Scunthorpe United 0-1 Tamworth (National League North)
Danny Whitehall has had a vodka liqueur named after him. Apparently, the Potions Cauldron have created a harmonious blend that tantalises the taste buds, saying "The vivid blue hue of Danny Boy is a visual feast, capturing the essence of Scunthorpe United's spirit and dynamism."
Scunny will need plenty of spirit and dynamism tonight as they take on league leaders Tamworth who sit a place and nine points above the Irons. Whitehall has 14 league goals this season but will start this one on the bench as in-form Danny Elliott gets the nod. Jimmy Dean’s squad is bulging with quality, but Andy Peaks' side are confident having dropped just two points in their last nine league games.
On Saturday they saw off Spennymoor in a professional manner at the Lamb, whilst Scunthorpe beat Peterborough Sports 1-0.
Tonight, I'm really excited! As big a game as you'll get in the National League North, and I'm off early, down the A46, going through Gainsborough and past Trinity's Northolme ground which has lights off and no one home. It's dark as the sun sets in the west, I'm heading up straight and boring Lincolnshire country roads before reaching Bottesford over the M180 and past signs for Silica Country Park ahead of turning left onto Doncaster Road and pulling in for Glanford Park by a retail mecca which has a huge sign for McDonalds in front of me.
I’ve pulled into the East Car Park and walked around the side of the metal structure, home of the irons, made of steel, located on the underwhelming and dimly lit Jack Brownsword Way.
Glanford Park has recently had its name changed to the ‘Attis Arena’ but it looks exactly the same as the last time I was here, no frills, nothing fancy, not one for your tourists, a working class home for fans of football to gather. I walk past the Iron Bar which is a club/community pub built at the back of the Britcon Stand already filling nicely as a girl with a cash bucket for donations ties her laces outside.
I’ve walked to reception where it’s quiet, a glass door past the club and officials’ entrance, where I’m told to head to door number one for my press & media accreditation. It’s very ‘backstage’ as I knock on a painted claret metal double door where I’m ‘eventually’ let in by a steward, showing me to my seat at the top row of the West Stand, the press area is unusual that it has a couple of seats with flip tables at the back of the stand which are in between where ‘upper echelon’ fans and hierarchy will sit.
Behind me is the wonderful Glanford Park Restaurant whose glass window looks onto the pitch, panoramic views with internals that smell of gravy, as I write the teams down I can feel my back burning with eyes looking at me through the panels, there’s plenty of people getting three star treatment in the restaurant, luckily during the game that glass window behind me will have its blinds closed.
There’s the odd ex-Scunny player here with BBC Radio Humberside sat to my right, the Tamworth radio guy arrives as I look around this bowl shaped venue that has a post in view to my left. Suddenly the Tamworth cameraman appears all hot and flustered. “Bloody nightmare getting in here” he says in a Brummy accent. “I’ve been knocking on that media door for ages”.
The cameraman is still setting up, he’s trying to balance his tripod which is too wide for the step we are sat on. By now there’s fans filling the stand we are in, sitting in front of us and between us, one old lady parks her handbag on a press table besides me, it’s all a little chaotic as the two teams come out, the stand to my left behind the goal is rammed and noisy with loud Scunny supporters, the one to my right has little under 300 Tamworth fans who themselves are in full voice.
Tamworth in white kick off as the PA plays Hi Ho Silver Lining by Jim Diamond. The fans are still chanting the chorus as the away side win a throw in and Tom Tonks chucks one in which is headed inches over. That would have been interesting had it gone in and interrupted the home backing’s vocals in full flow.
The game is frantic, full paced, a lot of pressing, not much passing, I’ve a feeling from the off this won’t end eleven a side, but it’s not dirty, just combative, two sets of players who are prepared to put their bodies on the line in battle for a classical 'six pointer', it ebbs and flows but not in a pretty way. Tamworth have moments, largely on the break, mostly through the pace of Ben Acquaye out wide, Scunny are also decent on their left where they get a bit of space, but they fail to really test Jas Singh in the Lambs goal. Danny Elliott is kept quiet as the home fans sing the name of Danny Whitehall who warms up on the touchline. They also sing ‘You Fat Bastard’ to Tamworth’s Liam Dolman. ‘Heard that one before’ says the cameraman beside me.
At half time it’s nil nil and although it’s been full bodied and entertaining it’s not a match for the purists, not many chances with both defences on top. By now the Tamworth cameraman has moved his tripod and buggered off for some chips, although he comes back empty handed saying 'the queues too big.'
I’ve a feeling that one goal will win this, which way I still don’t know but less than ten minutes into the second half a Tamworth player is running through, brought down by Tyler Denton on the edge of the area. Is it double whammy? Certainly a clear goalscoring opportunity and a rightful red card, but is it a pen? There’s a delay for some treatment to a Scunthorpe player, eventually the Ref gives a free kick, by now a flare has been set off in the away end, the home fans are irate, the away support is bouncing, the second half is well and truly bubbling, but with huge advantage in Tamworth's favour.
That red takes an even looking game and pushes the emphasis on the visitors and they begin to control proceedings with a little more time and space to play, they may have came here looking not to lose, but now they feel they can win, and eventually, it’s their usual suspect that nets arguably their most important goal of the season so far.
Dan Creaney has been kept relatively quiet. He may wear number 23 but he’s a number nine in the traditional making, he sniffs opportunity and very rarely moves from between the lines, a corner crossed in is half cleared before Ben Acquaye drills it back, a bit of ping pong in the area has the ball land at Creaney’s feet, slipping back he drills it low through a crowd, 0-1, the fans behind the goal go crazy.
Another red flare is let off as the home fans lay silent, the Cameraman next to me who’s been chirping all game is beside himself. He tells me “We might have to go full time if we go up. Problem is Creaney already has a good job”. I reply “It’s a nice decision he’ll have to make”.
With man and goal advantage the away team do hang on, a spirited late Scunthorpe response lies short of any answers, the closest they come is when a Tamworth defender trying to clear a low driven cross forces Singh to save to his left, although a desperate diving block by either Willetts or Cullinane-Liburd late on, it was hard to see midst the panic, both were magnificent throughout, denies Danny Whitehall what would have been a last minute leveller.
By the time the whistle is blown on minute 99. Many Scunthorpe fans have already left. The old woman besides me picking up her handbag and in wrongly thinking I'm Tamworth media says “Your lot are bloody cheats” before hastily rushing off to catch her bus.
It was a defences on top kind of night and the away side shone best when heading and kicking whatever came their way. Jordan Cullinane-Liburd and Jamie Willetts hardly putting a foot wrong in their centre back positions, in midfield Ben Milnes worked tirelessly with a touch of quality whilst Ben Acquaye on the left backed up a super performance on Saturday by being the outlet that Scunthorpe were most afraid of.
Acquaye is quick, technical, powerful, direct. Tamworth have a real blend of strength, pace, power, determination and above all, experience, with players who know the league, know the level, and know what it’s like to win titles.
Scunthorpe’s squad may ooze more class. They always looked on paper like the better team, for long parts the respect given to them was that they were the better team, but on the night they weren’t and over the season they haven’t been. Ross Fitzsimons in goal easily their best player on the night, which says a lot about the match and their performance. The former Chesterfield goalkeeper is better than this level, he’s brilliant with the ball at his feet and is a good shot stopper, there’s certainly worse goalies in league football than the 29-year-old.
Whilst defensively Max Kouogun and Will Evans did ok, Michael Clunan in midfield got around the pitch well, Alfie Beestin their cultured number eight didn’t have his best night, nor did Cameron Wilson or Kian Scales and neither did Elliott in attack who was eventually subbed for Whitehall.
Big, lean, powerful, you might have thought for Scunthorpe’s biggest match of the season so far they would and should have started with Whitehall in attack, they certainly looked a superior force going forward with him on the pitch. He and fellow substitute Dion Sembie-Ferris, recently recalled from a loan spell at his old club Peterborough Sports, he may not have settled in Scunthorpe yet, but he’s a player who threatens opposition defences. Maybe Jimmy Dean wanted to use them late on in a tight game and had planned to do so no matter the outcome, had they entered the field when 11v11 then things might have been different?
Tamworth now have the title in their grasp, it’s theirs to lose and yes, they’ll be thinking about taking potential steps to going full time and playing once again next season in the fifth tier of English football after this one.
For Scunthorpe, pre-season favourites and a side with a budget probably as twice as big as anyone else’s in the division, they need to get out of this league, because 5,000 plus on a Tuesday night in the sixth tier will soon drop to twos and threes if they don’t.
The Irons still have a chance, they should be best of the rest and in the playoff race they’ll be the team to beat, but you can’t help feel their championship credentials have suffered a major blow, and for anyone who knew anything about football, at the start of the season, that should never have been in doubt. They’ll be suffering knowing they’re only second best.
Scunthorpe United: Ross Fitzsimons, Reagan Ogle, Max Kouogun, Will Evans, Michael Clunan, Alfie Beestin (Danny Whitehall 66), Danny Elliott (Michael Kelly 56), Cameron Wilson (Dion Sembie-Ferris 74), Jacob Butterfield, Kian Scales, Tyler Denton.
Tamworth: Jas Singh, Matt Culley, Jordan Cullinane-Liburd, Jamie Willetts, Luke Fairlamb (Cameron Cockerill-Mollett 90), Tom Tonks (Lindon Meikle 80), Nathan Tshikuna (Ty Deacon 88), Ben Milnes, Kyle Finn, Dan Creaney, Ben Acquaye.
7:45pm Kick Off. Tuesday 30th January 2024, Glanford Park, Tamworth (att 5,277).