The Iron succumbed to a 4-0 defeat at Bramall Lane against a Sheffield United side, now comfortably occupying a berth in the play-offs.
Despite a bright opening from the Iron, the hosts had much of the running over the ninety minutes. Their opener was fortunate – a cross-cum-shot from Jason Holt. Following that, little else could be argued about, two penalties converted by Jose Baxter and a dinked finish from Jamie Murphy rounded it off for the men in red and white against a United side who were down to ten men following the dismissal of Miguel Llera.
The Iron went into the game at Bramall Lane a point above the relegation zone after a run of four defeats and three draws in the last seven games. Mark Robins made a host of changes with five in all from the weekend defeat at Rochdale.
Midfielder John Lundstram made his debut after joining on loan from Everton in midweek after an injury to Neal Bishop. Miguel Llera returned in defence while Gary McSheffrey, Liam O’Neil and Hakeeb Adelakun came into a much-changed midfield as the final portion of Robins’ shake-up.
Sheffield United had been faltering of late in the league prior to this one, clocking two wins in seven and losing three in that same period. They were still looking, however, to go a minimum of six points clear of 7th placed Barnsley with a win – aiming to consolidate their play-off spot.
It was a positive start for the Iron, creating the first move of the game on two minutes when Liam O’Neil supplied a good looking ball into the box for Gary McSheffrey to get on the end of. The hosts defended well though, with Iain Turner eventually collecting after some good marshalling from his defence as the winger lurked at the back stick.
The Iron were capitalising on the Blades’ inability to keep hold of the ball inside the first ten minutes, much to the frustration of the home support. Nigel Clough’s men had had mustered an attack, wasting their chance to cross from deep, allowing the Iron to have a go of their own.
Pressure up the pitch from Scunthorpe forced Blades ‘keeper Iain Turner into a hesitant clearance, which was picked up by Isaiah Osbourne on the edge of the box. A tackle came in, with the ball eventually falling to O’Neil. He coolly played out to Jordan Clarke, unmarked well down the right flank but the full-back ballooned his cross into the stand.
After the ten minute mark the Blades started to make better use of the ball and on the quarter hour, they took the lead. Jason Holt curled what looked like a low cross looking for a prod home at the back post into the bottom corner from the left edge of the area. Luke Daniels saw it late through a crowd but there was a touch of fortune about it nevertheless. Sheffield United had grown into the game after a stuttering opening ten minutes, but it hardly warranted an opener in what was still a pretty open spell of play.
Following the opener, the game settled into somewhat of a rut, with much of the play restricted to the middle of the park. On 25 minutes, Ryan Flynn drew a foul on the edge of the area as he darted past two Iron men. Conor Townsend stuck out a leg and brought down his man – perilously close to being a penalty but he escaped with just a yellow card. Scunthorpe defended the resulting free-kick smartly before Madden tidied up after blocking a speculative long-range drive. Still the game lacked a real pattern from either side.
On the half hour, the Iron had an opportunity from 30 yards after O’Neil was felled. Miguel Llera, the ex-Sheffield Wednesday man, stepped up to strike with his left foot. It looked goal-bound but clipped the wall – looping out for a corner. Clarke did well from the corner to get the ball down in the middle of the box where Llera had found space. The centre-half was crowded out before he could get a shot away though and the Blades cleared.
Six minutes before the break, the hosts countered smartly, working the ball between centre-half and right back. Clarke came across to the danger - Ryan Flynn scurrying in behind. Flynn was ahead of Clarke and had his heel clipped, giving the referee no choice but to point to the spot. Jose Baxter slammed the penalty home right down the middle on 40 minutes.
The Iron conjured an opening two minutes before the break in response. McSheffrey worked some room down the left flank before firing a trademark, pinpoint cross into the box causing confusion between centre-back and goalkeeper with Adelakun poised to prod home. Turner, though, palmed away and Sheffield United took that two goal cushion into half time.
Nigel Clough’s men started the second period looking the more dangerous side again, largely thanks to Flynn’s continued trickery on the ball. The diminutive winger scuttled past Clarke again, towards the dead ball line aiming for Baxter arriving in the six-yard box. Llera had read the impending threat and got a timely boot across to hoick clear.
On 54 minutes, smart work from a Blades wide-man again created an opening – this time Chris Basham showing the quick feet as he rounded Townsend and strode into the area. Daniels was equal to the side-footed effort, which was always curling away from goal, lacking power.
After a half chance for his side, Llera almost beating Turner to a hanging cross from McSheffrey, Mark Robins made his first change – Kevin van Veen into the fray in place of Osbourne.
Immediately after the change, the hosts broke away again down their right and into the area with Flynn getting in-behind once more. His drilled ball across the face was well parried by Daniels but almost carried into the Iron net by the back-peddling defence. Canavan and Clarke combined to clear off the line and away – the better chances continued to fall Sheffield United’s way.
An uneventful quarter of an hour followed, with the hosts content to hold possession, though the Iron did earned an opening with fifteen to play. Madden nodded back into space finding O’Neil who was then bundled to the ground on the edge of the box. Kevin van Veen stood over the set-piece and curled inches wide of Turner’s far post.
Scunthorpe were still struggling to make real inroads and as they pushed, the Blades countered expertly once more on 81 minutes. Jamie Murphy sprung the offside trap, running onto an excellent through ball before dinking over Daniels to make it 3-0 – their play-off credentials clear to see on tonight’s showing.
Two minutes later, Llera was booked for a foul on the far side. From that free kick, the Blades worked an opening deep inside the area. Llera arrived late on the scene once more, chopping his man down and earning a second yellow within a minute of his first. The referee showed the red card to the ex-Wednesdayite, much to the delight of the home support. Baxter confidently slammed home the penalty, top corner – 4-0. United then introduced Andrew Boyce in place of McSheffrey with four minutes to play.
The Iron are next in action on Saturday when they make the trip to Notts County.
Sheffield United: Turner, Harris, Brayford, Basham, Flynn, Murphy, Baxter, Coutts (Doyle, 79), Freeman, S. Davies (McNulty, 74), Holt.
Substitutes: Alcock, Willis, Done, B. Davies, Adams.
Scunthorpe United: Daniels, Clarke, Llera, Canavan, Townsend, Osbourne (van Veen, 60), Lundstram, Adelakun (Wootton, 75), O'Neil, McSheffrey (Boyce, 86), Madden.
Substitutes: Anyon, Davey, Williams, Evans.
Attendance: 19,442 (745 away).