The Iron’s inconsistent form continued, as they fell to a disappointing 2-0 home defeat against an improving Accrington Stanley at Glanford Park.
United were second best during the first-half, and a brace of goals shared between the visiting Stanley front-line of George Bowerman and Kayode Odejayi gave the away side a largely deserved two goal advantage at the break.
The hosts improved immeasurably after the break, but had left themselves too much to do with the visitors defending determinedly to preserve their lead under intense Iron pressure.
Iron manager Brian Laws made three changes to the side which drew at Grimsby Town last weekend, with Niall Canavan making a return to action in place of David Mirfin – who missed out after picking up a calf injury in the clash against the Mariners.
Further tactical switches saw David Syers and Deon Burton preferred to Terry Hawkridge and Jimmy Spencer in a 4-4-2 formation, while latest loan recruit Reuben Noble-Lazarus took a place on the bench having joined from Barnsley earlier in the week.
Meanwhile, Accrington Stanley boss James Beattie made just one alteration to the team which went down 1-0 to League One outfit Tranmere Rovers in the FA Cup last time out as front-man James Gray dropped to the bench in favour of Bowerman.
After an initially steady start to the game, Stanley had ambitious claims for a penalty in the third minute when Bettinelli’s long clearance bounced over the Iron defence for Bowermanto race onto.
The visiting striker appeared to nick the ball past Slocombe in the penalty-area, but referee Richard Clark indicated the Iron ‘keeper had got a touch on the ball and instead opted to award the visiting side their first corner of the match.
The resultant set-piece could only be cleared behind by Andy Dawson, and from the second corner Peter Murphy had the ball in the back of the net after latching onto a skewed effort from the edge of the area by Bowerman – only to be adjudged offside by the linesman on the far side.
On 12 minutes the visitors were almost in again when Kayode Odejayi’s excellent knock-down found Bowerman in the six-yard-box, but the Stanley forward was crowded out by a determined Iron defence.
United were visibly struggling with the physicality of Odejayi – who had a brief loan spell at Glanford Park in 2009 – and barely seconds later his presence earned his side a further corner as Slocombe failed to cleanly grasp a cross from the left under pressure from the targetman.
The Iron were struggling to create any meaningful opportunities of their own, with a succession of seemingly promising moves breaking down as they moved towards the final third. Indeed, the away side were enjoying the lion’s share of the chances and Murphy again went close in the 19th minute when he burst through midfield before curling a left-footed effort from distance over.
That theme continued four minutes later when Canavan was forced to climb well to clear the danger after Murphy’s lofted ball over the top with the outside of his foot almost found Odejayi in space.
The away side would not have long to wait to take a deserved lead however, when a quickly-taken short free-kick allowed Bowermanto cut inside from the right before curling a precise left-footer past Slocombe from the edge of the area on 26 minutes.
The set-back appeared to galvanise the Iron, who attacked with real purpose for the first time in the game immediately after the restart. Following determined hold-up play in the area from Burton, the United striker clipped in a dangerous cross only for Sam Winnall to head wide from close range. Not long after, Winnall’s pull-back found Syers in space on the edge of the ‘D’, but the midfielder’s effort whipped past the frame of the goal.
Despite the Iron seemingly getting a foot-hold in the game, they soon found themselves on the back-foot once more as Kai Naismith was allowed far too much space and time to bring the ball through midfield in the 33rd minute before firing wide. The Iron fans were making their feelings on the first-half display known in no uncertain terms, but could only watch as things got worse two minutes later when Odejayi nodded in Lee Naylor’s dinked cross from the byline to double Stanley’s lead.
Incredibly, it could have been three barely sixty seconds later; once again, the visitors worked the ball into the penalty area with consummate ease before Murphy slipped the ball across the goalmouth towards the on-rushing Bowerman who seemed set to convert. However, Dawson recovered well to somehow clear the ball behind – when there was a very real possibility of inadvertently bundling into his own net under intense scrutiny from the ex-Woking man.
Bowerman – making his first start for the club – was impressing and on the stroke of half-time displayed excellent awareness to create a chance for himself by flicking the ball up before swivelling and volleying straight at Slocombe. That marked the last notable chance of an extremely disappointing first-half for the Iron, who were booed off the pitch as the referee brought an end to the opening period.
The Iron were sent out early for the second period by manager Brian Laws, who used the break to make two substitutions as Etienne Esajas and Syers were withdrawn in favour of Hawkridge and debutant Noble-Lazarus. Despite the tactical changes, United faced a mountain to climb to salvage something from the game, and that task could have become even more difficult in the 47th minute when Murphy sent a shot into the side-netting after Slocombe had parried Bowerman’s effort.
United survived the early scare though, and soon had an opportunity of their own when loose play in the Stanley back-line presented Winnall the ball in space in the area. However, the Iron top-scorer hesitated momentarily, allowing the away side to regroup and restrict him to a tame effort which he sent straight at Bettinelli.
The home side were to come even closer two minutes later, when Burton managed to scramble the ball wide to substitute Noble-Lazarus in a frenetic period of play; with the winger crashing a fierce drive off the bar before the rebound eluded those in claret and blue who had pushed forward to join the attack. Moments later, a Hawkridge cross almost found Burton at the back-post, but Stanley were awarded a free-kick with the striker deemed to have impeded the goalkeeper.
With the Iron throwing caution to the wind in an attempt to get back into the game, they were leaving themselves open to the prospect of a Stanley counter-attack, and on 55 minutes Slocombe had to be at his best to beat a Murphy drive behind after the latter had purposefully broken from midfield.
Sixty seconds later, Sean McAllister became the first player to be cautioned after a late tackle in the centre-circle and he was joined in the book by Michael Collins soon after following a foulon Murphy deep in Stanley territory as United’s frustrations began to get the better of them. Brian Laws responded by making his final change of the afternoon, bringing on Chris Iwelumo in place of Deon Burton on 63 minutes.
Despite the changes, and having the started the second-half with purpose, the Iron were finding themselves limited to long-range efforts as they tried to navigate a way past a resolute Stanley back-line who were beginning to drop deeper as they sought to consolidate their lead.
However, they almost found a breakthrough on 68 minutes when a jinking run down the right from Hawkridge gave the winger an opportunity to cross; the ball eventually fell to Dawson, who flashed a volley into a crowded penalty-area where a deflection brought it onto the head of Winnall – only for Bettinelli to produce a magnificent point-blank stop to prevent what seemed a certain goal.
It was Hawkridge again who looked most likely two minutes later, reacting first to control a bouncing ball and beat his marker on the edge of the area before losing his balance as he lashed over.
The home side were now well on top, and Accrington manager James Beattie responded by introducing Danny Webber in place of George Bowerman in an attempt to change the rhythm of the play.
With 15 minutes remaining, the Iron won a free-kick 30 yards from goal in a central area following a foul on Iwelumo. From the set-piece, Dawson fed the ball quickly to Hawkridge who crossed for Cliff Byrne whose header eventually squirmed its way into the net, only for the United defender to be flagged offside – with Bettinelli booked for time-wasting over the resultant free-kick.
Stanley had done well to resist the Iron barrage in the second-half, but moments later looked to be under pressure again when Nicky Hunt wiped out the marauding Dawson as he broke down the left. The referee waved for an advantage as Noble-Lazarus looked to pick up the loose ball, but when the winger failed to do so refused to bring play back – deciding instead to only issue a booking to Hunt much to the frustration of both United’s players and fans.
On 84 minutes United went close again; Collins patiently bided his time to find the right option in midfield before clipping a perfectly weighted pass ahead of Iwelumo. The ball looked set to elude the big front-man, but he stooped low to connect with a diving header which Bettinelli palmed wide.
Stanley looked to counter, and could have had the game wrapped up minutes later when a determined run from substitute Webber led to pin-ball in the United area before the ball was eventually scrambled clear. Once again, the Iron pushed up-field, and a drive across the face of goal from Hawkridge somehow avoided a mass of bodies to harmlessly go out of play.
The away side saw out the remaining minutes – including the five indicated to be added on – with few scares, doing enough to take all three points away from Glanford Park.
The result sees the Iron drop to 12th place in League Two, although they remain just two points shy of the play-off positions.
Scunthorpe United: Slocombe; Dawson, Waterfall, Canavan, Byrne; Esajas (Noble-Lazarus, 45), Collins (capt.), McAllister, Syers (Hawkridge, 45); Winnall, Burton (Iwelumo, 63).
Substitutes not used: Severn, Ribeiro, Adelakun, Spencer.
Accrington Stanley: Bettinelli, Naylor, Winnard, Aldred, Hunt; Mingoia, Joyce (capt.), Murphy, Naismith; Odejayi (Gray, 88), Bowerman (Webber, 72).
Substitutes not used: Dunbavin, Liddle, Hatfield,Windass, Mahoney.
Referee: Richard Clark (Northumberland).
Attendance: 3,255 (118 away).