Consistency at Glanford Park will be vital for Scunthorpe United during final months of season
Victory over Portsmouth was a vital victory in a month which will prove make or break in the Iron’s attempts to climb away from the bottom four. CHRIS SUMPTER looks at the club’s struggles at Glanford Park as United settle into a run of five games in six in front of their own fans.
OF ALL the damning elements that have turned Scunthorpe United from the neutral's choice of Championship underdog to League One strugglers, one stands out more than most.
It should be the lifeblood of results and the first port of call for points. Instead, where the Iron are concerned, home form has been nothing short of woeful.
Once the base for an intimidating atmosphere amid confines that the likes of Newcastle United and Reading struggled to master, Glanford Park has become almost like a leech to the club's fortunes, sucking life out of several stuttering and struggling seasons and hope from the terraces.
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Tuesday night's vital 2-1 success over Portsmouth was the Iron's first home victory since an equally dogged single-goal success against Colchester United in September – four, long months ago.
It was also, amazingly, only the 15th win in the last 69 home games in all competitions. No wonder crowds have dipped as dramatically as the club's fortunes on and off the field.
Put in perspective, that figure, spread over two-and-a-half success-starved years, is only five more victories than Scunthorpe achieved in a single season in 2009-10 and that, against the odds, in the second tier, the campaign in which the title-winning Magpies memorably crumbled on an electric October evening.
Whether a win like that will be repeated is questionable. Expected, not by anyone. Nor though, should any fan of the Iron have been made to go through the torture that have been some of their results of the last couple of years (a 4-0 home defeat against Yeovil Town at the beginning of this campaign being one of the lowest moments).
Trying to establish why is a conundrum that perhaps only time will tell.
Manager Brian Laws is a man who knows from experience how intimidating a venue for opposition teams Glanford Park can be and how important results there are for the home side.
The Iron won 14 and 16 matches out of 23 respectively during the 1998-99 and 2004-05 campaigns when Laws oversaw his two promotions in charge of Scunthorpe.
He has his own theory on why results in front of their own fans have been nigh-on impossible to come by in recent times.
Struggle and fear, he says, have become habitual problems; negativity engrained in Glanford Park's confines.
He is not the first manager to try to drag Scunthorpe out the other side. If the Iron are to survive in League One, he must be the one that succeeds.
"Habit is the one word I can think of," says Laws, when asked for his take on why Glanford has become Glumford.
"It's been a habit the club have got into and it's not an easy thing to change.
"The easy thing from a manager's point of view, if you want to try to change it almost immediately, is to change your players. Otherwise it's not a quick fix, it's a slow process.
"Getting that first win under their belt will help and now the players are actually going into games and not feeling any fear.
"Part of that is down to the supporters. In the past the players have felt under pressure going onto the pitch and if they make a mistake the fans are jumping on them a bit quick.
"That pressure means they struggle to play to their capabilities.
"I think they've overcome that and I think the fans have stepped back from giving them criticism in favour of more support, which is appreciated 100 per cent from everybody.
"The fact the players are putting the performances in and that the fans are staying behind to clap them off suggests we're going in the right direction."
String together a series of results akin to that against Portsmouth and United's league position will do the same.
There is no doubt February remains a season-defining month for Scunthorpe. Only the weeks that go by will offer a conclusion to whether the fact four of their remaining five matches came at Glanford Park proved to be a good thing.
Victory against Pompey was the perfect start. The only one, really, for those who have forked out good money but seen little in return.
But it must be remembered that it is only a start.
The next three weeks throw up stiffer challenges, but winnable ones in equal measure.
Crawley Town, this weekend's visitors, have ambitions of the top six (despite having dropped to their lowest league position of the season), but have gleaned only two points more than Scunthorpe on their travels.
Richie Barker, the Red Devils' manager, was at Glanford Park to watch the Iron labour in midweek after his side's match at Sheffield United had been postponed.
"I'm delighted he was here, because he'll have learned nowt," quipped Laws after the game, making reference to the way in which the performance which produced victory had been poorer than many that had gone before.
After Crawley comes Carlisle, on Tuesday, a match which will celebrate 100 years of professional football and hopefully another home success.
Bottom club Hartlepool United follow, in, surely, another must-win affair, before unpredictable Stevenage visit.
Rome wasn't built in a day of course, so maximum returns from those four games remain unlikely – 'I'm not saying we're going to win all five' said Laws in advance of the Pompey game.
But 12 points would take United's tally for the season to 41, nine shy of the 50-point figure usually targeted for safety. A fantastic incentive.
Laws said the midweek success had taken 'a monkey off the back of the players'.
It will also have reminded them how to win at Glanford Park.
Understandably on Tuesday there were still audible groans of discontent greeting most misplaced passes or a wasted opportunity in front of goal.
Such has been the misery at home for Iron fans, the next mistake is expected rather than awaited.
But psychologically, for Scunthorpe if not their crowd, for whom doubt will remain, Portsmouth can be a big step in the club's season.
It has to be if they are to ensure they remain outside of the bottom four.