Iron midfielder Dave Syers admitted it was a ‘relief’ to secure promotion to League One on Saturday despite a 2-0 reverse against Exeter City at St James’ Park.Having fallen to their first defeat in 29 games – and their first under manager Russ Wilcox – United faced a nervous wait at the final whistle as they were left counting on results elsewhere to seal the deal.
They were to be rewarded for their season-long exploits when news gradually filtered through that chasing Fleetwood Town had been held to a solitary point by Southend United however; that result enough to confirm the Iron’s place in the top three with a game to spare.
United had gone into the weekend with a five point cushion over the Cod Army, and Syers told The Iron Player: “It’s a bit of a relief really after the past couple of weeks, and obviously how much we’ve been talking about it.
“It’s been the aim for the last 28 games, and for all season really. To finally do it takes a weight off your shoulders and is a really good feeling.
“There’s nothing massive planned [for the coach journey home]. Obviously a few of the lads will be driving when we get back, so we won’t be doing anything silly.
“A lot of the feeling is just having a weight off our shoulders, because this has been building up for so long now. We’ll definitely celebrate properly in the next couple of weeks.”
The Iron’s automatic promotion marks a second in consecutive years for Syers himself, after he formed part of the Doncaster Rovers squad that lifted the 2012/2013 League One title.
Having fallen out of favour at Rovers, the midfielder linked up with United on an initial short-term deal back in October before completing a permanent move in January, and added: “Getting back-to-back promotions is very special for me.
“Obviously we’re disappointed with the game today, but the great thing is it doesn’t matter anymore. That’s football at the end of the day, and great credit to Exeter who outplayed us today.
“We didn’t the things that we’ve done so well for 28 games, and didn’t get a result out of it. It could have left us in a vulnerable position but thankfully we’re up and that’s the bottom line.”
There was a sense of irony that United confirmed promotion off the back of a defeat, having smashed a series of club and Football League records as they put together a mammoth unbeaten sequence which gradually carried them up the table.
The fact the Iron could afford to lose in Devon but still clinch promotion is testament to their application over the course of the campaign, and Syers admitted: “Ideally it would have been Monday, but the Morecambe result took that chance away.
“The good thing was we knew it was in our hands coming down here [to Exeter] and we didn’t need to rely on other people if we got the result we wanted. As it turned out we did rely on other people but it would have been a massive task for the other teams to win everything.
“From our point of view it’s well-earned; off the back of really hard work especially during the last four or five months.”
Attempting to explain what went wrong against the Grecians, Syers added: “We haven’t played well every game over the 28 [unbeaten] but have worked hard on the opposition winning first and second balls.
“The horrible stuff about football we’ve done very well, and I think at the end of the day we were a bit lethargic. We didn’t win those [50-50s], and credit to Exeter.
“Teams fighting down the bottom are just as hard to play as those at the top, and they were extremely up for this game. They had a great game-plan, and pulled it off by being in control for most of the game.
“On the flip-side, I think we started the second half well but it was a sucker-punch with the second goal and then I’m really informed from our analyst my finish wasn’t offside in the end. Football can be that simple really.”
United have made something of a habit of taking crucial wins from tight contests, and the 26-year-old admitted: “We knew if we stayed in the game, even though we weren’t playing well, we might be able to get something.
“Last weekend Exeter were 1-0 up against Torquay at home and lost 2-1, so when you’re confidence is low because you’re struggling at the bottom the first goal can really take the stuffing out of you. That’s what we hoped, but it never quite happened for us.
“At the end of the day, they were full value for the win. Obviously it didn’t work out for us today, but more often than not it has over those 28 games, so it happens in football.”
The Iron were backed by over 600 loyal fans who had made the gruelling 560-mile round-trip from Scunthorpe to Exeter; support which has been a regular feature on United’s travels throughout the campaign.
Such factors have undoubtedly played their part in the Iron’s success, and Syers said: “It was superb, and you can’t say enough good things really especially with no roof on the stand!
“You expect to come to the south coast for an end-of-season game in shorts and t-shirts, but it’s absolutely freezing and everyone got soaked to the skin. At the end of the day I think every single one of them is fine with that, as long as we got promoted.
“I’m glad it happened for them down here, as it’s a great shift for them and a lot of them will be staying down here to enjoy it over the weekend. We can go back to Glanford Park on Saturday and have a real party with all the home fans as well, and hopefully get a good result to win the league.”
The defeat against the Grecians means United now go into their final-day meeting with York City knowing in all likelihood they need to win to have any chance of completing the season with silverware in the form of the League Two title.
Rochdale’s win against Cheltenham took them back to the summit of the table, with the Spotland outfit due to travel to Newport County next weekend.
The title remains a serious target for Syers and his side, and he added: “As we’ve said all along, the first port of call was promotion. That was the aim.
“We didn’t want to look too far ahead, and we’ve achieved that now. Obviously Rochdale winning takes them ahead of us, but they’ve got a tough away game next week.
“All we can do is get three points and see what happens.”
See much more Dave Syers, Matt Sparrow and Russ Wilcox on The Iron Player.