Uncertainty part of Scunthorpe United problems but it's tough to tackle
Scunthorpe United are without a win in four games and are under the leadership of a chairman still searching for new investment and a suitable successor, which means the situation is growing ever more precarious, WRITES SPORTS EDITOR CHRIS SUMPTER.
How has a club that so proudly punched above its weight as little as three years ago become one about which so many in Scunthorpe now show little more than apathy?
There is no definitive, 'right' answer. More a combination of equations which add up to the current climate.
A cloud hangs over Glanford Park. It is evident in players, who speak of positivity, but are unable to turn that into consistent performances, and has been acknowledged by chairman Steve Wharton.
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Such a situation is understandable in this time of cost-cutting and soul-searching.
Interest in the Iron is at its lowest for eight years – the alarming 2,768 attendance for the League One clash with Tranmere Rovers a fortnight ago glaringly highlights such a fact.
At its highest is uncertainty, stemming from the chairman's decision to go public with his desire to sell-up and allow younger and new blood on to the board.
Wharton acknowledges such a situation is indigenous to the Iron's problems.
The big worry is that the longer such doubt remains, the vicious circle expands.
Optimism at a club that practiced nothing but positivity under the reign of Nigel Adkins, is now in sharply short supply.
Now is not the time for supporters to turn their back on the club, though in direct correlation, how can anyone be blamed for not wanting to part with hard-earned cash when what is on offer is not perceived to be value for money?
For whatever reason, and for each individual there will be a differing view, following the Iron has become a chore.
There is the argument that United have, traditionally, been a fourth division club. That success for so many years was striving for a coveted place in the Division Four, Division Three, League Two – however it may have been branded – play-offs.
That though, no longer washes.
The Championship years as they can proudly be labelled, with chest-puffing bullishness, were brilliant to be a part of.
They were also proof of what can be achieved on a modest budget if the right factions are in place.
Yes, the financial climate is tougher than most, fans understand that, but expectancy among the sensible members of the terraces is no higher than it has ever been.
To quote a mantra of Nigel Adkins, most simply want the Iron to be the best they can be.
Few see that as the Championship. Even fewer see it though as battling relegation in League One.
Without doubt, Scunthorpe are better than their present position.
Individually, if not collectively, they have rarely been paired up against players of noticeably more ability. That includes games against top two Tranmere Rovers, who, for 45 minutes, were made to look as average as any side United have tackled this term, and Stevenage.
Something though, be it confidence, motivation, or naivety, is evidently holding them back.
The unavailability of Paul Reid and Damien Mozika, two thirds of the likely spine of the team, cannot be understated. So faith must be maintained at least until both have returned to fitness.
Alan Knill maintains his desire to play a certain brand of football. It has delivered plenty of possession, at times even performances, but rarely has it been backed up by results.
It is easy to read into the manager's comments that United produce the goods on the training pitch, only to make costly mistakes when they take to the field on a matchday.
But Saturday's fightback against Brentford did not have the hallmarks of a group of players not playing for their manager. Neither did the rugged resistance shown by every man on the field at Shrewsbury, when United ground out one of only two league wins this term.
Indeed, only this week, Jimmy Ryan spoke out in support of his manager.
"It's difficult for any manager when the team is not doing as well as they, the club and the fans want," he told the Telegraph.
"He's never turned to us and said he's having a difficult time, but we're not as happy as we should be because we all want to be in the top half of the table.
"He's doing everything he can to get us right and we're trying our best to do what he wants us to do. Hopefully it will be enough for him.
"As a dressing room, we're all behind him. He's a nice fella and we want to do well for him.
"But no-one is getting too down because there's still a lot of football to be played."
For Knill, patience is a necessary virtue, as a team that witnessed wholesale changes in the summer becomes accustomed with one another.
"I'm confident (we'll improve) because I work with the players every day. I see their qualities," he assessed.
"I realise, probably more than everybody else, what it takes – it takes time and patience and commitment and molding.
"It doesn't come together straight away, even though we all want it to.
"It takes hard work to put the things that are stopping us right, but the good thing is, the players are definitely committed to trying their best to do that.
"That's what fills me with a belief that come the end of the season we'll be better than we were last year and stronger, and also in a stronger position to move forward, which is most important."
It remains to be seen whether fans will grant the Iron boss – who accepts that time is a precious commodity in a game where ruthlessness so often rules – his wish.
Calls for his head were few and far between at Glanford Park last week – potentially because the perpetrators are instead now shouting with their feet.
But for the moment at least, the man who matters has faith in the manager.
As claimed by the chairman this week, how to 'stop the fall' is the biggest question currently being asked by those in positions of power at Glanford Park.
Only time will tell whether they came up with the right answers.