The Iron threw down the gauntlet in the race for the League Two title as a David Syers hat-trick helped them romp to a comprehensive victory over Portsmouth at Glanford Park.
Syers notched twice in the opening period – either side of a Sam Winnall strike – to help give United a deservedly healthy three goal lead at the break as a display of superb attacking football left Pompey reeling.
More was to follow soon after the interval as Paddy Madden broke his Iron duck before Syers completed his hat-trick at the end of a flowing passing move.
The Iron would suffer late disappointment as debutant Michael Drennan netted a consolation for Pompey, but they had inflicted enough damage earlier in the contest to win in sensational style and emphatically underline their promotion credentials.
It also marks an incredible personal haul for Syers, who found the net twice at Fratton Park as the Iron came from behind to win against Portsmouth in Russ Wilcox’s first game in charge back in November.
Wilcox opted to promote both Gary McSheffrey and Hakeeb Adelakun to the starting line-up after their impressive cameos off the bench against Accrington last Friday provided the catalyst for a second half turn-around from two goals down.
The pair replaced Christian Ribeiro and Terry Hawkridge respectively, with the inclusion of Adelakun from the start meaning a full home debut for the 17-year-old. The bench also saw Andy Dawson return to the squad for the first time since November, as he took the place vacated by Michael Collins after the Iron club captain completed a loan move to AFC Wimbledon on Thursday.
Meanwhile, Portsmouth boss Richie Barker made three changes from the side which earned a narrow victory over the Dons at Fratton Park last weekend. Those alterations saw Nicky Shorey and Ricky Holmes dropped to the bench in favour of Wes Fogden and former Iron winger Andy Barcham, while striker Ryan Taylor missed out with a groin injury.
Taylor’s enforced absence enabled Toumani Diagouraga to make his club debut at the heart of the Pompey midfield as they reverted to a formation which placed Jed Wallace just behind Jake Jervis in attack.
The home side started well, and had the first opportunity of the game in the second minute when a scampering run down the left by Madden freed space for McSheffrey to whip a low cross into the area. The delivery from wide was desperately hacked behind by the Pompey defence, with the subsequent corner also causing problems before eventually being cleared to halfway by Diagouraga.
Four minutes later, a second Iron corner started the move which saw them take the lead as a delivery from the left was punched clear effectively by Carson in the Portsmouth goal only for United to quickly regain possession in an advanced position. The ball eventually fell to Madden, who in turn picked out the advancing Syers in the penalty area; the midfielder displaying composure to turn and send a left-footed effort past Carson courtesy of a deflection.
Buoyed by their bright start, United looked to move through the gears with a series of slick passing moves; the most promising of which saw Carson called into action once more in the 11th minute as he stooped low to his left to palm a fierce Madden strike around the post.
The Irish striker was displaying a tenacious edge as he hustled and harried the Pompey defence, and his industrious work alongside the equally energetic Winnall tested the qualities of the visiting back-line with regularity. As a result of the steady stream of Iron pressure, Pompey were struggling to move the ball up the pitch with any real purpose – their only efforts on goal in the opening quarter being speculative efforts from distance.
Instead it was United who looked more likely to double their lead as they controlled proceedings across all areas of the pitch. However on 25 minutes they were almost undone when a ball knocked in from the Portsmouth right caused minor panic in the penalty area. A combination of Diagouraga and Barcham tried to steer the ball towards goal, but a last-ditch challenge from Eddie Nolan averted the danger.
That appeared to boost the confidence of Pompey, who began to grow into the game somewhat as it edged towards the half-hour mark. The attacking intent of the away side became more obvious as Wallace looked to dictate, with United’s passing rhythm being disrupted briefly until a break down the right from Nolan in the 32nd minute earned a corner off the legs of Marcos Painter.
Although the initial set-piece caused little concern for the visitors, further impressive work from Nolan won a second corner. Not for the first time, the delivery was cleared to halfway but the Iron patiently rebuilt their attack before the ever-involved Nolan clipped a delightful pass onto the head of Winnall who flicked narrowly wide from the penalty spot.
On 36 minutes United would double their lead, and in some style; Syers broke from midfield and played the ball into the feet of the lively Madden on the edge of the area. A clever back-heel from the 23-year-old released the onrushing Winnall, with the Iron’s leading marksman taking a touch before confidently curling Carson on the run to register his 17th goal of the season.
The claret and blue were now in complete control of the contest, and demonstrated their authority in the minutes leading up to half-time as they calmly kept possession in midfield while continuing to threaten the Portsmouth goal. Such dominance would come to fruition yet again just a minute before the break when Madden showed excellent footwork deep in the penalty-area before pulling back to Syers – who stroked home emphatically from 12 yards to make it 3-0.
Pompey looked to respond, but were unable to reduce the deficit before the half-time whistle as a shot from the increasingly frustrated Barcham was deflected wide in injury-time; the resultant corner wastefully sailing straight out for a goal-kick.
The Portsmouth manager Richie Barker used the interval as an opportunity to introduce Drennan – on loan from Aston Villa – and Ricky Holmes in place of Therry Racon and Barcham, as he sought to navigate a way back into the match for his side.
Those substitutions did nothing to stem the tide however, and Pompey found themselves 4-0 down in the 47th minute as Madden notched his first for the club. A precise McSheffrey free-kick from the right was met by the towering David Mirfin, who was only denied a second goal in as many games by an excellent Carson stop. However, Madden reacted fastest in a packed penalty-area to stab home from close-range with the Pompey defence failing to track the striker’s movement.
Not content with their lot, United continued to press for more as their attacking triumvirate of Winnall, Madden and McSheffrey threatened to run riot. All three were involved eight minutes later as the Iron broke at pace to make it five – the ball being knocked wide by Winnall to the pacey Adelakun who raced clear before slipping across for Syers to complete his hat-trick from two yards.
Portsmouth simply could not contain the offensive onslaught presented by the United, and on 58 minutes almost found themselves six goals down; the rampaging Syers charging through midfield and only being denied an individual fourth when his fizzing drive was deflected wide after yet another classy passing move.
United looked to pile on the misery for Pompey, and just after the hour-mark Adelakun ploughed his way through midfield before sending a rasping effort from distance over the bar. That served as a further warning sign for the away team, who were being run ragged by the utterly supreme Iron at every opportunity.
Next to go close was Madden as he linked-up superbly with partner Winnall in the 64th minute and lashed wide from the best part of 25 yards. Not long after, a looping cross from McSheffrey reached the unmarked Syers, only for his header to be diverted wide for a corner which was punched clear by Carson.
To the credit of the Portsmouth fans, they displayed vocal support for their side when they forced a rare corner three minutes later, but as had been the theme of the game soon found themselves pressed onto the back foot again as United turned the screw.
Iron manager Russ Wilcox then made the decision to withdraw the outstanding duo of Syers and Winnall with 20 minutes remaining and victory already convincingly sealed, choosing to give Matt Sparrow and Paul Hayes the opportunity to impress off the bench.
With the game comfortably sealed, United’s greatest disappointment of the afternoon to date came in the 78th minute when Adelakun was forced to limp off the pitch with a suspected injury; Hawkridge entering the fray for the final stages in his place.
The match had been effectively finished as a contest as early as the 48th minute, and this gradually became reflected as the Iron’s attacks slowly lessened in both frequency and potency. However, a marauding run from Williams with eight minutes remaining saw Hayes take up the mantle in the penalty-area – the substitute stepping inside before being thwarted by a tidy Carson save.
Pompey then made their final substitution of the game in the 83rd minute, as Patrick Agyemang was introduced in favour of Jervis. The change would prompt Portsmouth to get on the score-sheet two minutes – albeit indirectly – when Michael Drennan ghosted in unchecked at the back-post to nod a Wallace cross from the right past Sam Slocombe.
Despite a late onslaught from a visiting side looking to regain some pride, United held on to secure a thoroughly deserved victory which stretches their unbeaten run under manager Russ Wilcox to 16 games with 14 matches of the regular season remaining as they seek to return to League One at the first time of asking.
The result also sees the Iron move level on points with league leaders Chesterfield, after the Spireites slipped to a shock 1-0 defeat to lowly Wycombe at Adams Park.
United will not have long to wait to continue their promotion push, with the side looking to take full advantage of home comforts once again on Tuesday night when they face Bristol Rovers at Glanford Park.
The meeting with the Pirates will represent a stern test for United, with Rovers registering an impressive win over high-flying Burton Albion at the Memorial Stadium on Friday evening.
Scunthorpe United: Slocombe (capt.); Williams, Mirfin, Canavan, Nolan; McSheffrey, McAllister, Syers (Sparrow, 71), Adelakun (Hawkridge, 79); Madden, Winnall (Hayes, 71).
Substitutes not used: Severn, Ribeiro, Dawson, Waterfall.
Portsmouth: Carson; Painter, Bradley, Chorley (capt.), Alfei; Barcham (Holmes, 46), Diagouraga, Racon (Drennan, 46), Fogden; Wallace; Jervis (Agyemang, 83).
Substitutes not used: Smith, N’Gala, Shorey, Padovani.
Referee: Lee Collins (Surrey).
Attendance: 4,165 (497 away).