O’Connor o.g. 30
A POSITIVE performance and result in the midweek Devon derby failed to prove the catalyst many hoped it would be, as United’s infuriating season took another step back.
The Gulls passed the ball nicely and created a few decent openings at Scunthorpe on Saturday, but the defending was slack at crucial times and the home side were in a ruthless mood.
The final score of 3-1 to the Iron was difficult to take but credit to the impressive Sam Winnall for starting the fun on just six minutes. An unfortunate own goal from Anthony O’Connor doubled United’s deficit at half-time.
Substitute Hakeeb Adelakun made the task impossible with a third Scunthorpe goal on the hour and a fine consolation from John Marquis could not mask a disappointing day.
United boss Alan Knill stuck with the same side that performed with impression energy and tempo in the draw with Plymouth.
However, there were two changes on the bench, with new signing Jayden Stockley replacing Ade Azeez, who has returned to Charlton after a loan spell. Billy Bodin was fit enough to take his place on the bench after knee trouble, bumping Courtney Cameron out of the squad.
Scunthorpe’s caretaker manager Russ Wilcox made two changes to the team that recorded an astonishing 4-0 success at Rochdale on Tuesday night. Eddie Nolan and Reuben Noble-Lazarus came in for Andy Dawson and Adelakun.
A match that carried extra significance for Knill, coming 13 months after he left the Scunthorpe hot-seat, started in bright fashion for the home team and United defender O’Connor was called upon to make two big tackles in the opening five minutes.
Unfortunately, it was merely delaying the inevitable, as right-back Christian Ribeiro surged down his wing and delivered the ball to Winnall, who finished in great style, lashing the ball into the top corner.
The Gulls were briefly stunned by the setback and many of the pre-match plans had now changed into a retrieval mission against a side in fabulous form. Confidence was flowing through Scunthorpe veins and the strike partnership of Winnall and the experienced Deon Burton was proving difficult
Gradually, however, United settled back into their rhythm and a couple of dangerous crosses from Nathan Craig had the Iron defence under pressure to clear. The Gulls were stringing some nice passing sequences together without really troubling the home side but still an encouraging response.
From nowhere, a raking pass by Jordan Chapell had Niall Canavan struggling to get proper distance on his header and the ball fell to Craig on the volley, but his first-time effort was wayward. The Welshman was then a foot wide with a decent free-kick struck from 22 yards.
United were now on top in the game and Scunny ‘keeper Sam Slocombe had to produce a fairly comfortable save after an ambitious strike from Chapell. Winnall then broke past Aaron Downes with impressive strength but Lee Mansell was covering for the Gulls.
The subsequent corner sadly spelled disaster for the Yellows, as a routine delivery bounced off O’Connor for a cruel own goal, Noble-Lazarus took the set-piece and the innocuous manner in which the goal materialised summed up all that is going wrong for the Gulls at present.
The only positive was more than an hour left on the clock to rescue a desperate situation and Marquis did have the ball in the net soon after the second goal, but the big striker was denied by an offside flag.
Marquis, who was working tirelessly in the vanguard, next exchanged passes with Elliot Benyon and fizzed a left-foot drive inches wide. However, referee Steve Rushton had blown for a foul on Benyon and Craig hit the angle of post and bar with a stunning free-kick.
Good luck simply refused to land in Yellow laps and despite dominating possession for long periods, United were unable to force a crucial goal to change the pattern, and mood, before half-time.
On the contrary, Scunthorpe almost added the third that would have killed the game and it all came from an extravagant piece of skill by big centre-back David Mirfin, but David Syers fired over from the eventual shot.
Any hope of turning their afternoon around relied on United resisting the Scunthorpe attack and Martin Rice was soon called into action in that quest, saving superbly to thwart the dangerous Syers.
Yet another Craig free-kick had Slocombe diving full-length to muster a terrific block on 53 minutes and Wilcox responded by withdrawing Noble-Lazarus and Sean McAllister for the fresh legs of Adelakun and Michael Collins.
A clever run from Burton then had United retreating furiously and Rice came rushing off his line to dish out a very robust challenge, and the Yellow custodian was fortunate to escape punishment. Scunthorpe wasted no energy complaining, as Dale Tonge escaped a second own goal after his hurried clearance.
The home crowd did not have to wait long for more celebrations, as Winnall turned beautifully to engineer the space for Adelakun to smash an unstoppable finish past the hopelessly exposed Rice.
Knill immediately turned to his bench, handing a debut to Stockley as a replacement for Benyon but it was looking a lost cause for the Gulls, as Scunthorpe continued to surge forward in search of more pain for their hapless visitors.
The afternoon had become a procession for the Iron and the more United toiled the more threatening Scunthorpe looked in attacking areas, with Nolan going close after bombing forward from left-back.
Wilcox had the luxury of removing Burton for James Spencer for the final 15 minutes but a fantastic goal from Marquis suddenly had the Yellow Army cheering in hope. The ball was drilled into the loan striker, who swivelled in style before thundering an excellent finish past Slocombe.
If there was any chance of a miracle in North Lincolnshire, United needed to score again very quickly and Scunthorpe, sensing the danger, improved their tempo and gave the Gulls no time to settle on the ball.
As United threw numbers forward, Spencer found extra space but could only fire over from a good position. Frustratingly, the Gulls were unable to conjure another chance and the long drive home would be absent of Yellow smiles.
Scunthorpe [4-4-2]: 1 Sam Slocombe; 2 Christian Ribeiro, 5 David Mirfin, 6 Niall Canavan, 18 Eddie Nolan; 14 Terry Hawkridge, 4 Sean McCallister [19 Michael Collins 55], 24 David Syers, 27 Reuben Noble-Lazarus [16 Hakeeb Adelakun 55], 8 Deon Burton [28 James Spencer 75], 27 Sam Winnall.
Substitutes [not used]: 9 Chris Iwelumo, 13 James Severn [GK], 15 Luke Waterfall, 30 Marcus Williams.
United [4-4-2]: 13 Martin Rice; 2 Dale Tonge, 29 Anthony O’Connor, 4 Aaron Downes, 21 Thomas Cruise; 20 Nathan Craig, 7 Lee Mansell [capt], 36 Damien Mozika, 12 Jordan Chapell; 16 John Marquis, 26 Elliot Benyon [19 Jayden Stockley 63]. Substitutes [not used]: 1 Michael Poke 5 Krystian Pearce, 9 Karl Hawley, 10 Billy Bodin, 17 Jak McCourt, 19 Jayden Stockley, 31 Daniel Sullivan.
Referee: Steve Rushton