Matt Sparrow’s first half goal returned the Iron back to the top of League Two and brought his side three points closer to promotion as Scunthorpe United beat Oxford United 1-0 at Glanford Park.
With a crowd of 5,241 coming to support United in their penultimate home game of the 2013/2014 season the Scunthorpe players wanted to send them home happy with three points and promotion.
Despite promotion not being achieved just yet, as other results didn’t go the Iron’s way, they did manage to send the fans home with three much needed points as they returned to winning ways to maintain their push for promotion and the League trophy.
Russ Wilcox made one change from the draw at Morecambe as he brought Michael Collins in for Hakeeb Adelakun, as he looked to extend his world record unbeaten run as manager.
The Iron started the first half brightly with plenty of possession and attacking intent. Paddy Madden was at the heart of the action inside the opening quarter of an hour as the Scunthorpe striker proved to be a real menace to the Oxford backline.
The first chance of the game was created inside the first five minutes, courtesy of Madden, as top goal scorer Sam Winnall found some space inside the area and tried his luck from a tight angle.
Despite stinging the gloves of Oxford goalkeeper Ryan Clarke, the opposing goalkeeper managed to keep Winnall’s effort out and keep the scores level.
However, Clarke was unable to prevent the next effort that came his way as Matt Sparrow put the Iron ahead in the 13th minute of the match.
Once again it was Paddy Madden that provided the inspiration as his tenacity out wide provided the space for winger Terry Hawkridge to fire in a cross which eventually fell to the recalled Sparrow ten yards out who, fortunately for the 5,000 Scunthorpe supporters inside Glanford Park, made no mistake with the finish.
The away side responded straight from kick off, and should have levelled the game as Alfie Potter broke through the Scunthorpe defence but could only drag his shot wide when faced with the presence of Sam Slocombe in the home net.
However, this was the only glimpse the opposition had of Slocombe’s goal as the Iron continued to dominate possession and deal with the presence of big striker Dave Kitson who, despite posing an aerial threat, got no reward out of the two Scunthorpe centre halves David Mirfin and Niall Canavan.
The next chance of the game fell to the stand out player of the first half Paddy Madden. The Scunthorpe striker capitalised on some poor Oxford passing amongst their defenders and created himself a one on one chance against Clarke in the Oxford net.
Madden couldn’t find the goal his first half performance warranted as a superb save from the Oxford goalkeeper denied the Glanford Park crowd from celebrating goal number two of the afternoon.
Despite there being no further chances for the remainder of the half, the Iron still took a goal advantage into the break and, as other results were going their way, were only 45 minutes away from securing promotion.
Oxford made one change at half time as James Constable came on for David Connolly as the visitors looked to get back into the game. The start to the first half began much as the second half had finished with plenty of the play being played in the Oxford half but little meaningful action taking place.
Oxford’s defence were holding firm and restricting the Iron to long range efforts before David Syers found himself with a glorious chance inside the penalty area on the hour mark.
The midfielder, despite getting a firm connection, couldn’t provide the finish to ease the nerves around Glanford Park even though the visitors were creating very little going the other way. The nerves were understandable though considering how close the Iron were to promotion and the players seemed to feel the anxiety around the stadium as more passes were misplaced and Oxford began to get their best spell of possession together.
Captain Sam Slocombe remained a spectator though as his defence dealt with the physical threat of the Oxford attack without requiring their captain’s help. Scunthorpe grew back into the game and had a couple of chances to extend their lead as Paddy Madden and Terry Hawkridge missed good chances.
Madden had a header cleared off the line that led to a goal mouth scramble which no Iron player could convert and Hawkridge had a free kick well save from Clarke in the Oxford net, who was proving to be a standout player for the visitors.
Oxford made their final two substitutions as Ryan Williams came on for Callum O’Dowda and Josh Ruffels was replaced by Danny Rose. It was their first substitution, Constable, however that had the best chance to equalise as he squandered a fantastic chance when he couldn’t make enough contact with his header from close range to keep Slocombe’s clean sheet intact.
Despite a flurry of Oxford attacks late on, which saw the Oxford keeper Clarke nearly get on the end of a set piece, the Iron held firm to return to winning ways and the top of the SkyBet League Two table.