The Iron moved clear at the top of League Two for the first time this season with a 3-0 victory over promotion rivals Rochdale in an ill-tempered affair at Glanford Park.
A second-half strike from David Syers before a brace from Sam Winnall guided United to their first league double of the season, having defeated Rochdale 4-0 at Spotland back in November.
The match also saw Dale’s Michael Rose dismissed after picking up two bookings in quick succession in a frenetic episode of play, which saw a total of seven yellow cards issued between the two sides.
The result sees United open a two-point gap at the summit, with nearest challengers Chesterfield’s game being postponed and Burton Albion being held by Mansfield.
Russ Wilcox made just one change from the side who impressively saw off Oxford United at the Kassam Stadium on Sunday, opting to make space for the returning Winnall by moving Hakeeb Adelakun – who it was announced ahead of kick-off had signed his first professional deal with the club – to the bench. Dropping out of the squad to accommodate Adelakun among the substitutes was fellow academy product Jamie Wootton.
Meanwhile, Rochdale manager named a completely unchanged squad from their 2-0 victory over Bristol Rovers three days ago as The Dale looked notch up their third consecutive maximum haul by sticking with a winning formula.
The away side started in positive fashion, earning a cheap corner within the opening 15 seconds after a backtracking Christian Ribeiro could only head a long ball over the top from Rose behind. Rose’s subsequent set-piece caused no concern for the Iron however, with referee Andrew Woolmer awarding a free-kick to United in their own penalty-area as the ball was delivered.
Two minutes later, quick interplay between Ribeiro and Terry Hawkridge following a throw-in allowed the former the opportunity to get a cross in from the right. The full-back’s centre was too close to former Iron goalkeeper Josh Lillis in the Rochdale net to cause any problems though, as the stopper gathered the ball into his chest with ease.
On six minutes, Sam Slocombe felt the effect of kicking against a strong wind for the first time as his clearance fell short of halfway, offering Rochdale the chance to break from midfield. The away side earned a corner when Niall Canavan headed behind, with Slocombe first to the delivery to punch away from his goalmouth. The danger was not fully over for the hosts however, with the next centre into the box winning yet another corner via an Eddie Nolan clearance – the flag-kick eventually being cleared to safety.
The visitors continued to make the most of their advantage of having the wind behind them in the first half, with United struggling to fully clear their lines on several occasions despite their best efforts. Despite the visible issues, the wind would almost serve to the Iron’s benefit with 15 minutes gone when a long clearance dropped short at the feet of Winnall, although the United top-scorer was just unable to create a clear sight of goal for his supporting team-mate’s.
With 17 minutes gone, Rochdale went close to opening the scoring when after a period of head-tennis in midfield, the ball eventually fell to Matthew Lund 30 yards from goal. There didn’t appear to be a shooting opportunity open to the ex-Stoke player, but he Lund defied the odds by lashing a fierce first-time left-footed volley just over the bar.
The Iron looked to respond, and a jinking run from Hawkridge earned a corner when his shot was deflected behind. That set-piece came to nothing, but United continued to press and from a second corner sent across on 24 minutes Nolan flashed a header narrowly wide from close-range with the home side starting to establish themselves in the game.
Three minutes later, the hosts earned another corner following a determined run down the left by Nolan after Winnall had pulled wide to support the full-back on the flank. The in-swinging cross caused mayhem in the box, eventually reaching Syers at the back-post who saw his effort blocked on the line before being scrambled away by the Dale defence amid a frenzy of activity in the six-yard-box.
As the game moved past the half-hour mark, Nolan was again involved; intercepting in his final third prior to carrying the ball deep into Dale territory. Nolan looked to find McAllister inside, but the diminutive midfielder was closed down well by the visiting back-line who denied him the opportunity of getting a shot away from the edge of the area.
Having been on the back-foot for a significant period of time, Dale then caused problems of their own in the 35th minute when a precisely guided free-kick from the halfway-line by Rose led to the ball being cleared behind at full-stretch for a corner by David Mirfin. The subsequent corner resulted in a goal-kick, but two minutes later another delivery proved more dangerous as United had to scramble clear.
Once again, the threat was not fully averted, and a Rose cross led to the highlight of the match so far; Slocombe reacting smartly to palm away a flicked Scott Hogan header from deep within the six-yard-box. Buoyed by that, Dale pushed forward once more, and it was Olly Lancashire who went close next as he headed over after meeting a corner.
With time ticking down until half-time, it was the Iron’s turn to go on the attack next, winning two corners in quick succession; although neither came to immediate fruition. That signalled the last meaningful action of a well-contested opening half, with the 0-0 score-line giving a fair indication of how an even 45 minutes had gone.
The second period began with the Iron kicking into the wind, with the added swirling rain making for tricky playing conditions. They began on the front-foot as Marcus Williams carried the ball forward before releasing Winnall in the area; the striker taking a touch before firing an effort at Lillis from a narrow angle which was palmed away. The rebound was eventually worked wide right to Hawkridge, who was scythed down by Rose – the Dale man being booked for his troubles.
Eight minutes into the half, the away side created their first opening since the break as they won a corner following a Rose ball from deep behind cleared behind by Canavan. From the corner, Lund rose highest to meet the ball on the penalty-spot, but could only head a tame effort straight at Slocombe.
On 57 minutes, the Iron would take the lead, countering superbly to punish the visiting side. First, Hawkridge played a blind pass inside which was intercepted by Ian Henderson sparking a patient passing move from Dale until a blocked shot saw the ball rebound up-field to Deon Burton; the front-man doggedly battled for the ball before releasing Winnall down the left. Winnall appeared to lack support, but displayed vision to pick out Syers inside who collected the ball before lashing past Lillis from 20 yards to put his side in front.
Having taken the lead, United to looked to stamp their authority on the game and add bite to their central midfield by introducing Michael Collins in place of goal-scorer Syers in the 62nd minute. Rochdale reacted in kind, replacing Peter Vicenti with George Donnelly. Barely minutes later, a fracas broke out deep in Iron territory following an angry reaction to a tackle, and after a prolonged spell of deliberation the referee produced yellow cards for Dale’s Peter Cavanagh and Donnelly, as well as United’s Ribeiro and McAllister. Soon after, as the atmosphere became increasingly agitated, also went in the book for an alleged dive in the penalty-area.
Following a period of stop-start play, Dale made two further substitutions on 71 minutes when they introduced Jamie Allen and Matt Done in place of Cavanagh and Hogan. The Iron themselves then made a further change two minutes later as Adelakun took the place of Hakwridge on the right-flank.
The change almost reaped immediate benefits when Winnall was crudely brought down by Lancashire as he looked to break down the left, with a yellow card being issued as the match threatened to boil over. Winnall’s desire for the ball was not to be dampened however, and minutes later he chased down a seemingly lost cause to force Lillis into a hurried clearance out of player.
It would soon be the other goalkeeper pressed into action, with Slocombe producing his second world-class save of the afternoon as he tipped over a firm goal-bound header from Graham Cummins after he had connected with a cross from the left by Rose on 78 minutes. The subsequent corner was cleared to Adelakun who raced over halfway before being taken down by Rose – the defender promptly receiving his second yellow card of the afternoon and being dismissed.
The Iron would go on to make that numerical advantage count within a matter of minutes; Winnall collecting the ball in a crowded penalty-area after combative play from his offensive colleagues and arrowing a rising drive into the top corner to put his side two to the good with eight minutes remaining.
Having scored an invaluable second which offered them breathing space, United secured the win just two minutes later as Winnall beat the offside trap to latch onto a ball from midfield before calmly curling past Lillis to complete a frantic spell of action by netting his second within as many minutes.
A clearly delighted Russ Wilcox then made his final alteration of the afternoon immediately after the third goal, taking the booked Ribeiro off in favour of Etienne Esajas – with Marcus Williams reverting to left-back and Eddie Nolan moving across to the right.
With United comfortably placed going into the final stages, they were almost in for a fourth when a cross-field diagonal looked set to release Winnall for his hat-trick. However, the pass was read well allowing Dale to clear with both sides seeming content to play out the five minutes of injury-time indicated without the drama which had been witnessed throughout the second period.
The Iron would go on the attack once more however, when Esajas broke down the left before alluding everyone with a cut-back across the area. The ball was retrieved by United and moved inside to Winnall who – eyeing a maiden career treble – fired narrowly wide ahead of the referee blowing the final whistle to signal back-to-back wins for the Iron.
Having accumulated a total haul of 10 points from their four fixtures across a hectic festive schedule, the Iron now face a prolonged break from action before travelling to Mansfield a week on Saturday.
However, they will go into the game in high spirits having extended their unbeaten run under manager Russ Wilcox to eight games since his initial appointment in mid-November.
Scunthorpe United: Slocombe (capt.); Nolan, Mirfin, Canavan, Ribeiro (Esajas, 84); Williams, McAllister, Syers (Collins, 62), Hawkridge (Adelakun, 74); Burton, Winnall.
Substitutes not used: Severn, Sparrow, Iwelumo, Waterfall.
Rochdale A.F.C.: Lillis; Rose, Lancashire, O’Connell, Rafferty; Lund, Cavanagh (capt.) (Allen, 72), Vincenti (Hogan, 64), Henderson; Hogan (Done, 72), Cummins.
Substitutes not used: Thomson, Bennett, Eastham, Hery.
Referee: Andrew Woolmer (Northamptonshire).
Attendance: 4,017 (410 away).