Winnall pen 30
A TALE of two penalties and more hard luck condemned United to another 1-0 loss and the fight for survival now needs something truly extraordinary.
The Gulls played the more purposeful football against promotion-chasing Scunthorpe and were incredibly unfortunate to go behind when Sam Winnall converted an excellent spot-kick on 30 minutes.
The chance to equalise arrived on the stroke of half-time but Dale Tonge’s penalty was painfully weak, and a miserable day was completed when Jayden Stockley was sent off in the final minute.
After the 1-0 loss at Southend last weekend, a third successive reverse by the same score-line, United manager Chris Hargreaves decided the time was right to freshen up his side, and it was a bold move.
The experienced duo of Aaron Downes and Kevin Nicholson were left out of the squad, allowing a return to left-back for Thomas Cruise. Anthony O’Connor moved over from right-back to his preferred central position, opening the door for Tonge to earn a recall.
There was also no space in the 18 for Ben Harding, who lost his midfield berth to Damon Lathrope. New loan signing Shaquile Coulthirst started ahead of Stockley and the Yellow bench saw a return to fitness after two months out for Shaun Cooper, who was still waiting for his United debut.
Scunthorpe boss Russ Wilcox made three changes to the side held by Wycombe last weekend. Paul Hayes, Michael Collins and Matthew Sparrow came into a side looking to extend their unbeaten run to 25 games, with Terry Hawkridge, Gary McSheffrey and Sean McAllister the trio to miss out.
The talk all week had been about United starting brightly and putting the Iron under pressure. Coulthirst duly delivered by winning a corner in the first minute and Courtney Cameron’s delivery found Karl Hawley at the near-post, who forced Sam Slocombe into tipping over his own bar.
United were in rampant mood and hesitancy from Scunthorpe right-back Eddie Nolan was enough for Cameron to steal the ball, skip past David Mirfin and clip a cross-shot over Slocombe, who was mightily relieved to see the bar rescue his side.
The Gulls were snapping into tackles and looking to get the ball forward at every opportunity, particularly with the sharp Coulthirst roaming the right channel in a clear ploy from Hargreaves and his coaching staff.
Scunthorpe, for their part, looked resolute at the back but lacked any real threat in attacking areas, and United can rightly claim the opening 20 minutes had been a mild moral victory for the home side.
The silky skills and blatant confidence of Coulthirst had Plainmoor purring with satisfaction after a run down the wing left full-back Marcus Williams with twisted blood. The final outcome was a free-kick on the edge of the area for a foul on Bodin, but Cameron whipped the shot well over.
The winger’s next effort carried a lot more menace, as Hawley forced Mirfin into a half-clearance and Cameron took a touch before fizzing a low shot beyond the far post. United were well on top but, as has been said so many times this year, dominance had to be reflected in goals.
Scunthorpe then won the decisive penalty to completely change the course of proceedings. United lost the ball in midfield and it was fed wide to Hayes, who delivered to Sparrow and Krystian Pearce was tempted into a lunge at the ball.
Referee Michael Bull took a moment to clear his mind before pointing to the spot and Winnall stroked an excellent penalty inside the corner, beyond the despairing left hand of Martin Rice.
It had become a massive test of character for United, as the Yellows looked to bury the disappointment of conceding against the run of play.
Much to their credit, the Gulls continued piling forward and Coulthirst saw an ambitious turn and shot from his left side fly narrowly wide. The lively Cameron then cut inside for a right-foot shot well blocked by the visiting defence.
In a crazy reversal of fortune, Winnall then conceded a penalty to United for a push on Pearce, who was launching himself at a deep corner from Cameron. Tonge was the surprise choice to take the spot-kick and his low effort lacked pace, allowing Slocombe to save with his left hand.
Half-time was all about rousing the troops from yet another unrewarded 45 minutes of effort and endeavour. Scunthorpe, meanwhile, introduced the pace of Hakeeb Adelakun for Collins.
The Gulls started the second period with impressive enthusiasm, surging forward down both wings and only a dodgy final ball from Cameron and then Bodin prevented the hardworking Hawley from having a sniff at goal.
United almost gifted the game to Scunthorpe from the next attack, as a sloppy flick from Bodin allowed Hayes room to pick out Adelakun at the far post, and the substitute’s low drive only missed the bottom corner by a whisker.
There was understandable urgency in everything United could muster and Scunthrope were forced into defending for their lives in the face of a barrage of crosses from the Gulls. At the other end, Adelakun again showed his danger with a fierce shot that required a decent low save from Rice.
Hawley typified the defiance in Yellow ranks on 63 minutes, muscling his way past three Iron defender before pinging the ball to Coulthirst on the right. A jink inside allowed the youngster to shoot but the ricochet off Niall Canavan spun infuriatingly clear of the onrushing United midfield.
It would sadly be the last action for Hawley, who looked to suffer a serious arm injury after falling heavily in a challenge with Mirfin. It was clearly a serious problem for the experienced forward and he was hastily replaced by Elliot Benyon. Cameron also came off for Stockley in the same sequence of events.
Scunthorpe turned to Hawkridge as a replacement for Hayes but it was Stockley making the first impression, flashing over an excellent free-kick that needed a strong hand from Slocombe to turn it over.
As the final 10 minutes approached, United’s tempo had finally dropped after so much hard work and the final roll of the Yellow dice was to withdraw Coulthirst for Ashley Yeoman. Deon Burton replaced Winnall for Scunthorpe.
Plainmoor was crying out for a miracle, something to go our way but, once again, this was not the day and the trapdoor is sadly wide open. The gloom merely deepened in the final seconds, as Stockley was shown a straight red for leading with his arm in a challenge with Mirfin.
United [4-4-2]: 13 Martin Rice; 2 Dale Tonge, 5 Krystian Pearce, 29 Anthony O’Connor, 21 Thomas Cruise; 10 Billy Bodin, 7 Lee Mansell [capt], 6 Damon Lathrope, 11 Courtney Cameron (19 Jayden Stockley 70); 9 Karl Hawley (26 Elliot Benyon 70), 27 Shaquile Coulthirst (14 Ashley Yeoman 85). Substitutes [not used]: 1 Michael Poke [GK], 16 Shaun Cooper, 20 Nathan Craig, 23 Danny Stevens.
Booked: Benyon 81
Sent off: Stockley 90
Scunthorpe [4-4-2]: 1 Sam Slocombe [capt]; 18 Eddie Nolan, 6 Niall Canavan, 5 David Mirfin, 30 Marcus Williams; 7 Matthew Sparrow, 19 Michael Collins (16 Hakeeb Adelakun H-T), 24 David Syers, 39 Paul Hayes (14 Terry Hawkridge 72); 27 Paddy Madden, 29 Sam Winnall (8 Deon Burton 87). Substitutes [not used]: 2 Christian Ribeiro, 13 James Severn [GK], 15 Luke Waterfall, 26 James Alabi.
Referee: Michael Bull
Attendance:2,234 (261 away)