The Iron made it back-to-back wins with a 1-0 victory over in-form Hartlepool United at Glanford Park.
Having been second-best for the majority of a low-quality first-half, the Iron upped their game in the second period and a cool 76th minute finish from Sam Winnall proved enough to take all three points.
Iron manager Brian Laws opted for a positive 4-2-3-1 formation, with Deon Burton recalled in place of Matt Sparrow who missed out as a precaution after picking up a minor ankle problem in training on Friday. The bench also saw a return for Chris Iwelumo, after the front-man recovered from an illness which ruled him out of the Iron’s last two fixtures.
Meanwhile, Laws’ counterpart Colin Cooper – who has been heavily linked with the vacancy at Middlesbrough of late – kept faith with the side which saw off AFC Wimbledon on Tuesday to record their fourth straight league win.
After a slow start to the match, the highly-rated Luke James was first to get a sight of goal for the visitors as he advanced into the penalty area in the 5th minute. Having shown superb technique to control a long-ball as it dropped over his shoulder, James cut inside to run directly at the Iron goal, only for United’s David Mirfin to respond well by reading the danger and muscling him off the ball before clearing.
Five minutes later, the Iron worked the ball into a promising area for the first time, but Andy Dawson’s cross from the left was easily claimed by Hartlepool goalkeeper Scott Flinders. His next cross – which came barely ninety seconds later after neat interplay– caused more concern for Flinders, who was forced to rely on his defence to clear their lines under intense pressure from Deon Burton.
On 12 minutes the Iron were almost masters of their downfall when an overly casual pass across the back four from Mirfin went straight to Jonathan Franks, who carried the ball to the edge of the area before firing a left-footed shot wide. Soon after, Sam Slocombe was called into action for the first time as he gathered a flicked effort from James with the talented youngster timing his run perfectly to evade his marker and connect with a lofted pass from the right-back position.
Neither team were creating a great deal, with the majority of the game being contested in midfield as each side cancelled each other out. The closest either team came to sights of goal came courtesy of individual errors; but minor mistakes by Burgess and Mirfin respectively both went unpunished in period of limited action leading up to the half-hour mark.
With 33 minutes gone, Niall Canavan became the first player to go in the book for bringing down James Poole as he looked to surge past the last line of defence – but the resultant free-kick was wasted by the away side. They wouldn’t have to wait long to threaten again however, with Slocombe palming away a low effort from Matthew Dolan in the 38th minute resulting in the first corner of the game.
Slocombe had to be at his best again to keep his side level two minutes later, pushing over a rising close-range drive from Franks after the winger had capitalised on a Cliff Byrne slip to work his way into the penalty area. Once again, the set-piece came to nothing, but the away side were beginning to find a rhythm and Slocombehad to be alert to claim a Franks cross from the left as they attacked once more.
That marked the last genuine opportunity of a first half of limited goal-mouth action, with the Iron somewhat fortune to go in level at the break having posed less of a threat in the final-third than the steadily improving away side.
Brian Laws responded to a frustrating first-half by replacing Jimmy Spencer with Christian Ribeiro ahead of the second period and reverting to a 5-3-2 formation, with Byrne switching to central defence and Ribeiro taking up a wing-back position on the right. The away side looked to immediately capitalise on the changes, leading to Poole being brought down by Canavan as he tried to work his way into the penalty area.
The subsequent free-kick was headed away by David Syers, but in the 50th minute the visitors went even closer when burst through midfield before crashing a deflected effort off the frame of the goal and behind.
In the 50th minute the visitors went even closer; Poole bursting through midfield before crashing a deflected effort off the frame of the goal. From the resultant corner, appeals for an Iron handball were waved away by referee Sarginson as Hartlepool claimed a penalty, before a long-range effort from Burgess was tipped wide by Slocombe.
Having been on the back-foot for most of the afternoon, the Iron carved out their first serious chance of the match when Syers latched onto a through-ball in the 54th minute and looked to poke the ball past Flinders. However, a combination of Flinders and Simon Walton denied Syers – with the latter having to limp to the side of the pitch for treatment after colliding with his goalkeeper.
On 58 minutes, Burgess was booked for a late tackle in midfield – leading to a mini ruckus in the Pools half as a number of players from either side faced up to each other;Syers climbed highest to meet the in-swinging free-kick from the left, but could only head tamely at Flinders.
As the game moved past the hour-mark, the Iron threatened again when Winnall was set through on goal by a precise Terry Hawkridge throughball. The United striker raced on towards goal, but was prevented from getting a shot away just as he was about to pull the trigger by a superbly-timed last-ditch tackle in the area from Burgess.
The Iron were beginning to dictate proceedings, and Hartlepool responded by replacing Poole with Brad Walker on 65 minutes. The change did little to stem the claret and blue tide, with United sensing they could steal all three points in the final quarter of the game as they swept forwards in droves.
One of those eager to join the attack was substitute Ribeiro, and determined work from the wing-back on 70 minutes forced a corner. That intensity was matched across the pitch by his Iron team-mates, with McAllister and Burton doggedly scrapping to win the ball in their own personal battles before the latter was replaced by Iwelumo on 72 minutes.
After a brief lull in the action, the Iron finally found the breakthrough on 77 minutes – and it was Hawkridge and Winnall who combined efficiently again much to the profit of the home side.
Having contested a ball in midfield, Hawkridge flicked the ball over his shoulder from just inside his own half, and a slip from Burgess gave Iron top-scorer Winnall a one-on-one with Flinders. There were to be no questions over the forward’s composure, as he calmly picking his spot before curling past the Hartlepool ‘stopper to give United a lead their positive second-half approach merited.
Not content with sitting back and preserving their lead, United pushed for a second goal to kill the game, and further energetic running from Winnall earned his side a corner on 84 minutes, which was eventually headed wide by Iwelumo.
Both sides used the subsequent stoppage in play to make their final substitutions, with Nialle Rodney and Anthony Sweeney introduced in place Luke James and Simon Walton for the visitors.
Meanwhile, Brian Laws looked to shore up his defensive options by replacing Hawkridge with Luke Waterfall, with the Iron manager clearly eager to see the game out.
In using all three of their substitutions just seconds earlier, the Iron appeared set to be forced down to ten men for the remaining stages when Syers fell awkwardly following a heavy tackle in midfield in the 88th minute. The on-loan Doncaster player showed his commitment to the Iron cause however, bravely re-entering the fray as the fourth official indicated there would be a mammoth seven minutes of injury-time.
The style of the game for the final minutes was set, with the Iron dropping deeper and deeper as Hartlepool chased an equaliser. On a rare break forward, the Iron lost possession in midfield, and Rodney should have done better when he skewed an effort wide from the edge of the area.
The away side continued to threaten, but the home side held firm with Niall Canavan in particular putting his body on the line on numerous occasions to restrict Hartlepool to half-chances.
That commitment would prove to be enough to secure the win, with the referee blowing the whistle much to the delight – and considerable relief – of the Glanford Park faithful soon after.
The result moves United up to 9th place in the table, with the Iron knowing a win away to York City on Tuesday night will lift them into the automatic promotion places for the first time this season.
Scunthorpe United: Slocombe; Dawson (capt.), Mirfin, Canavan, Byrne; Syers, McAllister; Hawkridge (Waterfall, 84); Spencer (Ribeiro, 45), Burton (Iwelumo, 72), Winnall.
Substitutes not used: Severn, Esajas, Adelakun, Wootton.
Hartlepool United: Flinders; Austin, Baldwin, Burgess, Duckworth; Monkhouse, Walton (Sweeney, 84), Dolan, Franks; James (Rodney, 84), Poole (Walker, 65).
Substitutes not used: Rafferty, Collins, Richards, Holden.
Referee: Christopher Sarginson (Staffordshire)
Attendance: 3,613 (492 away)