United goalkeeper Sam Slocombe will put this season in line with one of his best following an ever-present campaign which saw him keep over 20 clean sheets.The Iron shotstopper came into his sixth season at the club following a transfer from Bottesford Town as number one for the second successive season – looking to stake a claim for the shirt and keep it.
And that is exactly what the local-born shotstopper achieved, playing in every single competitive game that United played in over the course of the season.
“Playing every game in the season is a big thing for me,” Slocombe told the Iron's promotion book, speaking following the conclusion of the season.
“It’s been a big season to be honest. Last season was a big one in the sense that I was given the number one jersey and I had to try and keep it. There were some tough periods and there was a lot of pressure on me at the start of the season by the way we were playing. It put a lot of emphasis on me as a goalkeeper and I took a couple of knocks along the way with people coming in.”
He added: “This year, I had to make sure I was available for selection in every single game. You don’t want to be injured, you want to look after yourself and the next thing is to be doing well in the team.”
He also took on the role of Club Captain soon after Russ Wilcox took over as manager, with the goalkeeper deeming it as a great honour and something he didn’t expect when he was a supporter, playing for Bottesford Town.
“It’s been a proud thing for me to be honest,” he continued.
“I was really honoured to be asked when Mickey (Michael Collins) went out on loan and Daws (Andy Dawson) got injured. We’ve done well in that time and I’ve enjoyed it. It’s something that I’m quite interested in because when my career is up, I do want to go into management and coaching and I do think it is something you can learn from and stand you in good stead for the future.
“The last three years before this year, the club has endured some tough times. Almost staying up in the Championship was a bigger achievement than getting promoted to it in the first place. Within the Championship, other clubs strengthened massively and we couldn’t afford that. The second season there was difficult although we enjoyed it. The last two years have been dark times for the club and we’ve had a lot of change – some for the good, some for the bad.”
He added: “The fans haven’t had a lot to cheer about over that time. I think this year has been a big change to be honest – a big change in mentality, attitude and mood. That can change things massively and there’s a buzz around the ground and the squad and the winning feeling is so much better than losing.”
Slocombe kept 21 league clean sheets over the course of the season, adding that sum to all but one of Scunthorpe’s cup competition matches, keeping 24 clean sheets in total.
That was enough to claim the theoretical Golden Boot, with York City changing their goalkeepers half way through the season – despite keeping one more clean sheet than the Iron.
While it would be an individual accolade, the Iron’s number one was quick to commend the players around him with special recognition going to the two men immediately in front of him.
“Someone keeps telling me that they don’t do the award anymore,” he continued.
“It would be a great honour if there was some kind of accolade for that. I would really appreciate it and it would go right in the middle of the trophy cabinet. That’s not just me though; it’s testament to the lads in front of me, but I’ll hold special praise for Niall and Dave Mirfin. I think they should have got more recognition this year, especially from the Football League and the National Awards. Both of them came in on the back of a poorer season where there was a lot of chopping and changing.”
He added: “There was never really a settled partnership last year, but this year they’ve complimented each other so well and they’ve been outstanding in front of me.”
Many supporters may have been surprised not to see his name amongst the League’s Awards, with his penalty saving reputation going alongside his brilliant saves in open play. Of the seven spot kicks Scunthorpe United conceded, only one was scored with five spectacular saves pulled off by Slocombe (and one shot off target).
Slocombe even managed to go the right way in the one he did concede – against Chesterfield – failing to get enough of a touch to prevent the ball crossing the line.
He said: “I was a bit disappointed I didn’t save that one!”
“Give the lad his dues, it was a good penalty – and so were a few of them. It was one of those seasons where everything dropped right for us. It goes to show, we lost our first game in 29 and still get promoted.”
“You can go through seasons where you concede 10 penalties and save only one. It is a bit of a lottery. When you hold that stigma with yourself and have that kind of record, I would say there is more pressure on the opposition to score it, rather than me to save it. That has helped.”
He added: “If you look back through most of them, I’ve got quite a good record generally; not just this season. It’s just nice that we’ve only conceded seven penalties this season, not twelve.”
Whether it’s a lot of good homework or a lot of good luck, the Iron shotstopper divulged some insight to his work, picking out two individuals over the last two seasons and how he makes up his mind on which way to go.
He stated: “We played against the Cheltenham lad when he played for Shrewsbury a couple of years ago. He had gone the same way eleven out of his last twelve penalties. You have to look at the players throughout the game – how they address the ball and their run-up. You have to take into account their characteristics as well, like if you think they’re quite arrogant.
“One last year was Jose Baxter for Oldham. The game before us, he got a penalty and straight away dinked it down the middle. I thought he would dink it down the middle against us, but having done it the week before I didn’t think he would. But he did and that’s what I mean by that – he was self-confident and backed himself every time to beat you.”
Onto the season as a whole, Slocombe labelled it as his “most successful” season – arguing that you couldn’t not give it that labelling, despite featuring for the club in the Championship.
“You couldn’t say it wasn’t my best season,” he continued.
“I’ve got more than 20 clean sheets and we’ve got promoted at the end of it. We’ve played some very attractive football this season and we’ve also played some very ugly football at times, but we have got wins when we’ve needed them.
“We’ve also set a World Record for Russ. 28 games without defeat in any league is a great feat and I would put it down as my most successful season. There have been some very good times for me over the last few seasons where I’ve had some good games along with the bad times. That’s the same every year, but this year hopefully the good times have outweighed the bad times.”
Looking ahead to the summer and League One the local-born player, who also supports the club, believes the club will go from strength-to-strength in League One as they look to surge back through the leagues to where he feels they belong.
“There are a few places within the squad which need strengthening,” he declared.
“The team will do well itself, but there are some massive teams that are going to be within the league. You’ve seen from Rotherham and Bradford who went up from League Two last season that it is doable and it’s all about continuing the momentum from this season.
“It’s a little bit more demanding and there’s a little bit more football played, where in League Two it can get a little unorthodox at times. It will suit us. There are times when you have to scrap for the wins, but we want to play good football. If we can marry that with a good defence once again, we will do well in League One."
He added: “I’ve got no doubts we’ll do well and with the Chairman we’ve got and the ambition – we’re certainly on the up at the minute.”