Iron defensive pair Niall Canavan and David Mirfin believe securing promotion is a fitting end to a historic campaignIt was one which saw a number of club, domestic, and international records broken by the team.
Following relegation from League One last season, United bounced back at the first attempt in style as they sealed automatic promotion with a game to spare despite falling to a rare defeat away to Exeter City in their penultimate match of the season.
The campaign had begun somewhat steadily for the Iron before they motored into form under the guidance of the newly-appointed Russ Wilcox from November onwards, and Canavan told the Iron's promotion book: “At different times we probably thought it might be a push too far, but towards the latter end we believed we were good enough to be in that top three.
“The run we went on was good. We picked up a lot of points, and deserved to get over the line which was our main aim at the start of the season.
“I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it, and hopefully I’ve got a few more to come in my career.”
Those sentiments were echoed by 29-year-old Mirfin, who added: “Something might get made of the points we’ve dropped in the final minutes of games, but I think we’ve been consistently good this season.
“We’ve always said if you can be consistent in this league you’re going to get promoted, and that’s what we’ve done. I’ll look back on the whole season with positive memories.”
Experiencing the joy of promotion isn’t a new feeling for Mirfin, who helped guide the Iron to Wembley success during the 2008/2009 season, but the Sheffield-born defender admitted: “To have done it automatically probably makes it the top one as the previous ones I’ve had have both been through the play-offs.
“To go a whole season and just miss out on automatic promotion, then having to mentally and physically prepare yourself for the play-offs is daunting, so to get it done and dusted before the last game of the season puts it up there.”
The achievement also takes on special significance for 23-year-old academy graduate Canavan, who added: “I’ve got a longer association with the club than most, and it’s nice to give something back.
“When you’ve been through those tough times, you always hope there will be something good coming up. Thankfully, we’ve got a group together that have been able to achieve that.”
Promotion was made possible by an incredible unbeaten run of 28 games from November to April, with defensive resilience a prominent feature in that sequence as the Iron racked up over 20 clean sheets throughout the league season.
Such a record was naturally welcomed by the duo, and Mirfin explained: “That’s probably one of the biggest things that needed to change from the last couple of years; being more defensively sound.
“From day one, the lads in front of the back four have worked their socks off. They’ve restricted the opposition in our half, which increases the chance of getting clean sheets.
“I said during the unbeaten run it would only become important and memorable if we achieved it alongside promotion, so to have something in the record books like that now is something you’re proud to be part of.”
A significant factor in the solidarity of the pairing was their familiarity with each other, having both been near ever-presents in the United back-line this term, and Canavan said: “I’ve been playing with Mirf for a long time, and we’ve seen the benefit of that this season.
“We get on well off the pitch too, which always helps. We’re both quite relaxed guys, and know how to deal with each other; we deal with most things the same way, so it helps being quite like-minded.
“The top teams rarely change your back four, and that plays a key role as you don’t want to break up relationships if they are working well.”
The bond between the pair is underlined by a friendly rivalry which has seen them go head-to-head in pursuit of goals; Canavan edging out his defensive partner with four strikes to Mirfin’s two over the course of the campaign.
However, the latter can lay claim to arguably one of the most crucial goals of the Iron’s season courtesy of his late winner in the 3-2 win at Accrington Stanley in February.
That goal saw United complete a stunning turnaround in Lancashire having trailed 2-0 at the interval to end a run of five successive draws, but Mirfin said: “Every player who’s scored this season can say their goal was equally important, and I’d agree.
“My goal wouldn’t mean anything if the lads hadn’t been scoring winners in other games, although it was obviously nice scoring the winner in the last minute from 2-0 down.
“I wanted a couple more to take the pressure off the lads up-front, as they’ve helped us keep clean sheets, so we’re probably both disappointed with the number of goals we’ve got this year.”
The promotion success marks a stark contrast to the doom and gloom of recent seasons, and Mirfin added: “I’ve enjoyed this year immensely. It’s been the best season on the field for the last two or three now.
“After the last three or four years, a lot of fans probably would have taken a season of stability. The club probably needed to drop down, and to take a step back, in order to move forward again.
“To get promotion is a credit to the lads, and something we can build on with momentum now. Hopefully it’s a turn of fortune for the club.”