SHEFFIELD UNITED slipped deeper into trouble towards the bottom of the Championship table after being beaten by fellow strugglers Scunthorpe last night.
Ched Evans and Richard Cresswell appeared to have handed manager Micky Adams his first win since taking charge two months ago when they fired the visitors into a seemingly unassailable lead.
But Ian Baraclough’s side, who now climb above United in the rankings, staged a remarkable comeback to ease their own relegation woes and edge their opponents another step closer to League One.
Baraclough had celebrated his appointment as Nigel Adkins’ successor with a win over United in September.
Events at Bramall Lane that evening, which saw the Iron survive a sustained bombardment before somehow finishing on the right end of a 4-0 scoreline, left most of those in attendance scratching their heads in disbelief.
But there was nothing bewildering about this result as United’s inability to organise themselves at set-pieces ensured what should have been a match to remember instead became one to forget.
Joe Garner pounced twice during the closing stages of the opening period before Lee Miller completed Scunthorpe’s great escape soon after the re-start.
Adams’ misery was complete when Shane Lowry saw red for a challenge on Garner with just minutes remaining.
Adams has cited his inability to name a settled team as one of the major obstacles he has faced since taking charge. Once again the injuries and illnesses with have contributed to United’s predicament were in evidence as Lee Williamson was dropped to the bench after complaining of pain in his back.
That prompted Adams to ask Johnny Ertl, usually deployed at the heart of defence, to anchor operations in midfield while striker Sam Vokes again missed out.
Their opponents, though, have also been forced to contend with an over-crowded treatment room with Baraclough denied the services of key names including Rob Jones, Cliff Byrne and Joe Murphy.
That lack of cohesion, combined with a quagmire of a pitch, saw both camps adopt a blood and thunder approach.
Josh Lillis, the Scunthorpe keeper, came under sustained pressure as United peppered his penalty area but there was nothing agricultural about the finishing which allowed them to seize control of the contest after just seven minutes.
First Evans drilled home from 12 yards when a poor clearance fell kindly at his feet before Cresswell doubled United’s advantage.
As the confidence surged back through United veins, so Scunthorpe’s visibly drained.
Ertl came within a whisker of making it three after a glancing Matthew Lowton’s cross just beyond the far post while Michael Doyle saw a thunderous effort blocked.
Evans has improved beyond all recognition in recent weeks. An incisive move involving Bjorn Helge Riise, who later hit the crossbar with a delightful attempt from long range, saw him test Lillis again as United dominated while Stephen Quinn, later the victim of a poor tackle by Andrew Wright, thought he had sent the Wales international scampering through but Michael Nelson intervened.
Scunthorpe, however, were handed a route back into the match when Garner was brought down by Collins eight minutes before the interval. Referee David Foster had no option but to award a penalty which the on-loan centre-forward duly converted.
Evans continued to threaten and twice went close. But United, who could easily have been out of sight by the time Foster brought the first half to a close, instead paid a heavy price for their profligacy when Garner claimed his second from Mark Duffy’s free-kick.
More than any other failing, United vulnerability at set-pieces has undermined their bid to drag themselves clear of the drop zone.
So it was no surprise to see Scunthorpe, reinvigorated by Garner’s dramatic intervention, take the lead from another Duffy free-kick.
This time, however, it was Miller who profited from yet more dreadful organisation when he bundled the ball home beyond a hopelessly exposed Steve Simonsen.
As United pressed forward, Scunthorpe began to exploit the space behind their porous back four.
Ben Gordon found the side netting after charging along the flank and Garner for once fluffed his lines from close range before being hauled down by Lowry.