The Iron broke a run of four matches without a win with an impressive victory over Plymouth Argyle at Home Park as they got their promotion bid back on track.
United took the lead with just 12 minutes left when Dave Syers reacted quickest to divert a Paul Hayes effort goal-ward, having previously survived a scare when Lewis Alessandra stuck a post.
The Iron then confirmed their win in the final seconds of the game when substitute Adelakun’s shot deflected in off the back of Plymouth goalkeeper Jake Cole after initially hitting the post.
The win sees United rediscover their winning form at precisely the right time in an increasingly intriguing promotion race, as they once again put pressure on their rivals by taking maximum points.
United manager Russ Wilcox made one change from the side which were held to a 2-2 draw by Southend United on Tuesday night, with Sean McAllister returning to midfield in place of Matt Sparrow having recovered sufficiently from injury.
Meanwhile, Argyle boss John Sheridan kept faith with the team which began Wednesday night’s 1-0 victory over Wycombe at Adams Park as the Pilgrims lined up in a 5-3-2 formation.
The away side were first to threaten in the third minute when David Mirfin intercepted in his own half before working the ball to Eddie Nolan via Syers. Nolan stepped inside before playing a precise pass to Gary McSheffrey which split the Argyle midfield, only for the winger to shoot tamely at Jake Cole from distance.
Five minutes later the Iron were on the front foot again, this time Syers crossing deep to the back post where Paddy Madden was waiting. The Irishman took a touch before firing at goal, with his effort being diverted over for a corner. Although that set-piece was cleared, United did their best to force the issue by earning a further three corners in quick succession, but each time found their route to goal blocked by a determined Argyle defence.
On 12 minutes Plymouth came forward with purpose for the first time when they took advantage of a Syers slip to break from midfield. The ball was played wide by Alessandra to Matt Parsons on the overlap, with Parson’s whipped cross returning the ball to his fellow Pilgrim just inside the area. Alessandra displayed excellent technique to control and turn in one movement, but his fierce drive from the edge of the box flew over.
Buoyed by that, the home side started to knock the ball around with growing self-confidence as Reuben Reid in particular linked up well with the midfield behind him. It would be Reid involved eight minutes later as he flicked on a long clearance into the path of Alessandra, but Marcus Williams reacted sharply to read the danger and clear.
Midway through the opening period, the hosts front-line combined well again as captain Conor Hourihane fed the ball to Alessandra inside the area after neat interplay in the build-up. The physical forward held up the ball expertly before turning his man to create the room to shoot – only for his effort to blaze over from the angle.
Just after the half-hour mark it was the Pilgrims who came closest to breaking the deadlock, when they countered through Reid having dispossessed McSheffrey on midway. The powerful striker carried the ball forward before laying into the path of the onrushing Hourihane, but the midfielder found himself denied by Sam Slocombe who spread himself well to deflect Hourihane’s drive over the bar.
With five minutes to go until the interval, tidy work in midfield offered United the chance to advance up the pitch. The ball eventually fell the way of Syers in space, only for his ambitious effort from 30 yards to flash well over.
United would go much closer three minutes later when Syers clipped a delicate pass through the middle of the pitch to release McSheffrey behind the last line of the Pilgrims defence on the left. The winger advanced on goalkeeper Jake Cole who raced out to narrow the angle, forcing McSheffrey to send a hasty chip wide of the post in the last meaningful action of the first half.
The Iron looked to set the tempo in the minutes immediately following the restart, and enjoyed a series of patient moves in a short space of time which bore little in terms of causing danger in the final third.
That looked set to change on 50 minutes when Syers threaded a pass through for Sam Winnall to strike at goal, but United’s leading marksman was denied by a combination of Cole and the linesman’s flag being raised for offside.
Despite that it was the away side who continued to do all the early running in the early stages of the second period, and they threatened again eight minutes later when measured play allowed United to push forward in numbers. Those numbers contributed to Madden picking the ball up on the edge of the area; the striker weaving his way behind the home defence only for his firm strike at goal to be tipped away by Cole.
Having been pressed back for the majority of the second half, just past the hour-mark the Pilgrims attacked with vigour as Reid sprinted down the left before squaring for Alessandra. The dangerous Alessandra flicked towards goal, only to see the ball bounce back off the post – the striker’s snatched attempt at the subsequent rebound squirming just wide.
Iron manager Wilcox reacted to that Argyle chance by introducing Hayes in place of Paddy Madden on 62 minutes, but the change did little to stem the growing tide of Argyle chances. Next to go close for the home side was Hourihane, with Slocombe relying on his defence to clear after palming away the midfielder’s stinging drive from 20 yards.
Argyle had grown into the half considerably as it progressed, and midway through the second period spurned a gilt-edged chance to take the lead. Having been awarded a dubious free-kick on the Plymouth right, Hourihane swung a dangerous ball towards the unmarked Reid, but the Pilgrims forward could only direct his header over from six yards.
The home side were almost made to pay for such profligacy within five minutes, when the Iron earned a free-kick in almost exactly the corresponding position Argyle had threatened from minutes before. The set-piece was struck by the left foot of McSheffrey, causing brief concern for Plymouth’s Cole as it narrowly cleared the bar of the back-tracking goalkeeper.
That was to be McSheffrey’s final involvement, with Adelakun entering the fray in his place a minute later. Although the change was not directly involved in creating the opportunity, it aided the Iron in stretching the pitch sufficiently to force the opening which saw them take the lead on 78 minutes.
After picking up the ball wide on the right, Winnall calmly waited for Nolan to burst past him on the flank before releasing. The United defender cut inside smartly – leaving his marker chasing shadows – before knocking across the area towards Hayes, who shot towards goal. Hayes’ effort looked to be heading into the arms of Cole, but Syers raced in to divert past the goalkeeper from close-range and put his side in front.
The hosts responded, and found themselves denied by the woodwork again seven minutes from time when a fluid moved ended when Dominic Blizzard cut inside from the right and curled an effort off the bar. Sensing the urgency of the situation, manager Sheridan then made a triple substitution as Reid, Blizzard and Maxime Blanchard were replaced by Marvin Morgan, Tope Obadeyi and Andres Gurrieri.
Those alterations gave Argyle a more attacking outlook for the final stages, but the Iron held firm as the game moved into four minutes of added time with Slocombe receiving a booking for time wasting over a goal-kick.
That bought United valuable seconds, but they found themselves pushed back again when Morgan displayed strength to flick on past Mirfin. The ball bounced fortuitously off the corner-flag for Morgan, who sprinted onto the ball before pulling back across the area – the ball eventually being hacked to safety by Adelakun.
Having provided heroics defensively, Adelakun would then seal the game just a minute later. The winger showed maturity to calmly play the ball wide, before eventually receiving it back on the edge of area where he struck for goal. His effort cannoned back off the post, but much to the delight on the Iron faithful bounced back into the net off the back of the prone Cole with seconds remaining.
That goal from Adelakun ensured the limited time left in the match would be played out with relative comfort, with referee Darren Drysdale blowing for full-time soon after to confirm United’s first win in five league games.
The result also sees the Iron stretch their unbeaten run to 21 matches with just nine games of the regular campaign remaining as they bid to complete a return to League One at the first time of asking following relegation from the division last season.
United have a week to wait to resume that bid, with Wilcox’s men set for a crucial clash against fellow promotion hopefuls Burton Albion at Glanford Park next Saturday.
Plymouth Argyle: Cole; Blanchard (Obadeyi, 84), Nelson, Trotman; Parsons, Berry; Young, Hourihane (capt.), Blizzard (Gurrieri); Reid (Morgan, 84), Alessandra.
Substitutes not used: Dawson, Boco, Wotton, Harvey.
Scunthorpe United: Slocombe (capt.); Williams, Mirfin, Canavan, Nolan; McSheffrey (Adelakun, 74), McAllister (Waterfall, 90), Syers, Hawkridge; Madden (Hayes, 62), Winnall.
Substitutes not used: Severn, Ribeiro, Sparrow, Alabi.
Referee: Darren Drysdale (Lincolnshire).