There were times during this game when Billy Sharp, the Sheffield United centre-forward, seemed intent on fighting nearly everyone inside Glanford Park.
Opposition players, coaching staff and even referee Andy Haines all provoked his ire at different points of a match which, the 29-year-old later acknowledged, will do nothing to repair the curiously fractious relationship between himself and the home support.
But Sharp, who despite serving Scunthorpe with distinction for two gloriously successful seasons is now barracked mercilessly whenever he returns, revealed he loves being cast as a pantomime villain after ensuring Nigel Adkins’ side enter the festive period having recorded a crucial and historic win.
“I’ve been back two or three times and always got stick from the fans,” Sharp, whose goal proved the defining moment of Saturday’s contest, said. “If they give me some then I’ll gladly give some back.
“I got one over on them today. It doesn’t bother me. In fact, I enjoy it. The ref was dying to book me out there and, when I proved his strides were too long at a set-piece situation, that’s what he did. But, for me, that’s what works, laying right on the edge.”
This might have been United’s first away victory over Scunthorpe for more than half a century but it was achieved in utterly predictable fashion. Sharp scored a phenomenal 56 times in 95 appearances after joining the hosts at the start of his career and, as the stadium announcer’s moribund tone betrayed when he met Jay McEveley’s corner, there was an air of inevitability about how things would unfold.
Sharp, whose decision to celebrate raised Scunthorpe’s hackles even more, was simply following convention. But he made no apology for breaking another footballing code.
“I get paid by Sheffield United, I play for Sheffield United and my job is to score goals. I love getting them so why shouldn’t I show my emotion when I do?” he sais. “I don’t think fans come to watch a game and then, when their team scores, everyone just stands there with their heads down and does nothing. I know that’s what some people do and, fair enough, I can understand why they do it. But I think it’s a lack of respect for the team you are with at the time.”
“I went to bed the night before hoping for a goal and I win,” Sharp continued. “There’s no better feeling than knowing you’ve won and getting the goal that did it.
“I believe I’m going to score in every single game but I just knew it was going to happen out there. I saw Paul Musselwhite, the goalkeeping coach here, who I used to play with, and told him that it was only a matter of time before I got one. I’m sure we’ll have a joke about it afterwards.”
United, now ninth in the table and within touching distance of the play-off positions, ulimately owed their triumph to another dogged, resolute performance.
Manager Nigel Adkins, who achieved two promotions during his spell in charge of Scunthorpe after being handed the reins in 2006, has orchestrated a dramatic tactical shift in recent weeks with a team previously tasked with trying to outgun its League One rivals now ordered to stifle, battle and scrap. It might not always be pretty but, as Sharp insisted, Adkins’ response to a series of disappointing autumn results is mightily effective. This was United’s third straight win and, vitally, clean sheet.
“The clean sheet is massive for us as a club,” Sharp said. “The gaffer has been going on about them all season, telling us that if we keep 21 of them then we’ll get promoted and we’ve had nowhere near enough.
“Clean sheets win games as well as goals. The defenders crave them, it’s as good as getting a goal for them. When I hadn’t scored for a few games, I thought we were gung-ho at times. We were giving the ball away and getting punished.”
Scunthorpe wasted a glorious chance to snatch a point when Charlie Goode inexplicably headed wide at the death but United, with another excellent display from goalkeeper George Long, deserved to edge home.
A bright start, before Mark Robins’ side wrestled back the initiative, saw Dean Hammond and John Brayford both go close while a powerful shot from Paul Coutts was palmed away by Luke Daniels.
The Scunthorpe goalkeeper, whose counterpart had earlier denied both Luke Williams and Tommy Rowe, executed a superb block to thwart former Scunthorpe midfielder Martyn Woolford moments before Sharp applied the finishingtouches to a well-worked set-piece routine.
Rowe wasted another good opportunity as Scunthorpe looked to claw themselves back but, as Long acrobatically tipped an effort from Williams over the crossbar, were kept at arm’s length until Goode fluffed his lines.
“If you score then you want to do it at your end, in front of your own fans,” Sharp said. “That’s what happened and we got the win. So everything worked out perfectly.”
Scunthorpe United: Daniels 7, Wiseman 6, Laird 6, Canavan 6, Williams 7, Madden 6, Bishop 6 (Ness 82), King 6 (Henderson 76), Rowe 6, Goode 6, Wootton 6 (Adelakun 60, 6). Not used: Anyon, Van Veen, Dawson, Ness, Clarke.
Sheffield United: Long 8, Brayford 7, Basham 6 (Reed 72), Coutts 6, Sharp 7, Done 7 (Sammon 64), Collins 6, Woolford 7, McEveley 6 (K Wallace 82), Edgar 6, Hammond 7. Not used: Howard, Flynn, Scougall, Campbell-Ryce.
Referee: Andy Haines (Tyne & Wear).