The Iron maintained their three point lead at the top of League Two as a Paul Hayes brace gave them a 2-0 win over Mansfield Town at the One Call Stadium.
Hayes, who was making his third debut for the club, netted a spectacular opener in the first 10 minutes before adding his second in the closing stages as United registered their third win in succession.
The visiting side displayed a sense of resilience which is beginning to underline their season once again, as they nullified any danger the physical Stags side looked likely to pose while also demonstrating their clinical edge in front of goal when it mattered most.
Russ Wilcox made just one change from the side who beat Rochdale 3-0 on New Year’s Day, Deon Burton’s absence with a calf injury seeing Hayes chosen to partner Sam Winnall in attack.
That meant both Dave Syers and Marcus Williams retained their respective places in the starting line-up, having each completed permanent moves to the club earlier this week following successful loan spells. The Iron bench also featured a potential debutant, with Paddy Madden included in the match-day squad fresh from completing his switch from Championship outfit Yeovil Town on Friday.
Meanwhile, Mansfield manager Paul Cox stuck with the same side which completed a 1-0 victory at Exeter City last weekend as the Stags looked to secure back-to-back league wins for the first time since September.
The hosts started positively, and threatened first in the third minute when Williams was dispossessed by Anthony Howell. The Stags midfielder burst into the penalty-area before slipping the ball inside to Matt Rhead, whose low drive was tipped wide at full-stretch by Slocombe for the first corner of the game – with Slocombe also equal to a headed attempt from Rhead from set-piece.
United found themselves under further pressure four minutes later, with the home side going close to taking the lead once more; a seemingly innocuous high cross into the area caused United problems, and the ball eventually fell to Chris Clements who blazed over from the penalty-spot.
Despite their sluggish start, it would be United who went in front on nine minutes, and it was the returning Hayes who broke the deadlock in stunning style. A long clearance from the Iron saw Sam Winnall use his physicality superbly to chest the ball down to his strike-partner 25 yards from goal. That still left Hayes with much to do, but the forward instinctively turned to strike an emphatic first-time volley into the top-corner beyond the reach of Mansfield goalkeeper Alan Marriot to put United ahead.
Buoyed by that goal, the away side began to push forward with greater confidence as Ribeiro and Nolan looked to support the midfield in wide positions. Such attacking intent would almost be to the Iron’s detriment with quarter of an hour gone however, when Rhead fired a left-footed volley over from just inside the area after the Stags had countered on the visitors.
The United full-backs continued to get forward at every opportunity, and Williams progressed well into the penalty-area following excellent interplay with Hayes in the 23rd minute. Having jinked past a couple of trailing defenders, Williams tried his luck at goal but could only lash into the side-netting from a narrow angle as the Iron looked to increase their early advantage.
The Iron were now enjoying the better of the chances, and three minutes later combative play from Syers won possession in midfield before he cleverly slipped the ball to the advancing Hayes on the right. Hayes carried the ball to the by-line before floating a cross into the area in search of Winnall, only to see it headed behind by the Mansfield defence. From the resultant corner, the ball fell to McAllister 30 yards from goal but his ambitious volleyed effort sliced well over.
Having arguably taken the lead against the run of play, the Iron maintained their sense of authority in the game leading up to the half-hour mark as they won a succession of 50-50 duels in midfield to negate any offensive threat from Mansfield. Such control of the midfield was allowing the likes of Syers and Hawkridge to support Iron attacks, and a cross from the latter on 32 minutes was only just cleared by the Stags back-line.
The attacking adventure of the away side almost came to their cost once again on 36 minutes, when miscommunication between Syers and Canavan on halfway appeared to put Rhead through on goal. Mansfield’s physical target-man had a head-start on the retreating Ribeiro, but United’s right-back responded superbly to race around his opponent and get goal-side to clear the danger.
That did little to deter the Iron from making further pushes forward, with Hawkridge and Winnall each winning a corner within a matter of minutes as half-time loomed. The second set-piece was delivered loosely from the right, allowing Ollie Palmer to carry the ball away for Mansfield. Palmer did brilliantly to work his way onto the brink of the United penalty-area, but a lack of support prevented him from creating a meaningful chance for his side.
They would create a clearer opportunity on 44 minutes, when Jennings’ ball into the area worked its way to Lee Stevenson in the air, who collected on the run before volley over as the hosts tried to get themselves level before the interval. That would be their last opportunity to do so however, with referee Nigel Miller bringing the first-half to an end soon after.
United almost began the second period in dream fashion when Winnall raced onto a through-ball by Syers barely seconds after the resumption of play. Having seen his marker lose his footing as Winnall advanced, the Iron top-scorer found himself suddenly in a one-on-one situation with Marriot, but could only send his left-footed shot wide of the far post from an acute angle.
The home side looked to respond, and in the 50th minute were almost presented with an opportunity when Canavan sliced a clearance up in the air and behind him. It looked to be a situation of real danger for the Iron, but Williams reacted quickly to mop up after his colleague and hammer away.
A minute later, and it was United going close once more; Syers almost doubling their advantage as his flicked effort on the volley skidded narrowly wide as the game began to take on a growing end-to-end theme.
The intensity of the match was giving the Iron back-line little respite, with David Mirfin being forced to keep a keen eye on the dangerous Rhead who was the target of a number of long diagonals launched from the Stags defence. It was Rhead once again who was picked out by his colleagues on 57 minutes – bringing the ball down expertly before firing straight at Slocombe.
United responded, and forced a cheap corner sixty seconds later; the quickly-taken set-piece seeing Hawkridge and McAllister play a swift one-two before the former delivered deep towards the back-post. The cross found the advanced Mirfin, whose header back across goal could only be nodded into the chest of Marriott by an unmarked Winnall from close-range.
Just after the hour mark, Mansfield manager Paul Cox played his hand by introducing Louis Briscoe and Colin Daniel in place of Ollie Palmer and Lee Stevenson in an attempt to manoeuvre a way back into the game for his side. The changes helped make an immediate impact, with James Jennings earning a corner down the left – with Mirfin on hand to head off the line after the set-piece had been met by a Stags attacker deep in the area.
The home side were starting to press deeper and deeper into Iron territory as the game moved past 65 minutes, and Canavan had to be at his best twice in a matter of moments to first head clear a swirling cross before alertly clearing the next delivery from wide. The increase in pressure on the United defence was down largely to the tactical alterations made by Cox, with the Stags beginning to see more of the ball in the final third.
However, the away side still possessed the necessary quality to ride that storm while still posing a danger themselves and on 72 minutes that threat looked likely to come to fruition when a neat passing move culminated in Hawkridge being felled illegally 25 yards from goal.
Winnall’s low free-kick went straight into the wall, but eventually bounced out to Williams on the left. The wide midfielder sent a looping cross to the back-post where Winnall headed back across to the area to Hayes. The front-man swivelled smartly in a packed penalty-area to poke the ball past Marriott from close-range and double United’s lead with his second of the afternoon with just 15 minutes remaining.
Having doubled their advantage, the Iron then looked to immediately consolidate their lead by bringing on Michael Collins in place of the excellent Syers. Next to leave the field for United was the equally impressive Williams, who was replaced by Hakeeb Adelakun on 79 minutes.
Although not simply content to sit back and protect their lead, United struggled to create any clear opportunities in the next 5 minutes, with the home side themselves also finding it difficult to navigate a potential way back into the game. The Stags best opportunity came on 86 minutes when they looked to take advantage of a temporarily stricken McAllister by launching an attack – only to see the central midfielder show typical tenacity to recover to make a crucial tackle.
The following break in play gave Iron boss Russ Wilcox the chance to unleash his latest signing for the final three minutes, as Paddy Madden took to the field in place of Winnall. The recruit from Yeovil would have little time to make his mark however, with United seeing out the remaining time with ease to secure another three points.
The victory sees the Iron continue their incredible run of form under Russ Wilcox, having taken 23 points from a possible 27 since he took charge of first team affairs in mid-November.
Mansfield Town: Marriott; Westlake, Jennings, Tafazolli, Dempster (capt.) Sutton; Clements, Howell, Stevenson (Daniel, 63); Palmer (Briscoe, 63), Read.
Substitutes not used: Deakin, Dyer, Beevers, Meikle, Murray.
Scunthorpe United: Slocombe (capt.); Nolan, Mirfin, Canavan, Ribeiro; Williams (Adelakun, 79), McAllister, Syers (Collins, 75), Hawkridge; Hayes, Winnall (Madden, 87).
Substitutes not used: Severn, Sparrow, Esajas, Waterfall.
Referee: Nigel Miller (County Durham).
Attendance: 4,115 (1,211 away).