Scunthorpe declared this afternoon’s match ‘Irish Iron Day’ but, with their bid for Championship football faltering slightly of late, Sheffield United were more bothered about claiming three points than commemorating players from the Emerald Isle.
They began in positive fashion with Steve Davies threading an inch-perfect pass through the Matt Done in the third minute which forced his marker to take evasive action.
But, inexplicably given United’s superiority, it was Scunthorpe who took the lead courtesy of a Neal Bishop goal before Kieron Freeman deservedly restored parity.
Despite building a squad full of talent, United manager Nigel Clough has seen injury and suspension rob him of several key options in recent weeks. With Chris Basham’s ban placing further pressure on a rearguard already
missing Terry Kennedy and Mark Howard, John Brayford was forced to deputise alongside Jay McEveley at centre-half with Freeman recalled at full-back.
Set-pieces, at both ends of the pitch, have been a particular issue for United of late.
The free-kick they won after that early interchange between Davies and Done ended in frustrating fashion when Louis Reed failed to beat the first man.
The youngster redeemed himself with a clever touch in midfield which earned enough space to send Jamie Murphy darting towards the byline but his cross was cleared for a throw-in.
Scunthorpe’s Mark Robins had tasked Paddy Madden with spearheading the hosts’ frontline and it was the former Yeovil Town marksman who, in the fifth minute, presented Brayford with his first serious test. He passed - heading the ball away under pressure - before captain Bishop blazed wastefully over the crossbar from long range.
Nevertheless, United continued to look the more accomplished team.
Done prides himself on never giving defenders a moment’s peace and, in the 10th minute, his industry was responsible for forcing the error which ended with Reed seizing possession before Luke Daniels advanced off his
line to clear.
Murphy showed next, ghosting across the edge of the penalty area and using Done as a decoy, but could not generate enough power to trouble the Scunthorpe goalkeeper with a low drive.
Clough, though, will have been pleased with the performance levels of his players.
Davies used his frame well to shield the ball near the penalty spot following another slick interchange - this time involving Paul Coutts, Michael Doyle and Reed - but could not find enough space to turn and test Daniels’ handling.
As the midway point of the first-half approached, the on-loan striker took out his frustration with a low shot which flew just past the near post.
Moments later, Done followed suit with a glancing header from Freeman’s centre before Reed, dropping deep to evade George Evans’ attention, went close with another long-range drive after combining with Bob Harris.
The patience of the home crowd - and referee Darren Handley, who cautioned Jordan Clarke for a 30th minute foul on Murphy - was beginning to wear thin. From the resulting free-kick, Brayford found himself in a position to shoot through the crowd of bodies but could not beat Daniels.
In the 37th minute, completely against the run of play, Scunthorpe took the lead. From a set-piece.
George Evans delivered the ball into the middle of United’s penalty area and BISHOP duly turned it home.
Then, on the stroke of half-time, FREEMAN levelled with an immaculate finish at the far post.
His first time shot, back across the face of Daniels, left Scunthorpe’s goalkeeper rooted to the spot.
Scunthorpe, who emerged from the tunnel for the second half a good two minutes behind United, introduced Hakeeb Adelakun for Bishop, at the start of the second period. They thought they had scored in the 49th minute when Turner seemed to have collected Gary McSheffrey’s corner only for the ball to end up in the back of the net. However, the match officials immediately ruled the effort out for a foul. Presumably on the United goalkeeper who, together with Brayford, had launched an immediate protest.
The sense of injustice, however, equipped Scunthorpe with a renewed sense of purpose.
And, worryingly for United, the territory to start winning free-kicks around Turner’s penalty area.
Done required treatment after taking an accidental blow to the head before Murphy and Reed attempted to put United back on the front foot with an exchanges of passes along the flank.
Murphy was involved again soon after, recycling the ball to Harris, only for the Scot to make a rare miscalculation when it came to judging a cross.
As the afternoon wore on, so the contest became increasingly fractious.
Which, in truth, suited Scunthorpe best.
With 17 minutes of normal time remaining, both managers made a change to try and change the course of the contest with Jason Holt replacing Coutts and Evans making way for Kevin van Veen.
Holt nearly made an immediate impact when he got a toe on Davies’ low cross but Daniels gathered.
Kyle Wootton replaced McSheffrey in the 77th minute but, five minutes later, Madden spurned two good chances to give Scunthorpe the lead. First, McEveley did just enough to make the centre-forward bundle wide from close-range as he bore down on the advancing Turner. Then, just seconds later, he rolled the United defender far too easily but shot tamely at the goalkeeper.
Not so van Veen who unleashed a powerful rising and angled drive which Turner did well to palm away.
Holt turned just over the crossbar from close-range as United responded before an injury to Freeman - he collapsed to the floor with no player near - stretched their resources still further.
Alcock came on but no further goals were forthcoming.
SCUNTHORPE UNITED: Daniels, Canavan, Madden, Bishop, Evans, O’Neil, Boyce, McSheffrey, Williams, Clarke, Osbourne. Substitutes: Anyon, van Veen, Adelakun, Townsend, Wootton, Llera, Davey.
SHEFFIELD UNITED: Turner, Harris, Brayford, Doyle, Murphy, Done, Coutts, McEveley, Reed, Freeman, S Davies. Substitutes: Willis, Alcock, Baxter, McNulty, B Davies, Adams, Holt.
REFEREE: Darren Handley (Lancashire).