First half strikes from Lee Molyneux and Peter Murphy had put the home side in control, but United were level before the hour thanks to strikes from Sam Winnall and substitute Hakeeb Adelakun.
Things would then get better for the away side in the final minute of injury-time when David Mirfin secured all three points with a well-directed header which sees United move level with leaders Chesterfield at the top of League Two once more.
United manager Russ Wilcox chose to keep the faith with the side which secured a 1-1 draw against the Spireites at Glanford Park last weekend, with strikers Paddy Madden and Winnall continuing their development as a pairing.
Meanwhile, Accrington boss James Beattie made just one change from the team which played out a 0-0 stalemate at Wycombe in their previous outing as Molyneux replaced the injured Kai Naismith in midfield.
The home side started the brightest, and earned their first corner of the match in the second minute, with the left-footed swirling delivery from Laurence Wilson being headed behind his own goal by Mirfin. Stanley caused less concern with their second corner, and United were able to clear with ease as heavy rain started to whip around the stadium.
Having survived that pair of set-pieces, the Iron then won a corner of their own four minutes later after a steady passing move. Much like their opponents, United saw their initial delivery put behind, but almost profited from their second flag-kick – the ball eventually reaching the unmarked Niall Canavan who was just unable to adjust sufficiently enough to seriously test Stanley goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli.
The Iron were attempting to manoeuvre the ball neatly in midfield, but found their attempts to build such attacks inhibited by the ball sticking in the surface water present in areas of the pitch. In contrast, Stanley appeared more accustomed to the tricky conditions, and in the 18th minute took advantage when George Bowerman raced onto a measured ball down the right flank. The former Walsall forward slipped the ball across the area towards Molyneux, who edged ahead of Christian Ribeiro to slide past Sam Slocombe from 18 yards and put the hosts ahead.
Stanley has adjusted to the conditions better than their opponents, and soon looked to launch a series of attacks having been buoyed by their bright start. On 25 minutes a determined diagonal run across the pitch by Molyneux offered the space to shoot, but his effort was deflected behind off Ribeiro. The subsequent in-swinger looked set to test the Iron’s resolve once again, but their defence held firm to clear their lines under pressure from the physical presence of former United forward Kayode Odejayi.
United were struggling to create any meaningful opportunities of their own, and five minutes later it was only composed defending from the retreating Mirfin which prevented Bowerman from working his way into a shooting position.
The Iron were not to fare so well on 37 minutes when a delicately chipped pass by Wilson found Murphy in space on the edge of the area. The central midfielder appeared to have initially failed to control the ball, but managed to get a shot away which evaded Slocombe’s dive and doubled Stanley’s lead.
With their game-plan having gone awry, United looked to navigate a way back into the contest before the interval. Their best opportunity to do so came when the ball was fizzed back across the area by Ribeiro four minutes after the second goal – but two attempted strikes in quick succession from Dave Syers failed to achieve the desired result, with the second finding only the side-netting.
Instead it was Stanley who came within inches of extending their lead still further as the game edged towards injury-time at the end of the first half. The dangerous Molyneux advanced deep into United territory once more and lashed across the face of goal; with Mirfin’s outstretched leg diverting the ball narrowly over Slocombe’s crossbar at great pace with the goalkeeper a watching spectator.
The visitors would earn one final chance to reduce the arrears before the break in the final minute of injury-time as they won a corner on the right, but the danger was easily cleared by a determined Stanley who took a well-earned lead into half-time leaving the Iron with it all to do in the second period.
Disappointed with the showing of his team in the opening half, Iron manager Russ Wilcox opted for two half-time tactical alterations as he introduced Gary McSheffrey and Adelakun in place of Terry Hawkridge and Ribeiro. The switches were made with the clear intention of posing a greater attacking threat to the Stanley back-line, with Marcus Williams reverting to a left-back position.
Those bold decisions from Wilcox were to provide almost immediate dividends just five minutes after the re-start when United pulled a goal back through Winnall. After a neat build-up involving Madden, the ball fell the way of Sean McAllister on the edge of the area – the diminutive midfielder coolly laying the ball into the path of the Iron top scorer who displayed enough composure to beat Bettinelli with the help of a deflection.
That offered United a clear route back into the game, and saw self-doubt creep into the Stanley mind-set for the first time as the lively Adelakun looked to assert himself on the match with a number of jinking runs down the right. The involvement of the young winger was helping to widen the pitch for the Iron, who were now beginning to enjoy more of the ball than they had at any other stage of the evening.
Having taken on what was initially an unrecognised role by some, Adelakun would then announce himself on centre-stage as he smashed the Iron level a minute before the hour-mark. The Iron youth product picked the ball up just inside the area wide on the right, and showed a maturity beyond his years to drive a right-footed drive past Bettinelli.
Stanley boss James Beattie looked to stem the growing claret and blue tide on 62 minutes when he introduced James Gray in favour of Bowerman, but found his side on the back-foot once again barely moments later as Bettinelli produced a smart save low to his left to palm away Winnall’s goal-bound drive.
The renewed confidence of a resurgent United saw them earn two consecutive corners two minutes later, but an increasingly nervous home side did just enough to avert the danger, albeit temporarily. On 65 minutes a through ball from midfield almost reached Syers as he burst forward – the ball being knocked behind for a further corner.
Although the initial delivery was cleared, McSheffrey’s subsequent whipped cross reached Madden at the back-post, with the forward denied his first Iron goal by a matter of inches as his header rattled the bar. That prompted a further substitution from Stanley, with goal-scorer Molyneux replaced by Will Hatfield on 71 minutes as boss Beattie looked to regain control of the midfield battle.
The introduction of Hatfield had the desired effect in the short-term for the home side, with Stanley stemming the flow of the once-rampant Iron as the game moved into the final 15 minutes. However, the cost of greater parity in midfield did not come without sacrifice – veteran Nicky Hunt seeing yellow for a crude challenge on McSheffrey as the winger looked to break from deep.
The former Coventry man would be involved again on 77 minutes, moving the ball inside towards Madden who cut onto his right foot only for his curling effort to sail behind off a Stanley defender for a corner. United failed to take advantage of their set-piece, and instead soon found themselves pressed back deep into their own half until Murphy sent a team effort from distance straight at Slocombe.
Stanley were to then see a second player go into the book with nine minutes remaining when Murphy was cautioned for a foul on halfway. Those bookings reflected United’s growing authority in midfield, with the home side resorting to desperate measures to preven the Iron from countering.
Despite that, Stanley themselves could have notched the crucial fifth on 85 minutes; Slocombe showing expert reactions to leap and tip away a rasping Murphy driver after the midfielder was teed up selflessly by Odejayi. That was to mark Odejayi’s final involvement in the game, with the striker replaced by Danny Webber soon after.
Having seen off the threat offered by Stanley generally and Murphy in particular, United then forced a double of set-pieces on the right; the second of which seeing Bettinelli misjudge his collection and drop the ball in the middle of a packed penalty-area – only for a host of Iron players to be unable to direct the ball towards goal.
That missed opportunity would not matter as the game moved into the first minute of stoppage time, when a McSheffrey free-kick from halfway was met by the head of the excellent Mirfin – the central defender placing a firm header beyond Bettinelli to seemingly complete a stunning comeback and give his side all three points.
The home side would respond, with the limited time they had remaining, but despite their best efforts United survived a last-gasp scare to secure a vital win in their race for promotion back to League One at the first time of asking.
The victory sees United secure their first win for six games, while stretching their unbeaten run under the guidance of manager Wilcox to 15 games with 15 games of the regular season remaining.
The first of those games sees the Iron host Portsmouth at Glanford Park a week on Saturday – the reverse fixture of which saw United earn a 2-1 victory at Fratton Park in Wilcox's first game in charge back in November.
Accrington Stanley: Bettinelli; Wilson, Aldred, Winnard, Hunt; Molyneux (Hatfield, 71), Murphy, Joyce (capt.), Mingoia; Bowerman (Gray, 62); Odejayi (Webber, 87).
Substitutes not used: Liddle, McCartan, Windass, Atkinson.
Scunthorpe United: Slocombe (capt.); Nolan, Mirfin, Canavan, Ribeiro (Adelakun, 46); Williams, McAllister, Syers, Hawkridge (McSheffrey, 46); Madden, Winnall.
Substitutes not used: Severn, Sparrow, Waterfall, Collins, Hayes.
Referee: Stephen Martin (Staffordshire).
Attendance: 1,256 (500 away approx).