Scunthorpe United 4-0 Darlington (National League North)
I’ve been away in Crete on an all-inclusive family holiday which has meant football scouting has taken a well-deserved rest of late. Back home last Wednesday I was cricket scoring in Taunton for Somerset v Sussex on Friday before the wife buggering off to Ireland had me dog sitting over the weekend.
Back at it now though, a couple of matches into the new season missed already so with some catching up to do, tonight I’m covering Scunthorpe United v Darlington at Glanford Park. Two sides that have been fancied by the bookmakers as front runners for promotion in the National League North. Recently relegated Scunny have won one and drawn one in their first ever stint at the level, Darlo, no strangers to this league in their eighth successive season in the division, have had a poor start, losing both their games thus far.
My last visit to Scunthorpe was in February where I watched a women’s FA Cup game between Sheffield United and Nottingham Forest. Tonight I’m looking forward to my first viewing of the Iron since April 2011, when Alan Knill’s side took a tonking at the City Ground, losing 5-1 on the last day of the season where the Lincolnshire based side suffered relegation from the Championship.
It’s been downhill ever since as United have slowly slipped out of the Football League and having suffered back-to-back relegations they’ll now be hoping to pick themselves up off the sixth-tier floor.
Poor old Darlington have been on that floor a while now, a football league side themselves for all of ninety years, since the millennium they’ve flirted with extinction, three times in administration they’ve been homeless, nameless, expelled from the FA but they’re still here, still fighting, living to tell the tale and hoping that Manager Alun Armstong can guide them in the right direction.
The direction for me is East down the A52, A46 signposted Lincoln and look north, up the A15 and onto the M180, the sunshine is out and I’ve landed at the Gallagher Retail Park for 6:30pm, a quick stop off at KFC before entering the East Stand car park of Glanford Park.
I’m at the back of the Mortz Stand looking for my turnstile as I look up and notice a huge collage of some of Scunthorpe United’s finest moments emblazoned onto the wall.
The ground is tired but has character, low roofed, grey breeze blocks, painted entrances in claret and blue, I’m through the gate where a man on the door scans my ticket and almost immediately pitch side within seconds, walking along the perimeter by the raised playing surface I turn left through a gap where a steward points me the way, toilets on my right, kiosk on my left, a quick stop before ordering a cup of tea £2.50 cash, I’m back out touching the touchline with a sun kissed view of the stadium panorama.
It looks great in the sun, pitch perfect as it should be this time of year, sprinklers on, the low roofed bowl looks intimidating for the level, I’m standing here with sun in my eyes thinking Scunthorpe won’t drop many points here this season.
As I take my spot at the back of the stand, I’m joined by an old boy who’s hobbling slowly up the staircase with a walking stick and cap on. He has ties with Appleby Frodingham and has been coming here since the 60’s.
He tells me about the time they beat Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup, of watching a young Kevin Keegan strut his stuff, we discuss fondly the years of Billy Sharp and Gary Hooper, there’s also an honourable mention for Lord Ian Botham. “My dad trained him at Crowle FC” he says… “Never seen thighs like it”.
As the old boy is joined by a few of his friends I shuffle down a few seats, back row, level with the eighteen-yard box the sun is in my eyes and I can’t see anything as the two teams kick off.
There’s a couple of young kids with their dads sat in front of me, ears pierced wearing knocked off designer gear they look no older than 6 or 7.. Effing and jeffing at every given chance “the Referees a wanker” they continue to shout.
The noise is impeccable, great support from both teams with two sets of supporters in fine tune, 300 fans of Darlington are loud but 3,000 of Scunthorpe louder, it’s a good start as Scunny dominate possession but Darlo look dangerous on the counter-attack, Jacob Hazel finds space in the box and his shot is parried onto the post by Fitzsimons, it should be 0-1.
The away side actually have another chance ruled out for offside as Hazel hits the inside of the post to net before the flag is raised but Scunthorpe are the better team, dictating, probing, new signing from Kings Lynn is midfielder Michael Clunan, seven on his back, small in size, he picks the ball in pockets and hardly misplaces a pass. Home grown winger Cameron Wilson a real talent out right, he’s licensed to come in field and there’s fluidity about the Iron movement.
Another player I’m impressed with is striker Danny Whitehall, thick set, tall, good touch for a big man, it’s his effort which is deflected on 26 which gives the home side the lead.
By now the kids in front have buggered off for a piss and a burger, but they miss the games best moment as Whitehall curls home a beauty of a free kick on 42. 2-0 Scunny, I say at the break to the old boy “Darlo had their chances, but this game is done now”.
The second half starts with a huge rendition of ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ as the Scunny supporters packed into the Britcon Stand behind the goal find voice, other than the noise coming out of the stands it’s pretty flat though as the home team stand-off, allowing Darlington some belated possession, they fail to penetrate their opponents who have Max Kouogun and Will Evans looking tidy at centre half.
A few substitutes interrupt the little flow of football there is before Alfie Beestin finds space to further damage the Darlington season start. The away fans singing “how shit must you be, it’s only 3-0” as the home fans chant “we’re top of the league”.
As the ground slowly empties there’s time for one more in added time as substitute Dion Sembie-Ferris get’s his first Iron goal since moving from Peterborough Sports, aided by a deflection he’s a player I like for the level with pace he's direct, joining his old Manager Jimmy Dean who the fans seem to be most appreciative of.
With two goals, Danny Whitehall looks to me like a shoe in for the National League North top scorers trophy this season, he signed from Eastleigh where he scored twelve National League goals last season.
In fact, many of the Scunthorpe team have National League experience, goalkeeper Ross Fitzsimons played 35 games for the third best team in the division (Chesterfield) last season, defenders Will Evans and Max Kouogan joined from Boreham Wood and York City respectively, Kouogan in particular is a player I really like, Evans himself having spells at Newport, Chesterfield, Aldershot amongst others.
Like Evans, former Derby County midfielder Jacob Butterfield has experience of the football league, so too young Kian Scales with Bradford City and the mullet haired right back Reagan Ogle whilst at Accrington Stanley and prior to his move to Scunthorpe, Hartlepool United, he’s quick, game and is a throwback full back, looks like Ian Marshall, plays like Kevin Gage.
For Darlington it was tougher to tell who shone on a day where they the sun sparkled more than they did, Jacob Hazel was their menace in attack, pace, power, precision with natural finishing instinct, but could they get the ball to him? Not near enough?
Tommy Taylor perhaps the pick of the bunch, the goalkeeper athletically on occasion keeping the score down, it was a tough day for Alun Armstrong’s men, it could be a tough season, the manager might feel the pressure soon.
My pre-season pound was on Chester to win the league but having seen Scunthorpe play and taking note what they have signed in new talent I really think they could now walk the division at a canter, at home they’ll be a different level, I wonder away how they’ll get on? Rushall Olympic and their ‘plastic’ surface on Saturday next? If they can come through that, it might tell you a bit about the levels they are at.
For Darlington, it’s been a tough start to the season and one that might add a little pressure onto the Managers back. They’re too good to go down and will, eventually, get it right, but Brackley Town visit Blackwell Meadows on Saturday, lose that and it’s four defeats from four.
Scunthorpe United: Ross Fitzsimons, Reagan Ogle, Max Kouogun, Will Evans, Tyler Denton, Michael Clunan, Jacob Butterfield (Dion Sembie-Ferris 74), Kian Scales, Alfie Beestin, Cameron Wilson (Michael Kelly 83), Danny Whitehall (Danny Elliott 74).
Darlington: Tommy Taylor, Jordan Windass (Cameron Salkeld 65), Toby Lees, Jake Lawlor, Jassem Sukar, Jordan Mustoe, Tom Platt, Ben Liddle (Adriano Moke 63), Will Hatfield, Jacob Hazel (Mitchell Curry 72), Andrew Nelson.
7:45pm Kick Off. Tuesday 16th August 2023, Glanford Park, Scunthorpe (att 3,392)