If familiarity really does breed contempt then last night’s match should have been a bloody, brutal affair.
Instead Sheffield United, meeting for Scunthorpe for the second time in only 10 days, inflicted their revenge in much more constructive and clinical fashion.
Not that Nigel Clough, whose United side remain fifth in the table, is particularly bothered about aesthetics at this stage of the campaign. With the race for the play-offs seemingly destined to go right down to the wire, Clough acknowledged beforehand that results must take priority over entertainment along League One’s finishing straight.
However, his team obliged on both counts as goals from Jason Holt, Jamie Murphy and a Jose Baxter brace saw United, whose promotion credentials were being questioned after drawing 1-1 at Glanford Park earlier this month, silence their critics in style.
Scunthorpe have waited nearly five years for a victory at Bramall Lane and, as Mark Robins later conceded, they seldom appeared in danger of ending their search.
United, now six points clear of seventh placed Barnsley, went about their business with an intensity and verve which suggests the confidence eroded by some disappointing results since the turn of the year is flooding back fast.
Predictably, given the size of the prize on offer, there were some nervous moments.
The free-kick from Gary McSheffrey, which troubled Iain Turner at the start of the second-half, being the most notable.
But they were few and far between with United, who have never lost when Jamie Murphy has scored this term, making sure of the result when the Scot made it three during the closing stages.
Baxter applied the coup-de-grace, again from the penalty spot, after Miguel Llera had been dismissed for a foul on substitute Marc McNulty.
United went about their business with an intensity and verve which suggests the confidence eroded by some disappointing results is flooding back fastThe Star’s Blades reporter James Shield
Holt has made no secret of the fact he wants to earn a permanent position in Clough’s squad after being allowed to leave Heart of Midlothian on loan. With two of his last three goals in professional football coming against Celtic and Rangers, the youngster clearly has an eye for the big occasion which he demonstrated again by landing the first blow of what Clough had previously acknowledged was a pivotal contest on United’s calendar.
Ghosting past his marker after cutting in from the touchline, Holt opened his United account after threading the ball through a crowded penalty area and beyond the unsighted Luke Daniels.
Baxter is another player apparently coming good at just the right time and it was the Liverpudlian, scoring for the third time in as many outings, who was responsible for extending United’s advantage just before the interval with a well-taken penalty.
With the impressive Ryan Flynn and Murphy wreaking havoc out wide, this was a performance more reminiscent of the swashbuckling displays which saw Clough’s charges reach the FA Cup semi-finals 11 months ago.
A fact they underlined when Murphy pounced with nine minutes left before Baxter rubbed salt into Scunthorpe wounds.
United, even with only eight fixtures of the season remaining, are a work in progress which goes some way towards explaining their inconsistencies of late.
Five members of the team which started against the visitors from Lincolnshire arrived at Bramall Lane during the recent transfer window with another, Matt Done, joining goalkeeper Mark Howard on the treatment table
Done, however, was judged fit enough to be among the substitutes.
Scunthorpe handed a debut to new loan signing John Lundstram. The Everton youngster was a formidable presence but, conceding a corner, set in motion the chain of events which saw United take the lead.
But it was Luke O’Neil who created the evening’s first real opening of note with a superb second minute cross which John Brayford, wearing the captain’s armband in Michael Doyle’s absence, did well to clear.
Set-pieces have been a weakness in United’s armoury of late but, soon after Brayford’s interception, Jamie Murphy and Bob Harris combined during a training-ground move which thrust Scunthorpe onto the back foot.
Harris’ centre sailed beyond the onrushing Steven Davies but it did reveal a potential avenue for the hosts to explore.
Paul Coutts attempted to do exactly that soon after, releasing Murphy with a deft first time pass but Daniels, the Scunthorpe goalkeeper, smothered at his near post.
The 27-year-old, however, was powerless to prevent Holt from firing United into a 15th minute lead.
Baxter doubled their advantage six minutes before the interval when Flynn, sent darting through by Murphy, was brought down in the box by Jordan Clarke leaving referee Mark Heywood with no option but to award a penalty.
United seized control of the second period when Murphy left Conor Townsend trailing in his wake before unleashing an angled drive which Daniels did well to gather.
Scunthorpe, some brief flashes of inspiration from Gary McSheffrey and Paddy Madden apart, were rocking.
Indeed, they nearly fell three behind when Murphy saw a close-range effort scrambled off the line.
Scunthorpe substitute Kevin van Veen swept a 76th minute free-kick just wide of Turner’s far post before Murphy signalled an end to their resistance. Llera collected his second caution in quick succession eight minutes later which allowed Baxter to convert.