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Step up for Scunny

Why Whites need to up their standards for the visit of the league leaders

Northampton Town v Bolton Wanderers - Sky Bet League One Photo by Pete Norton/Getty Images

Boxing Day's lethargic win over a bad Shrewsbury side handed Wanderers their sixth consecutive home win: three more would beat Dougie Freedman's run of 8 in 2013. Currently averaging two points per game, it's looking like a push for promotion is very much on the cards. It's barely being spoken about, but it remains unsaid that Bolton should be aiming for the title come May.

However, the visit of Scunthorpe on New Years Eve is the biggest test of the season yet, and if we play like we did against Shrewsbury, we could well be disappointed come the final whistle. The second half of the match against The Shrews was, late penalty appeals aside, rather boring. I quite like boring, though. It indicates that can see a game out. We can be average and take three points.

Last year, we had to be at our very best in the hope of gaining a single point. Losing points from a winning position was the norm last season - this year has been very different, and all the more praise to Parky for building a resilient side under difficult financial circumstances. When we score first, we tend to win. And right now, we tend to score first.

What worries me is that we were far from good against a bad side in Shrewsbury. We managed to put in a very average first half performance, and walk in at half time 2-0 up. So far, so good. In the second half, we appeared disinterested in killing the game out by scoring a third. Vela saw very little of the ball, Ameobi was quiet throughout, Clough showed moments of promise that came to little, and Madine was Gary Madine. He works hard, but his link up play is erratic - his touch often lets him down, and he rarely has the speed of mind and foot to get in a position to finish the attack when the ball comes into the box.

His endeavour is undoubted, but he's struggling up there on his own. Shrewsbury got their goal in a brief period of second half pressure - the back four in uncharacteristic fashion allowing the cross to come in, and lacklustre marking meant Junior Brown scored the easiest of headers. Game on.

The Shrews certainly should have had a penalty just minutes later, Wanderers had the referee to thank for ignoring the linesman's flag for a handball. A lucky escape - we could easily have left the Macron with just a draw yesterday. What should have been a routine 3-0 victory ended up as a nervy 2-1 home win against a side we should be almost offended to play against.

The opposition fans, as many other small clubs before them this season (are you listening Bradford?), cracked out a rendition of "Premier League and you f***ed it up". They knew as well as us that Bolton shouldn't be in this division. It's our job to make sure we're not next season - to do so, we need to be putting teams like Shrewsbury to the sword. I don't want to see us holding the ball up and wasting time against a team of that quality again.

Scunthorpe are a different animal to those teams we have faced this season. Though they produced a surprising stalemate at Valley Parade on Boxing Day, The Iron are usually a free scoring outfit - Josh Morris has fourteen already, with Paddy Madden and Kevin Van Veen chipping in with seven each (as many as our current top scorer Zach Clough). In fact, take the goals of Morris, Madden and Van Veen together (28), and they fall just two goals short of Wanderers total goals all season (30).

On the positive side, Wanderers have by far the best defence in Sky Bet League One - conceding just 14 goals in 23 games. Morris might be scoring for fun, but he hasn't come up against the imperious partnership of Mark Beevers and David Wheater yet. This top of the table clash is the best front line coming up against the tightest defence, and whoever comes out on top will take a big step towards claiming top spot in May.

The Iron have occupied that position for some time this season without being able to break away from Wanderers and Sheffield United. It's safe to say that fans of Scunthorpe will be nervously looking over their shoulders at the two chasers who refuse to fall away. If we can continue our fantastic home form in our next game, Wanderers could well be top on New Years Day, depending on the result in the early kick off at Bramhall Lane between Sheffield United and Northampton.

What a thought - in just six months and 24 games of competitive football, we could well have gone from the bottom of one division to the top of another. Come on you Cobblers, and come on you Whites. Step up, and clinch top spot for 2017.