United leading marksman Sam Winnall provided a key assist in his side’s narrow 1-0 victory over Oxford United at Glanford Park which edged the Iron to the brink of promotion back to League One.
With five minutes gone, Winnall was seriously involved for the first time when he broke down the left wing before skipping inside and working his way into the penalty area. Having manoeuvred the space to get a shot away, the 23-year-old sent a stinging drive at Oxford goalkeeper Ryan Clarke who did just enough to unconvincingly parry to safety.
The former Wolves academy product was typically industrious during the opening stages, and was rewarded for his efforts on 14 minutes when he played a key role in United taking the lead. Having stolen the attention of the Oxford defence with an intelligent run towards the near-post, Winnall flicked a Michael Collins cut-back into the path of Matt Sparrow – who stroked the Iron in front confidently.
Four minutes later, Sparrow almost returned the favour having been found by Terry Hawkridge following the winger’s jinking run down the left. Winnall had broken free of the last defender inside the area and looked set to latch onto the ball, but his midfield colleague over-hit the pass bringing United’s attack to an end.
The remainder of the opening period saw the striker have a prolonged stop-start involvement, as United struggled to find a flowing rhythm which would enable him to display his best offensive qualities. Instead the Iron had to settle for a one goal advantage at the break; Winnall credited with the assist for his part in Sparrow’s opener.
Just three minutes after the restart, Winnall looked set for a run on goal after a smart one-two with striker-partner Paddy Madden saw him burst into the area. However, the Oxford defence recovered manfully to wrestle the ball off him on the by-line at the expense of a corner which was eventually cleared.
On 52 minutes Winnall had a clearer sight of goal, after space was created largely courtesy to some determined work from Madden. The Irish striker showed courage to head the ball onto Dave Syers, who in turn knocked across to Winnall just inside the box – the top scorer in League Two smashing an instinctive first-time effort which flew over.
With just over half an hour remaining, Winnall looked to turn provider for Syers when he neatly nodded into the path of his colleague inside the area following a chip into the area from midfield. The ball fell perfectly for Syers to strike on the volley low towards goal, but Clarke somehow managed to divert over to keep United at bay.
Midway through the second half, Winnall pressurised Clarke into a mistake from a corner as he forced the Oxford goalkeeper to spill his collection. In the ensuing melee, the striker did everything in his power to negotiate a route to goal only to be denied by a dogged visiting defence desperate to keep him out.
His next involvement came in a more defensive capacity, when Winnall joined the Iron ranks to defend an Oxford corner from the right. A dangerous delivery was whipped into the box, with the striker missing his clearing header; United surviving the scare when U’s substitute James Constable nodded down and wide at the back-post.
Oxford threw everything at rescuing a late point in the closing stages, meaning Winnall found his chances to go on the attack limited as the Iron dug deep to protect their advantage. Despite intense pressure from the visitors, United managed to hold on take all three points – with their leading marksman claiming an assist for the solitary goal which put them within touching distance of securing automatic promotion.