & White & Read All Over, a blog that, over the course of a decade, chronicled the ups, downs, chaos and calamity of the club he has the misfortune to follow. Since the blog hung up its boots in May 2014 (note: not as a mark of respect for Shola Ameobi leaving St James’ Park), he has contented himself with sporadic, splenetic Twitter outbursts and shamefully rare contributions to The Two Unfortunates. He is currently haunted by visions of Joe Kinnear returning to the club for a third spell and pondering whether he’ll live to see another victory over the Mackems, but at least has a cardboard coathanger with Robert Lee’s head on it for consolation.


  1. Bill Turianski
    April 15, 2011

    Good article, Ben. 'El-Hadj Diouf's PR man' is a pretty good one.

    I think it might be for the best for Scunthorpe Uniuted to go down and re-group, and avoid the draconian rule that would force them to scrap all the terrace/standing capacity at Glanford Park. I might be wrong on this, but if Scunny somehow manages to avoid the drop, I am sure the Football League will ignore SUFC's pleas to get a waiver on this ill-thought-out and essentially punitive rule. How are small clubs ever going to move up if, after 2 seasons in the 2nd Level, they have to take the costly step of re-building parts of their ground and replace all of their standing capacity with all-seater capacity? It is such a ridiculous rule made by suits who never even took a real look at the issue. You only have to look at Germany's success with standing capacity still being allowed in their top tiers. I have never heard of a safety issue in the Bundesliga with respect to standing, and heck, Dortmund have a standing terrace that holds 24,500.

    Looking at Rochdale's impressive and unexpected promotion campaign, I think Chris Dagnall might be regretting his move from Dale to Scunthorpe. And I can't begrudge Nigel Atkin's departure for a larger club like Southampton…how far can an overachieving manager take a club that only draws 6,500 per game, tops, and is drawing only 5,584 per game currently, and that plays in a ground with a 9,088 capacity? And that is nearby much bigger clubs that perpetually pull potential fans in North Lincolshire to support Leeds United, the two Sheffields, or Hull City, instead of Scunthorpe? All that being said, I wouldn't be surprised if Alan Knill's Scunthorpe make it to the play-off places next season in League One.

  2. Lanterne Rouge
    April 17, 2011

    Superbly written post as ever Ben – and Scunny will now be getting excited after that terrific win at Palace. There is hope.

  3. Ben
    April 17, 2011

    Cheers Bill. Yes, I don't think you can blame Adkins for leaving (he'd earned the opportunity). Scunthorpe are somewhat punching above their weight in the Championship so relegation wouldn't be that unexpected – though as Lanterne Rouge mentions, yesterday's win at Crystal Palace was vital and very impressive too, given the Eagles' exceptional home record.


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