Iron defender David Mirfin knows his side faces a series of stern challenges as they seek to complete a return to League One at the first time of asking.With a dozen matches of the regular season remaining, the Iron sit four points ahead of fourth-placed Burton having occupied an automatic promotion position since late December.
They are also just two points behind leaders Chesterfield, with the top end of the division bunching up in recent weeks as a number of struggle to maintain consistent form.
Next up for United is the visit of lowly Northampton Town to Glanford Park on Saturday, and Mirfin told The Iron Player: “It’s a bit of a cliché, but I think every game is going to be tough between now and the end of the season.
“If you’re not playing against a team that wants to get promoted then you’re playing teams who want to stay in the league, so it will be a tough game.”
Despite currently lying four points from safety, the Cobblers have improved immeasurably in the last few weeks under the guidance of new manager Chris Wilder – picking up an impressive 10 points from their last five outings.
That ensures a tricky proposition for the Iron, and Mirfin added: “They are probably one of the form teams at the moment, and that’s perhaps credit to the new manager.
“I think they got quite a few players in January, and in the loan market afterwards, so they have people determined to get contracts for next season and to keep Northampton in the league. It gives them a lot to play for, and that’s what makes teams like them dangerous.”
The remarkable turnaround under Wilder has prompted hopes of a miraculous escape for a Town side who seemed destine for the drop, and Mirfin said: “It’s hard to put a finger on one thing [that Wilder has changed].
“It’s like with Russ [Wilcox] here, it’s probably not been one massive thing but a number of little things that maybe go unnoticed outside of the team. He’s probably made them realise they need to stay in the league.
“If you get relegated out of this league it’s into non-league football. That’s a massive step which players in the team won’t want to take.”
The unpredictable nature of the league was also demonstrated perfectly on Monday night, when Portsmouth drew away to high-flying Chesterfield having been comprehensively beaten by United just 10 days earlier.
Mirfin hopes such results will keep the Iron focussed going into the weekend, and the 28-year-old added: “You can’t underestimate any team. There are no bankers in games.
“Our fans, and probably some people from outside the club, will perhaps be looking at it as an easy home win on Saturday, but that definitely won’t be the case. They [Northampton] will want to come here and upset the title contenders to help get out of the predicament they are in.
“Obviously it’s good if other teams are dropping points while we are drawing, but the biggest thing is the gap between us and fourth.”
While those draws may have caused frustration for some, it has also seen United stretch their unbeaten run to 18 matches – a sequence which began with a 2-1 win away to Portsmouth in Wilcox’s first game in charge back in November.
That means avoiding defeat on Saturday will see the Iron match the club-record run of 19 consecutive games unbeaten which was set as Nigel Adkins’ side stormed to the League One title during the 2006/2007 season.
Such records matter little if the Iron don’t meet their pre-season aims however, as Mirfin explained: “It’s something that – if we achieve our goal of promotion – the players will talk about more, but it’s almost irrelevant at the moment.
“We would give up some draws for losses if other draws turned into wins, but obviously it’s something to be proud of to go 18 games unbeaten. To do that in any league is a special achievement, especially compared to the last two or three years.
“If we can equal it on Saturday, then brilliant. If not, it will be disappointing because we won’t have picked any points up from the game. It’s been mentioned a lot by the fans, but has honestly been mentioned very rarely in the changing room.”
See much more from David Mirfin, Niall Canavan, Sam Slocombe and Russ Wilcox on The Iron Player.