The Iron secured their first win in six league games at Roots Hall, as a single second-half goal from Chris Iwelumo was enough to give them a 1-0 victory over Southend United.
In a keenly-contested match in difficult conditions, United showed a renewed sense of desire to close out games from winning positions after a series of recent disappointments, and were duly rewarded by taking maximum points on a rainy Friday night in Essex.
Scunthorpe got the game underway, kicking from right-to-left, but it was the home side who started brightest in the opening minute as they looked to dictate proceedings until a foul by Etienne Esajas brought their early progress to a halt.
With four minutes gone, the hosts carved out the first meaningful opportunity of the match; McAllister lost possession in midfield, allowing one-time Iron favourite Kevan Hurst to burst through the middle. Hurst showed the awareness to find Freddy Eastwood in space on the left, but his curling effort from 25 yards sailed harmlessly over.
Barely a minute later and Eastwood was involved again – this time breaking past the Iron back-line before flashing a dangerous ball across the penalty area, with his team-mates slow to react allowing the ball to be cleared. It was Eastwood once more who looked most likely in the ninth minute, with Andy Dawson blocking a shot from the front-man after he had taken up a promising position on the edge of the eighteen-yard box.
Having been under pressure in the opening stages, the Iron began to assert themselves on the game, and won the first corner of the evening in the 13th minute after Terry Hawkridge’s deep free-kick was headed behind by the Shrimpers defence. Hawkridge himself took the corner quickly, and his short pass to Esajas allowed the Dutch winger to send an effort at goal – earning another corner in the process following a deflection.
The Iron now had a foot-hold in the match, and only superb last-ditch defending prevented them from taking a 14th minute lead as Sam Winnall was expertly denied in the penalty-area by Mark Phillips having initially broken clear of the Southend defence.
On 17 minutes there was concern on the Scunthorpe bench, as Esajas was forced to limp off the pitch following a heavy tackle in midfield. After receiving treatment, the winger re-joined the fray with permission from referee Coote – but not before Ryan Leonard had tested Sam Slocombe with a bouncing header which the goalkeeper gathered comfortably.
The poor weather conditions were affecting the quality of play in midfield, and a lull in the action ensued until the 29th minute when a flowing Shrimpers move ended with Dawson blocking an effort from Hurst – who appeared determined to come back to haunt his former side. That sparked an immediate increase in volume from the home support, and they were almost rewarded two minutes later when former Iron loanee Michael Timlin sent a rising drive over from thirty yards.
As the game moved past the half-hour mark, Hawkridge almost broke the dead-lock in bizarre fashion when his in-swinging cross evaded everyone and looked to be heading for the net before skidding narrowly wide. Soon after, Southend’s Ben Coker became the first player to be cautioned after fouling Esajas on half-way as the wide-man looked to break.
With five minutes to go until the interval, a cross from the energetic Will Atkinson reached Eastwood – but he could only glance wide of goal as the front-man wasted another decent opportunity to put his side ahead. Three minutes later, the Shrimpers forced their first corner of the game, and came within inches of scoring when a low delivery evaded everyone and fizzed across the goal-mouth, narrowly eluding Leonard at the back-post in the final action of an even first-half.
The second period began with Southend on the front-foot, forcing a corner after a steady build-up. The resultant set-piece was initially cleared by Niall Canavan, only for the home side to waste a guilt-edged chance barely seconds later when Cauley Woodrow failed to connect from close-range having been found by a low cross.
In the 51st minute, the increasingly dangerous Hurst terrorised the Iron defence again - this time sending an ambitious dipping left-footed effort off target after being found by Atkinson following excellent approach play as the home displayed their intent to take control of the game.
Having been on the back-foot for the opening stages of the second-half, the Iron started to cause some problems of their own – Adam Thompson becoming the second Southend player to receive a yellow card after cynically fouling the advancing Winnall as the visiting side looked to counter.
Scunthorpe were now well in the match, and a series of crosses from the full-back positions by first Dawson and then Eddie Nolan tested the Southend defensive capabilities under pressure from Chris Iwelumo. Moments later, Winnall won the ball in midfield and saw a driven effort from distance blocked when his strike-partner was better placed.
The Iron would not have long to wait to make amends for those missed opportunities however, when Iwelumo nodded them in front on 63 minutes; a seemingly innocuous ball in from Esajas on the left caused confusion, and a poorly-guided back-header by Coker left his ‘keeper stranded and gave the Iron front-man the simple task of heading in to an unguarded net from three-yards.
The home side looked to respond immediately to going behind, and made the first substitutions of the game on 68 minutes when Anthony Straker and Barry Corr replaced Woodrow and Timlin. It was the away side who came closest to profiting following the changes two minutes later however, with Nolan’s flick from Hawkridge’s free-kick almost doubling the Iron’s advantage as it looped onto the top of the Southend net.
On 71 minutes, Scunthorpe made their first change of the evening, bringing on Deon Burton in place of the tireless Winnall. Not long after, Southend replaced left-back Coker with striker Craig Reid as they tried to find a way back into the contest with an attacking switch. Despite the positive tactical adjustment, the home side were showing little urgency to get forward, much to the frustration of their supporters.
Indeed, it was the visiting side who looked the more likely to score again, as the fleet-footed Esajas jinked his way down the left flank before finding Hawkridge in the middle. The versatile Hawkridge couldn’t manoeuvre space for a shot, but unselfishly laid the ball back to McAllister whose rasping pile-driver stung the hands of ‘keeper Daniel Bentley and forced a corner.
With just under ten minutes remaining, the 150 travelling Iron fans were able to welcome stalwart Cliff Byrne back to the club when he replaced Esajas with manager Brian Laws seeking to close out the game by reinforcing his defensive options. Those options would prove crucial just four minutes later, when defensive pressure prevented Corr from getting clean contact as he met a corner on the penalty-spot – sending his header over the bar.
The Shrimpers were now throwing caution to the wind in pursuit of salvaging a point from the match, and it was Hurst again who almost cost his former club – drawing a smart low save from Slocombe, with the subsequent corner wasted much to the anger of manager Phil Brown.
As the fourth official indicated four minutes of added time, the Iron made their final change of the night, bringing on centre-back Luke Waterfall in place of Hawkridge to reaffirm their desire to see out the closing stages. That job was made easier as they forced a corner deep into stoppage time - where they determinedly held the ball until the final whistle was blown to complete a narrow yet deserved 1-0 victory to record their first league win in six games.
Southend United: Bentley; Coker (Reid, 73), Prosser, Phillips, Thompson; Timlin (Straker, 68), Atkinson, Leonard, Hurst; Woodrow (Corr, 68), Eastwood (capt.).
Substitutes not used: Smith, Clifford, Payne, Auger.
Scunthorpe United: Slocombe; Nolan, Mirfin, Canavan, Dawson; Hawkridge (Waterfall, 90), Sparrow, McAllister, Esajas (Byrne, 81); Iwelumo, Winnall (Burton, 71).
Substitutes not used: Severn, Howe, Hornsey, Spencer.
Referee: David Coote (Nottingham).
Attendance: 4,976 (165 away).