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EFL Team in Focus: Scunthorpe kick-start their season

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Having taken nine points from their last six games, Scunthorpe United appear to be steadily improving in League One.

Gabriel Sutton (@_FootbalLab) discusses the recent improvement from Paul Hurst’s side.

The defensive formula

When Andy Butler signed for Scunthorpe in the summer, having been a mainstay in Doncaster’s Play-Off finish in the division above the year before, he looked like being a key defensive cog.

Instead, Butler has been exposed for a lack of pace.

With respect to the 35-year-old, who has previously been one of the most aerially commanding defenders below the Championship, it must be said that Scunthorpe have looked strongest defensively with a centre-back pairing of Harrison McGahey and Rory McArdle.

McGahey is the front-foot defender, who can be aggressive when needed and loves carrying the ball out while McArdle is more restrained and thus rarely gives anything away.

Sutton and Songo’o

Matty Lund can be a very influential midfielder at this level, but the former Rochdale man picked up a suspension for his red card in the 1-1 draw with Bradford, in which the Iron battled gallantly with a numerical disadvantage for 71 minutes.

Lund’s absence has given Levi Sutton an opportunity to form a central midfield pairing with Yann Songo’o.

Sutton is a disciplined anchor man with excellent defensive positioning while Songo’o is aggressive, impulsive and combative; between them, they protected the defence well in the 3-0 win over Northampton last time out.

The solid pairing that Sutton and Songo’o have formed means other players have more freedom; Alex Gilliead can attack the right flank at will, while Ryan Colclough is weaving his magic once again.

Colclough return

The Iron scored 26 goals in 17 league games with Ryan Colclough present last season and just 27 in 29 without him, which highlights the former Crewe trainee’s influence.

The 24-year-old is skilful, unpredictable and possesses plenty of quality, making him the ideal person to brighten up Scunny’s attacks.

Having been restricted to second half substitute appearances in the league up to mid-September, Colclough has started the last four and is starting to get back to his sizzling self.

Kevin’s rich van Veen of form

Kevin Van Veen did not quite make the desired impact in the second half of last season, after signing from Northampton to begin a second stint at Glanford Park.

Hurst is getting some strong shifts from the Dutchman, which is a huge plus because his natural ability at this level is exceptional, as we saw with his first half strike.

Van Veen was forced off at the interval against the Cobblers with an unfortunate rib injury and one hopes that the 28-year-old, who has scored three goals in his last five appearances, can recover quickly.

Ntlhe converted

Kgosi Ntlhe earned a reputation at Peterborough United for being a very attacking, athletic left-back who loved to drive forward.

Ntlhe still has those qualities, but the 25-year-old is looking to acquire different dimensions to his game – especially versatility.

The defender operated successfully on the left of a back-three with Rochdale last season and now, with Scunthorpe, he has been converted into a right-back.

That is not the easiest role for him because, being solely left-footed, he tends to pass sideways and backwards from the right, but still he puts in a solid shift in that position and gives little away.

Brown’s quality

One figure who has been integral to Scunthorpe’s strong run is Junior Brown.

The former Shrewsbury left-back gets forward very well, delivers accurate crosses and quality passes, whilst remaining steady enough defensively.

Brown is only on loan from Coventry and Iron fans would like to see the 30-year-old return in January.

Top half challenge?

Scunthorpe’s recent impressive form has quelled some of the early season fear of a second successive relegation and an EFL exit, the fate Chesterfield suffered in 2017-18.

While promotion this season would be a very tall order, natives are starting to look up the table rather than down it.

With barely a quarter of the season played, the Iron are 15/8 with SkyBet to finish in the top half – and few would argue that they do not have a better squad, on paper, than more than half the teams in League Two.