The Iron continued their gradual climb up the Sky Bet League Two table, moving into the play-off positions with a 2-0 victory over Cheltenham Town at Glanford Park.
A first-half strike from Etienne Esajas and an 89th minute clincher from Sam Winnall proved enough to make it six league games without defeat for the Iron, despite the home side being on the back-foot for long periods of the second-half.
The result also marks a run of eight league matches at Glanford Park without defeat – the club’s best run of home form since going 15 games undefeated betweenDecember 2006 and September 2007 in a sequence which proved pivotal to clinching the 2006/2007 League One title.
Manager Brian Laws made three changes from the side which drew at Burton Albion last Saturday, with newly-signed midfielder David Syers the most surprising selection having joined on a one-month loan deal from Doncaster Rovers last night – with the move being announced to the media just 90 minutes before kick-off.
A less unexpected change saw Cliff Byrne replace the injured Eddie Nolan at right-back, with Syers accommodated in central midfield by Terry Hawkridge dropping to the bench and Matt Sparrow relocating to a position on the right-hand side. The final alteration to last week’s line-up saw Winnall’s place in attack taken by Jimmy Spencer, after the on-loan front-man’s impressive cameo off the bench against Burton Albion earned him his first league start for the club against his former employers.
The away side got the game underway, kicking from right to left after a delayed kick-off as a result of a kit clash, and threatened first when good work from Terry Gornell in the penalty-area caused concern for the Iron defence in the third minute of what was initially a quiet start to proceedings.
Despite starting slowly, the Iron would not have long to mount a meaningful attack of their own – and they capitalised fully on the opportunity by taking the lead as Esajassmashed home a sweetly-struck left-footed effort from the edge of the area in the sixth minute. A delicately clipped ball into the area from stalwart Cliff Byrne on the right was chested down by Deon Burton, dummied by Spencer, and Esajas was on hand to strike the ball first time past Scott Brown on the half-volley.
It was Esajas again who almost doubled the Iron’s lead six minutes later, firing just over having been found following determined work to keep the ball in play on the by-line by Burton.
Encouraged by the freedom they were beginning to find in the Cheltenham final-third, the Iron pressed high up the pitch, and Spencer was next to go close as he latched onto a defensive error before sending a dipping volley narrowly over.
In the 19th minute, referee Darren Bond issued the first yellow card of the afternoon, with David Noble going in the book for a late tackle on Andy Dawson. From the resultant free-kick, the home side manoeuvred the ball up-field, eventually working it to Syers with the debutant sending a skidding shot past the right-hand post of Cheltenham goalkeeper Brown – who was making his 250th start for the club.
As the game moved towards the half-hour mark, further excellent hold-up play from Burton gave Sean McAllister the space to pick out Spencer on the right with a lofted pass over the last defender.
Spencer returned the ball across the penalty-area to the unmarked Burton at the back-post, but the striker sliced his volley harmlessly wide. Minutes later, Spencer again was left in acres of space in the penalty-area, but could only fire wide having picked up Sparrow’s defence-splitting pass.
With 31 minutes gone, the visitors forced a succession of corners, with the Iron defence struggling to deal with the pin-point left-footed delivery of Matt Richards as the Robins gradually began to work their way back into the game with the hosts becoming increasingly sloppy in possession.
That sloppiness was presenting opportunities for the away side, and Byron Harrison nearly capitalised on defensive indecision by seizing the ball from David Mirfinin the penalty-area in the 38th minute and rounding Sam Slocombe. The Iron stopper did well to force Harrison wide, and it was only a lack of support from the Robins attack which prevented them from levelling as Harrison’s cut-back was eventually cleared by the United defence.
On 40 minutes the lively Esajas once again adopted his ‘shoot on sight’ policy, cutting inside before driving a low effort at Brown. Soon after, the Iron forced their first corner of the match, with Mirfin’s back-post knock-back almost giving Spencer a sight of goal – but his route to goal was blocked by a resolute Robins defence, and his hopeful hooked effort was easily gathered by Brown.
As the game moved into two minutes of added time, Syers found space on the edge of the penalty-area, danced his way around two players, but lacked composure as he blasted over. The Robins attempted to profit from the missed opportunity, and were soon back on the front-foot as Jason Taylor crashed a 30-yard drive wide in the last meaningful action of an action-packed first-half with the Iron taking a deserved advantage into the interval.
The Iron started the second-half with intent, as a swirling cross from Esajas in the 49th minute was headed over by Syers, and minutes later the Dutchman made another weaving run before sending in another dangerous ball which was claimed by Brown.
The away side responded by making the first substitution of the match, bringing on veteran marksman Jamie Cureton for the booked David Noble in the 52nd minute. That change immediately transformed the tempo of the game, with a flurry of chances falling the Robins way within a matter of minutes as they looked to get back on level terms.
Of those chances, the best fell to the substitute Cureton, but he was just unable to find the space required in a clustered penalty-area to turn a Richards corner goal-wards as the visitors began to dominate – with Harrison also going close during a frantic spell of goal-mouth action.
With quarter of an hour of the second-half gone, Cheltenham should have been level, but spurned an excellent opportunity when the un-marked Cureton sent a tame effort at Slocombe having been picked out following a jinking run by the dangerous Harrison.
The Iron faithful were becoming increasingly agitated at the manner in which their team were being out-played, and a further in-swinging corner from Richards was punched clear by Slocombe under pressure – with the United ‘keeper taking a knock to the head for his troubles.
Following another decent opportunity for Cheltenham which was blazed over by Cureton, Laws opted for a double substitution on 66 minutes, bringing on Hawkridge and Winnall in place of Esajas and Burton as he looked for a way to re-gain control of the contest.
That was proving to be a difficult task however, and the Robins started pouring forward with increasing regularity in pursuit of an equaliser – and were denied claims for a penalty in the 70th minute when Gornell was denied by a last-ditch tackle by Niall Canavan.
Five minutes later, they had an even stronger case when Dawson was out-paced by Jermaine McGlashan on the right, who was then scythed down by the Iron captain right on the edge of the penalty-area. Referee Bond waved away appeals for a spot-kick, instead awarding a free-kick and booking Dawson for his troubles.
With fourteen minutes remaining, Cheltenham made their second change, bringing on Zack Kotwica in place of Gornell. Moments later, large sections of the Glanford Park support thought their team had doubled their advantage when Syers appeared to convert Hawkridge’s pull-back – only to discover his effort had gone into the side-netting.
The Iron had largely weathered the storm, and began to finally resume control of a game which had threatened to slip away from them, with Winnall being cautioned for going in too aggressively on Brown as the keeper rushed out of his area to clear the danger.
In the 83rd minute United made their final substitution, with Iwelumo replacing Spencer in attack with Brian Laws arguably looking for a greater physicality at set-pieces – in both attack and defence – during the closing stages. Soon after, the visiting side opted to make use of their last change as well, bringing on Sido Jombati in place of Keith Lowe.
As the match moved into the final five minutes, the away side appeared to have missed their opportunity to take something from the contest, with United suddenly looking the more likely to score – and they missed a gilt-edged chance to do just that when Hawkridge’s scuffed shot was diverted wide by Winnall from the penalty-spot with the goal gaping on 89 minutes.
Having been put through the mill for the majority of the second-half, the Iron fans would have every right to have felt nervous following that missed opportunity, but those fears were erased less than a minute later; a cleverly-disguised reverse ball from Hawkridge released Winnall, who in turn showed the composure needed to slot under Brown and kill off the challenge of a resilient Cheltenham side.
That goal signalled the end of the game as a meaningful contest, and the Iron were able to play out the six minutes of injury-time with few concerns, just doing enough to take a much-needed three points ahead of an unplanned international hiatus.
The result moves the Iron up into the final play-off position of seventh place in the Sky Bet League Two table, with 17 points from 10 games.
Scunthorpe United: Slocombe; Byrne, Mirfin, Canavan, Dawson (capt.); Sparrow, Syers, McAllister, Esajas (Hawkridge, 66); Spencer (Iwelumo, 83), Burton (Winnall, 66).
Substitutes not used: Severn, Waterfall, Adelakun, Howe.
Cheltenham Town: S. Brown; Lowe (Jombati, 84), Wilson, T. Brown, Richards;McGlashan, Noble (Cureton, 52), Penn (capt.), Taylor; Gornell (Kotwica, 76), Harrison.
Substitutes not used: Roberts, Elliott, Deering, Vincent.
Referee: Darren Bond (Lancashire).
Attendance: 3,191 (130 away).